Free Fall Advice —and Native Plants

Green Grass
Wanted: Good homes for free plants.
The River Hill Watershed Committee has plants for you to win. All are native to Maryland and, therefore, will be more resistant to drought, freezing and diseases, and, once established, require less water and other maintenance than non-natives.
What’s the catch? Just come to one of our many free events or be among the first five people to answer one of our tip questions in the newsletter — and on Facebook — each month.
Fall is the best time to plant, so please look for us at these events in September:
• River Hill Health Fair at Claret Hall, Saturday, Sept. 12, 11 a.m. We’ll have a booth with rain barrels and our popular wheel of questions and water table for children of all ages.
• Rain barrel demo at Claret Hall, Wednesday Sept. 30, 7 – 9 p.m. Learn how valuable a rain barrel can be for your home. We’ll talk you through the approval process and show you how to install and use.
For many, fall is also a time of raking and fertilizing, mowing and mulching, which can all have harmful effects on our waterways if not done correctly. Some tips before you start:
• Test your lawn before applying fertilizer, follow application directions, and don’t apply the nutrients before a rainstorm. Excess fertilizer runs off the yard, into the street, down the storm drain and into our waterways. You will have wasted money and contributed to the excessive growth of algae in our ponds, lakes, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Under normal conditions, algae produce oxygen and are a vital part of the food chain. But when fertilizer intended for our yards runs off into waterways, these microscopic plant-like organisms, also called phytoplankton, multiply too quickly. As they die, they sink to the bottom and decay, consuming the dissolved oxygen in the water that sustains fish and other animals and plants. Some algae produce toxins that can be harmful to us and our pets.
• When mowing the lawn, leave the grass clippings in place. These clippings add nitrogen to the soil and greatly reduce or eliminate the amount of synthetic nitrogen you need to add (which runs off your yard, into the storm drain and into our ponds, lakes, rivers and eventually the Chesapeake Bay). NASA researcher Cristina Milesi, who studied how much of the United States is covered by lawn (a lot: three times the acreage of irrigated corn), estimates that if people leave grass clippings to decompose on the lawn, the U.S. lawn area could store up to 16.7 teragrams of carbon each year (the same as the weight of about 147,000 blue whales). Plus, you will save time and money. So, let your grass grow to about 4 inches, then cut one-third, down to 3 inches, and leave the clippings in place.
• Step away from that noisy and polluting leaf blower. Instead, use the lawnmower to grind the leaves in place. To avoid smothering the lawn, rake some leaves into garden beds to use as mulch during the winter.

• Place excess leaves into the green food-scrap recycling bin, another open bin or large paper bags and place them at the curb, where they can be hauled off and turned into compost. NOTE: Don’t put leaves in a plastic bag. Starting Sept. 14, Howard County will no longer accept leaves or other yard trim in plastic bags. Leaves sealed hermetically in plastic can’t break down to become soil, so they must be removed from the bags. In the process, the plastic can ruin some of the mulch or compost and wind can blow small pieces of plastic into the air and water. This plastic never goes away. In contrast, paper bags decompose with the yard trim. To help with the transition, the county will be delivering to residents’ doorsteps 10 paper lawn-and-garden bags.
• Get rid of the mulch volcano. When applying mulch, don’t let it touch the trunks of trees or stems of other plants. Properly applied around the base, mulch will help control weeds, retain moisture in soil, provide insulation for roots in extreme temperatures, and reduce the chance of damage from mowing and weed-whacking. But piled up high, mulch weakens and softens tree bark, allowing fungi, bacteria and viruses to attack and insects to chow down. The mulch also holds moisture next to the bark, causing rot and suffocation. In addition, mulch volcanoes create an ideal home for rodents that can eat through to the inner bark, cutting off the pipeline of nutrients to the tree.
For more great watershed tips, come enjoy light snacks while learning about how to use a rain barrel — and have a chance to win a native plant.

Watershed question of the month:
Is it ok to put my leaves in plastic bags and put them out for collection?

The first five people to reply on the River Hill Watershed Committee Facebook page or email to newsletter@villageofriverhill.org will win a native plant.

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[NASA study source for web page http://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Lawn/lawn.php ]

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