Environmental Issues In Your Backyard

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1 Environmental Issues In Your Backyard How to Keep a Healthy Lawn In the pursuit of maintaining green, weed-free lawns, some homeowners may over-apply fertilizer to encourage vigorous growth and pesticides to control weeds, insects and diseases. According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, there are over 685,000 acres of residential lawns statewide. Of that, 675,000 acres surround single-family homes and the remaining 10,000 acres are townhouse yards. If everyone over-fertilized their lawn by just one pound, a huge amount of excess nutrients could end up in groundwater, streams, rivers, reservoirs and the Chesapeake Bay. Excessive nutrients cause serious water quality problems. Tips for Healthy Lawn Care: Have your soil fertility tested before seeding a new lawn and every 3 years on established lawns to determine the proper amount of fertilizer and lime needed. Do-it-yourself soil test kits are available at garden centers, although some of these may not be as accurate as testing in a lab. Follow the instructions carefully to get the most accurate results. Before establishing a lawn, you should consider whether all areas are suitable for turf grass. Heavily shaded or severely sloped areas may not provide good growing conditions for turf and could lead to erosion, pest or nutritional problems. Ground covers or planting islands (areas with groupings of trees, shrubs and flowers) may be better suited for problem areas than turf. Use drought-tolerant grasses recommended for this zone, such as tall fescue or zoysia, a warm season grass. Baltimore County is in planting zones 6-7. Most turf grass varieties are cool-season grasses that have a tendency to turn brown during summer drought, but become green again in the fall. Allow cool-season grasses to naturally enter into their summer dormant period by not watering during the summer months. Page 4

2 Most experts agree that the best time for fertilizing cool season lawns in our region is in early fall. It is also better to spread two or three smaller applications spaced a month apart (early September, October, and November), than one larger application. Do not apply fertilizer to frozen ground or dormant turf (especially when cool season grasses turn brown during summer droughts). Apply only the recommended amounts of fertilizer and use predominantly slowrelease types called water insoluble nitrogen (WIN). Use no more than one pound of actual nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of lawn per application. Keep fertilizer off paved areas by sweeping it back onto the grass. Leave grass clippings on the lawn to help feed the lawn and reduce the amount of fertilizer needed. Some lawn mowers come equipped with a special mulching blade that will cut the clippings into smaller pieces that will decompose faster. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM), a common sense approach to managing pest problems. Simply put, IPM is based on using the appropriate treatment in recommended amounts that are least harmful to you and the environment. It means that you don t apply pesticides as soon as you see the first bug or weed. You only apply when it s clear that there are enough pests present to cause a problem. Mow at an appropriate height to maintain a healthy lawn. Mowing too short may reduce root and stem development and encourage weed problems. The proper mowing height helps to reduce weeds by as much as 50-80%. Maintaining the grass height at least 2 ½ inches high helps keep the soil cool and provides drought protection. Page 5

3 From My Backyard to Our Bay If you must water your lawn, water slowly in order to wet the soil to a depth of 4-6. Prevent runoff from leaving your property. Early morning is the best time for watering. Light, frequent watering or watering in the evening can actually damage your lawn. Where To Get Help for lawn care USDA Planting Zones for the Maryland region are at Maryland Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center Phone Hotline at or Keeping Water Away From Your House and Basement Drainage of surface and subsurface water is an important concern for every homeowner. One key factor in proper drainage is the permeability of the soil on your property, that is, the ability of the soil to transmit water or air. For example, soils that are high in clay content usually have low permeability. Another factor in good drainage is proper grading, so that gentle slopes will convey runoff away from the house and basement, and water is not left standing against walls or causing water pressure to build up under the basement floor. Wet basements can be the result of water passing through cracks in the basement walls, through the joint between the basement wall and the floor or through the basement window well. Tips for Solving Wet Basements: Examine the window wells and ensure that all contacts between the outer foundation wall and the window well casing are correctly sealed. A clear plastic window dome may be useful to prevent rainfall from falling directly into the window well. Page 6

4 Check the exterior grading to make sure that rainwater will flow away from the house. Flowerbeds and foundation plantings may hold water against the walls. When re-grading, avoid placing soil against wood or siding. Grading in excess of 5,000 square feet requires a County permit (for information, call ) Seal wall cracks using a hydraulic cement or similar waterproofing material. Similarly, ensure the places where utility service lines (water, sewer, gas) come through the wall are properly sealed. If you have seepage at the floor, make certain your sump pump and stairwell drain are functioning properly. If you don t have a sump pump, consider installing one. To test your stairwell drain for clogging, turn on a garden hose down this pipe for a while during a dry period. Inspect all areas where the downspouts from the gutters around the house discharge onto the ground. Twice a year, clean out all gutters and downspouts to prevent overflows that will drip water too near the foundation. Because the flow from a downspout will be forceful in a storm, make sure that the area where it drains across the ground is adequately protected with either sturdy vegetation or perhaps even stone or gravel in extreme situations. Usually, a splash block of concrete or plastic placed directly under the downspout outfall will absorb the initial force of the water gushing from the downspout. This will to help disperse the water s erosive energy and move it away from the foundation. To help prevent surface water from standing in your yard, maintain a slight slope that drains toward a swale (an earthen channel) or storm drain. Whenever you concentrate runoff, you increase its erosive potential; so maintain a stand of sturdy vegetation in the swale to prevent gullying. In some situations, due to poorly drained soils in low-lying areas or difficult terrain, the only solution may be an underground drainage system. Such a system involves digging a ditch about 2-3 feet deep from the wet area to an adequate outfall down the slope (where the drainage pipe emerges from the ground). The ditch is first lined with landscape fabric (material available at garden centers that will allow water to pass through but not soil particles). Page 7 Page 1

5 From My Backyard to Our Bay Then a layer of three to four inches of gravel is installed, followed by a length of perforated, corrugated plastic drainage pipe that is covered with more gravel. After covering the gravel with landscape fabric, the top six inches or so is filled with soil and sod. The new drainage system will draw water from the surface down to the level of the drainage pipe. The landscape fabric prevents sediment from filling in the void spaces in the gravel core and retarding water flow. Place mesh or screen across the end of the drainage pipe at the outfall to prevent animals from entering. Make sure that the area below the outfall of the system is adequately protected from gullying with vegetation or gravel. Where To Get Help for drainage problems USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service at records/edt7322.html Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection at Environmental Issues in Your Backyard Where To Get Help for attracting wildlife: USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service at National Wildlife Federation at 800/ or for wildlife problems: MD Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Hotline at Maryland Cooperative Extension Home and Garden Information Center Phone Hotline or Streams in Your Neighborhood Need Your Help Streams flowing through suburban areas need special care. As urbanizing areas develop, the natural stream channels must increase in size to handle a higher volume of storm water due to EnviroEd/Can_Do/drainage.htm Easy Ways to Save Water Although Baltimore County is generally blessed with bountiful rainfall, it has also known severe drought periods that have had serious impact on water supplies, both from private wells and the Baltimore City public water system. As the population in our county and region grows, more people vie for the same sources of water. It becomes ever more critical to conserve water and not waste it. If people would adopt a few simple watersaving habits, it would extend those supplies for everyone s benefit. Page 28 PagePage 21 15

6 Environmental Issues in Your Backyard Consider adopting habits like these: Repair all leaks and drips around the house. A huge amount of water is wasted each day due to dripping faucets, pipe leaks, running toilets and people who let faucets run unnecessarily. Don t waste water turn off the faucet while you brush your teeth, shave, lather up, etc. Install low-flow fixtures on showerheads and toilets. Collect rainwater to use for watering plants and gardens. Use nozzles on outside hoses and wash cars with a bucket of water, using the hose only to rinse off. Don t water lawns unnecessarily. Run only full loads in your dishwasher and washing machine. Make your next washing machine a frontloading model (they require less water). Where To Get Help for water conservation Maryland Cooperative Extension Home & Garden Information Center Phone Hotline at or California Urban Water Conservation Council at Southwest Florida Water Management District at Page 39

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