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Land­scape your yard, neigh­bor­hood and busi­ness effi­ciently and eco­nom­i­cally to help con­serve water — an expen­sive and lim­ited resource – as well as, reduce pol­lu­tion and increase habitat.

Land­scap­ing for Water Quality

Water is an impor­tant resource for our health, econ­omy, and ecosys­tem. Land­scap­ing prac­tices can impact the qual­ity of our water sys­tems. Tra­di­tion­ally, a lush green car­pet of turf grass has been the ulti­mate goal. We sow a tight field of grass that is dif­fi­cult to coax into grow­ing. Then we fer­til­ize it, spray it with pes­ti­cides and water it. Just when the turf is at its best we cut off the top third. This process is expen­sive, time-consuming and costly to the envi­ron­ment. Cre­at­ing a land­scape that doesn’t require fer­til­iz­ing, water­ing or mow­ing is eas­ier on the home­owner and ben­e­fits the ecosystem.

The above para­graph comes from “Land­scap­ing for Water Qual­ity: Con­cepts and Gar­den Designs for Home­own­ers, Adapted for Mary­land” cre­ated by the Howard County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers. It is full of local infor­ma­tion and spe­cific tech­niques to make your yard beau­ti­ful and ben­e­fi­cial to the larger environment.

Native Plants

The use of native plants in land­scap­ing, some­times called “Bayscap­ing” or “xeriscap­ing”, is impor­tant within the region to min­i­mize inva­sive species, the need for water­ing, and the use of fer­til­iz­ers, pes­ti­cides. Native plants require lit­tle or no addi­tional water­ing or fer­til­iz­ing, once estab­lished, and can aid in soil reten­tion, ero­sion con­trol, and water fil­tra­tion. Also, native plants pro­vide valu­able habi­tat for many native insect, bird, and mam­mal species in the region, as well as migrat­ing species. Con­sider cre­at­ing a back­yard habi­tat gar­den at home, school, or work using native plants to attract these species. Here is a link to the Howard County Mas­ter Gar­den­ers’ list of Mary­land Native Plant Sources. Also check plantbutterflies.org for native plant pocket cards, lists, plant­ing guid­ance and the Monarch Sis­ter Schools Pro­gram for help in set­ting up a but­ter­fly gar­den at your school.

Soil Test­ing

How do you know how your soil is doing? Soil test­ing is easy and inex­pen­sive. It makes sense to find out if there is any­thing needed, before apply­ing reme­dies like fer­til­iz­ers and lime. Espe­cially when they are going to run off into our water­ways. If you hire a lawn main­te­nance ser­vice, make sure that they pro­vide a soil test.

Extension’s Home and Gar­den Infor­ma­tion Cen­ter web­site is also loaded with great gar­den­ing infor­ma­tion that is spe­cific to our region.

Irri­ga­tion Tech­niques and Mois­ture Retention

Select­ing native plants nearly elim­i­nates the need for water­ing and is a great way to save resources and money. Another great water­ing option is installing a rain bar­rel (link to rain bar­rel page) to retain water for use dur­ing dry peri­ods. Rain Bar­rels can also be con­nected to a soaker hose to water newly planted land­scapes slowly.

Drip irri­ga­tion, also called trickle irri­ga­tion, directs a slow release of water to the soil sur­face or directly onto root sys­tems. Spray irri­ga­tion, the most com­mon alter­na­tive, wastes a sub­stan­tial amount of water by evap­o­ra­tion and is not suit­able for most peren­ni­als, as the plants grow up and block the sprayers. If you’re going to irri­gate, choose drip irri­ga­tion for a greener selec­tion, but con­sider irri­gat­ing and water­ing only newly planted lawns and plants. Remem­ber, the more you water your lawn, the more you’ll have to mow it.


Mulch is sim­ply a blan­ket of organic mat­ter placed on the soil to insu­late and hold in mois­ture, and can include any­thing from wood chips to leaves to cof­fee grounds. Mulch is inex­pen­sive and it may be the best invest­ment you make in your green land­scap­ing project because it keeps weeds at bay much longer than com­post alone. The ideal mulch is a mix­ture of 50% com­post and 50% woody mate­r­ial, often avail­able at your local land­scap­ing center.

If you don’t want to buy mulch, most cof­fee houses will give you their organic cof­fee grounds for free. These pro­vide a rich source of nutri­ents and can be applied directly onto the soil as mulch. Other mulch mate­ri­als include straw, saw­dust, and lawn, yard clip­pings and other organic mat­ter. Intro­duce things gradually—test it out and see what works. Start with 2 inches of com­post and eval­u­ate the progress. Remem­ber not to choke your trees and shrubs by build­ing the mulch layer to high along the trunk or main stem. Avoid cre­at­ing a buildup of mulch around the base of trees that forces water to runoff back into the yard. Instead, try to keep mulch level so the mulch can also absorb water into the tree root sys­tem at the base.

Green Tip

Turn off water while brushingTurning off the water between rinses can save at least two gallons in one brushing session.