EASTON — Protecting the waters of the Eastern Shore through personal responsibility was the focus of Wednesday evening’s forum “Sustainable Lawns — The Backyard Revolution,” presented by horticulturist Thomas Christopher.
Held Wednesday, Oct. 9, at the Academy Art Museum in Easton, Christopher, the founder of Smart Lawns LLC, spoke to about 70 people about how to manage and maintain property in the face of the new Maryland Lawn Fertilizer Act. This act regulates the use and distribution of fertilizers on personal property.
A lush, green lawn has historically been “an American icon,” said Christopher in reference to the creation of lawns over the last hundred years. “But even then we knew it was an American problem.”
Lawns, he explained, are a major source of water pollution because the excessive use of fertilizers leads to runoff into local streams, rivers and groundwater, which eventually ends up in the Chesapeake Bay, creating anoxic dead zones and algal blooms.
“Lawn is the largest irrigated crop in America,” Christopher said, referring to almost 50,000 square miles of U.S. landscape that is occupied by residential and commercial lawns. While they provide many benefits, such as a relatively tick-free place for sports and play, as well as a fire break surrounding homes, lawns also “lack ecological diversity and are boring,” he said.
Christopher’s theme focused on the fact that homeowners could create and maintain smarter lawns using native grasses and plants and creative landscaping. “Buildings have become smarter and more efficient,” he said, “but lawns haven’t changed.”
With the new regulations in Maryland — the 11th state to adopt the Lawn Fertilizer Act — Christopher stressed that everyone can be a part of the effort to save the Bay. Homeowners and gardeners can take a leadership role, he said, encouraging the group to go out and not only change the way they view their own yards, but also to advocate to neighbors, friends and homeowners associations.
The Maryland Fertilizer Act went into effect this October and lays out very specific rules regarding the use of fertilizer in landscaping. The regulations include rules such as:
- 20 percent of nitrogen must be slow release;
- fertilizer must not be applied between Nov. 15 and March 1, or to frozen ground;
- fertilizer must not be applied within 15 feet of open water;
- fertilizer must not be used as a de-icer;
- no single application can exceed 0.9 lbs of nitrogen per 1,000 sq. ft.;
- phosphorous is banned from most lawn fertilizers; and
- commercial operators must pass a certification test.
Christopher offered specific advice in maintaining a sustainable lawn. “One of the things is to figure out what you need,” he said. “What likes your climate?”
He provided examples of sustainable lawns using native grasses, plants and flowers that would also attract pollinators and are good for important insects such as bees.
The discussion concluded with a question and answer session between the audience and Christopher, as well as the program’s sponsors — Alan Girard of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Tim Junkin of the Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy. Opening and closing remarks were given by Ellie Altman, executive director of Adkins Arboretum, who offered the audience the opportunity to come learn about native plants at the Arboretum facilities.