Conservation Landscaping

Butterfly_Matt CohenImagine creating a space in your yard or on your chapter grounds that looks beautiful and reflects your conservation values – you can even do it outside your school or in a local park, if you work together with other people in your community. Imagine transforming one of these places into a blooming oasis for birds and butterflies that can be the setting for a backyard party, a youth nature walk, an outdoor science lesson, or a community picnic. Imagine spending time in a space that's free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, a space with less lawnmower noise and more birdsong, a space that's safer for people and wildlife, a space that makes a positive impact on the environment around us.

It's not so hard to make this vision a reality. By simply replacing a patch of grass with native plants or installing a rain barrel, you can:

Reduce pollution. Replacing a patch of grass with native flowers, shrubs, and trees slows rain runoff and filters out pollutants (such as fertilizer, car oil, road salt, and dirt) that damage local streams and larger waterways.

Attract birds and butterflies. Native flowers and trees add life to your garden by attracting songbirds and colorful butterflies. Native plants provide food and shelter for other watchable wildlife – plus they feed important pollinators. For information on flowers that attract bees and hummingbirds, visit the Pollinator Partnership website.

Increase the beauty and appeal of your yard, your chapter property, or a public space in your community. You can improve the look of your chosen place while improving water quality. Whether your style is tidy rows or bunches of wildflowers, you can find a wide variety of native plants that fit your needs.

Reduce the need for harmful chemicals. Native plants thrive in local conditions, so you won’t need all the harmful chemicals – including fertilizers and pesticides – required to keep grass green. This is healthier for your family, your drinking water, and local wildlife.

Save time and money. Once established, native plants require less care and watering than exotic plants, which means you’ll have more time to enjoy and share your landscape with others. You can spend less time (and money!) watering your garden using a rain barrel with a drip hose attached.

Reduce noise and air pollution. Less lawn area means less need for gas-powered mowing, blowing, and edging – all of which contribute to noise and air pollution and use up fuel resources.

Inspire others to do their part. When friends, family, and neighbors drop by, they’ll be impressed by the improvements you have made. Your example may even inspire them to do their part for the environment too!

Get Started!

Conservation Landscape Key Words

Canopy Trees: Native trees that are placed in such a way that they will eventually shade or cover hard surfaces, such as driveways or rooftops. Canopy trees clean our air and water, provide valuable habitat for birds and butterflies, and can lower your heating and cooling costs.

Conservation Landscape: A garden that contains at least 75 percent native plants, instead of turf grass (lawn) and exotic ornamentals. Conservation landscapes slow and filter rain runoff (also called stormwater), which helps reduce or eliminate harmful pollutants, such as fertilizers and pesticides, that can wash into local streams. These gardens also provide food and shelter for local wildlife. Conservation landscapes are easy to maintain, giving you more time to enjoy watching the ever-changing life that happens in them! Conservation landscapes are also called native plant gardens.

Invasive Plants: Plants that evolved far away, arrived in a new place, and began spreading in a way that harms native species and natural ecosystems. Many invasive plant species cannot be used by wildlife for food and shelter, or they offer very poor nutritional value to wildlife. Most invasive plants arrive in places they don't belong when the horticulture industry imports them from other countries and then encourages property owners to invite these non-natives onto their land. You can help stop the spread by choosing locally native plants. Learn more about invasive species.

Native Plants: Plant species that have developed over thousands of years in a particular region and are adapted to the local growing season, climate, and soils. These plants require less water, fertilizer, and pesticides than the exotics (non-native plants) found in many lawns and gardens. Native plants are generally deeper-rooted than non-natives, which helps them filter more stormwater. And, since most animals rely on the plant species they evolved alongside, native plants are far better than exotics at providing food and shelter for local wildlife.

Non-Native Plants: Also known as exotics, non-native plants are plants that humans have brought from another area. Non-native plants generally need more chemical pesticides and fertilizers than native plants, and attract fewer birds, butterflies, and other animals. Some non-native plants become invasive.

Rain Barrel: Container used to capture rain water that runs off a home’s roof. Rain barrels are typically connected directly to the gutter downspout and come in various sizes, ranging from 30 gallons to 100 gallons. Rain barrels reduce water runoff that causes pollution and flooding, plus they provide a free source of water for the plants in your garden.

Rain Garden: A shallow depression filled with a special soil mix and deep-rooted native plants. These gardens collect rain from hard surfaces – such as your roof or driveway – to slow and filter rain water before it runs into local streams. To build a rain garden, approximately two feet of dirt is removed (along with any turf grass on top of it) and replaced with a mixture of sand, topsoil, and compost to help hold water. Native plants adapted to periods of extreme wetness are used to design an attractive garden. Rain gardens can help prevent erosion and flooding as well, but they are not suitable for every site (such as swampy or sloped areas). Rain gardens are designed to hold water for less than one day – enough to filter polluted runoff but not long enough to breed mosquitoes.

Stormwater: Water from rain storms or melting snow that does not soak into the ground becomes stormwater – also called “runoff.” Stormwater can carry pollution into storm drains, which lead directly into our lakes, streams, and rivers. Runoff from yards can carry pesticides and fertilizers with it, while runoff from roads and parking lots can carry chemicals, dirt, and oil.

Turf Grass: Turf grasses are those species that we use in our lawns. They tolerate frequent mowing, which makes them useful as recreational surfaces and for some aesthetic purposes. But these short-rooted species don't soak up much water when it rains, and they usually need a lot of pesticides and fertilizers to stay in good condition. Plus, almost all the grass species we use in our lawns in America aren't native!

Watershed: The land area that drains into a specific stream or other body of water. Watersheds come in many different sizes; the watershed of a small creek may also be part of the watershed for a larger river. For example, water flows into the Chesapeake Bay from 64,299 square miles of land in Maryland, Virginia, the District of Columbia, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia. That's the Chesapeake Bay watershed - and each of the more than 150 rivers and streams that drain into the Chesapeake Bay has its own smaller watershed as well.

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