Farmers offer lawn care tips

Practices can be good for bay, wallet

By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
The Capital, May 07, 2008

Photo by J. Henson - The Capital

For decades, farmers have been testing their soil, carefully measuring their fertilizer and plotting which plants will grow best in which spots.

Now they want their neighbors in the suburbs and cities to give those practices a try, as they are both good for the environment and the pocketbook.

That's the thrust of a new educational-marketing campaign from the Maryland Department of Agriculture, dubbed "Take it From Maryland Farmers."

"What the farmers do is good practice for the bay," said Roger Richardson, an Eastern Shore farmer who is the state secretary of agriculture.

The educational campaign touches on five areas of yard maintenance: trying alternative pesticides, properly using fertilizer, preventing soil erosion and stormwater runoff, composting and conserving water.

Public service announcements featuring farmers will air on radio and TV stations and on Web sites throughout Maryland in May. Brochures full of tips also are being distributed. The campaign will cost about $7,500 and is paid for by a grant from the Rural Maryland Council.

If used properly, the practices should make yard maintenance easier, cost less money and help improve the health of streams, rivers and the Chesapeake Bay, officials said Thursday during a kickoff of the program at agriculture headquarters in Annapolis.

Even though agriculture remains a major source of nutrient and sediment pollution to the bay system, urban and suburban residents contribute to the problem, too - perhaps unwittingly in many cases, Mr. Richardson said.

He said many homeowners do back-of-the-envelope calculations that lead to far too much fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides being dumped on residential lawns.

The excess washes off the yards and ultimately ends up in the Chesapeake Bay system, where it can harm aquatic life.

And with 1 million acres of residential lawns in the state, that can add up to a large amount. By comparison, there are 2 million acres of farmland in the state, he said.

"People think, 'My little yard won't make a difference.' But if everyone in the neighborhood does it, think about the impact," said Buddy Hance, a southern Maryland farmer who is the deputy secretary for agriculture.

Some of the farmers' tips include:

Conserving water: Soaker hoses and drip irrigation can be more efficient ways to water lawns and gardens. Rain barrels can store rainwater for use in irrigation during dry weather. Avoid overwatering.

Composting: Leaves, yard clippings, old plants and food waste can result in a rich additive to the soil that costs nothing.

Controlling erosion and runoff: In areas where grass stubbornly won't grow, try planting groundcover plants instead. Don't pile mulch like a volcano around a tree trunk; instead, spread just one to two inches evenly around the tree.

Fertilizer use: Have your soil tested before deciding which fertilizer to buy. Testing information is posted at www.hgic.umd.edu. You might not need fertilizer at all, and if you do, it's best to do it in the fall and to use slow-release fertilizer.

Pesticides: Make sure you know what kind of pest you're dealing with and use the least toxic method possible. Follow label instructions carefully.

Jon Traunfeld, director of the University of Maryland's Home and Garden Information Center, acknowledged that it can be difficult to get people to try new lawn and gardening practices.

"Changing behavior is hard," he said. "You just have to train yourself."

Learn more at www.iwantmarylandsbest.com and www.hgic.umd.edu.


Related media

View slide show
Public Service announcments:
Proper fertilizing tips
Erosion control tips

(Revised May 2008)