Help for bay can start in your own back yard

June 13, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

For those already tired of mowing the grass this year, conservationist Billy Mills has some welcome advice: Plant flowers, shrubs and trees instead.

"How many more years can you drag that lawn mower across the lawn every Saturday?" he asked a gathering at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis last week.

Mr. Mills, who works for Alliance of the Chesapeake Bay, is among those trying to teach Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania homeowners landscaping techniques that will help protect the bay.

"There is a responsibility for individual stewardship, and one place you can start is your own home," he said.

Farmers have been blamed for polluting the bay with fertilizers and insecticides, but Tom Simpson, a representative of the Maryland Department of Agriculture, pointed out that landscaped yards and golf courses take up more acres in the region than corn does.

Farmers apply predictable amounts of fertilizers to their fields, but the amount homeowners apply varies, Mr. Simpson said. In the BayScape plan, homeowners are encouraged to use landscaping techniques that deter storm water runoff and offer habitats for wildlife, conserve water, replenish native plant species and create a diversity of plant life.

The average suburban lawn often is not the best way to achieve those goals, Mr. Mills said.

The environmentalists, gardeners and members of Alliance for the Bay took a walking tour of Annapolis to see how residents are using Bay- Scape techniques.

The gardens on the tour included a shady outdoor sanctuary established by a local church for meditation, a vibrant backyard flower garden, a tiny urban park with a single tree and the large, ornamental Paca Gardens.

Frank Biba, a horticulturist for the city, said residents need to plant as many trees as they can because so few species survive in the cramped sidewalk containers.

Steve Janke, the Paca Gardens horticulturist, said homeowners can use many of the same techniques used in the large, ornamental gardens.

He said he limits fertilization to once or twice a year, does not use pesticides and tries to use hardy, native plants when possible.

Among the tips offered by Bay- Scapes:

* Accept weeds as a natural part of the landscape.

* Mow grass no lower than 1 1/2 inches in the summer.

* Avoid early-spring fertilization.

* Water in early morning or early evening.

* Consider alternatives to lawns, such as shrubs, flowers and grown covers, which generally require less water and maintenance.

* Use plants that benefit wildlife.

* Try biological methods to control diseases and pests before using chemicals.

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