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Conservation Landscaping: Good for the Bay

Rain Garden Photo Credit Tom Potterfield – flickr

The Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council (CCLC) has drafted “Eight Essential Elements” of Conservation Landscaping. The vision is to one day find conservation landscapes used routinely throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Ideally, these landscapes could be easily recognized because they would demonstrate these essential characteristics.

In practice, relatively few model landscapes currently could claim to meet the conditions set forth in this list, but the closer you can bring your own landscape to the one described here, the more you will be helping all life in the Chesapeake watershed. Below, I have included bits of the report.

Note that this is not a process of “plant it and forget it.” Conservation landscapes are not maintenance free, and do require their own special set of cares and concerns. Conservation landscaping works with nature to reduce pollution.

Conservation landscaping incorporates environmentally sensitive design, low impact development, non-invasive native and beneficial plants, and integrated pest management to create diverse landscapes that help protect clean air and water, support wildlife, and provide a more beautiful, healthier human environment.

Conservation Landscaping Essentials

 A conservation landscape…

1. is designed to benefit the environment and to function well for human use;
2. contains locally native plants that are appropriate for site conditions;
3. has an ongoing property management to remove existing invasive plants and prevent future alien plant invasions;
4. provides wildlife habitat;
5. promotes good air quality and is not a source of air pollution;
6. conserves water and promotes good water quality;
7. promotes healthy soils, composts plant waste on site, and amends disturbed soils to encourage native plant communities;
8. works with nature to be more sustainable with less input.

Some of the basic practices prescribed for each element are desribed below.

1. Design
Conservation landscape design occurs in the context of nature. It seeks to preserve, enhance and reduce impacts upon a site’s natural features. Design specifically to benefit the environment, while providing function for personal use and displaying the beauty of well-maintained, natural landscaping. Preserve existing environmental features to the greatest possible degree.

2. Native plants
Use a diversity of locally-native plants that are appropriate for existing site conditions and that provide a wide variety of environmental benefits.

3. Invasive plants and site management
Alien plants are those that occur in locations beyond their known historical natural ranges. Invasive plants are those aliens that display rapid growth and spread, allowing them to establish over large areas, overwhelming and displacing existing vegetation and forming dense one-species stands.
Avoid planting invasive alien species, remove them where they exist, and work to manage properties to prevent their spread on an ongoing basis. Unfortunately, many commonly used landscaping plants are invasive species ( e.g; barberry, burning bush, butterfly bush, English ivy, Norway maple, purple loosestrife), so you may need to learn a new palette of native plants.

4. Wildlife habitat
A conservation landscape encourages native wildlife species. Provide a diverse plant environment which includes a variety of food sources year round.

5. Air quality
Minimize activities that directly create air pollution. Water pollution is increased by atmospheric deposition of nutrients (from the air into the water); help improve water quality by reducing sources of air pollution. Decrease the size of lawn areas to reduce mowing time and overall yard maintenance. Reduce the use of gasoline-powered equipment such as lawn mowers, string trimmers, and leaf blowers, which contribute to air pollution.

6. Water conservation and quality
A conservation landscape preserves the natural water cycle and helps keep waterways clean in your local watershed. Rainwater running off of the land and percolating into the ground carries with it chemicals, soil, plant debris, and other pollutants. Reduce the amount of pollution entering local waterways by using plants that are adapted to local conditions; using plants to stabilize soil to prevent erosion; using planted areas to help slow the flow of runoff, filter pollutants and use up excess nutrients.Retain and re-use rainwater runoff through various stormwater management practices.

7. Healthy soils
Healthy plants begin with healthy soil, containing a complex balance of minerals, water, air and organic material (including living organisms). Disturbances to soil can result in a breakdown of soil structure and an imbalance of plant and animal communities. These disturbances may include compaction by heavy equipment or foot traffic, changes in nutrient cycling and pH from runoff and air deposition, removal of topsoil, erosion, and plowing. Thus, a cornerstone of conservation landscaping is the proper protection and ongoing care of the soil.

8. Sustainable landscapes
Conservation landscaping may reduce human intervention and therefore can save time and resources. Traditional intensive maintenance practices tend to be environmentally damaging. Instead, develop a site management program that works with natural processes, recycles resources onsite, and achieves a self-sustaining landscape. Sustainable or conservation landscapes are not an escape from gardening. They are an alternative to traditional landscaping choices. Like traditional gardening practices, a conservation landscape or garden requires planning and work. Doing nothing is not a conservation landscape. A garden unattended is not a garden nor is it a natural landscape; it is a dynamic invitation for invasive species and unwanted pests contributing little or nothing to the ecosystem which a conservation landscape tried to support or enhance.

Visit the CCLC garden installation at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC. The garden is being planted as part of the exhibit, “One Planet-Ours! Sustainability for the 22nd Century,” which opens on May 24, 2008. Behnke Nurseries is proud to have donated a number of Behnke Baysafe native perennials for the garden. For more information visit the CCLC at www.chesapeakelandscape.org/

by John Peter Thompson; Founding Board Member, Chesapeake Conservation Landscaping Council

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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