Bay Friendly Landscaping

There are over 1.3 million acres of turf grass in Maryland, making it the largest crop in our state.  Every year, millions of pounds of nitrogen and phosphorous are applied to lawns throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed as lawn fertilizer. The nitrogen and phosphorous that is not immediately absorbed by the soil or taken up by plants eventually reach the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries through storm-water runoff. Pesticides applied to lawns also reach our waterways through storm water runoff and can affect the health of the plants, animals and people right in your own yard.  

Learn more about pollution and water quality in our local waterways. 

Caring for your lawn in a sustainable way is an important part of reducing harmful pollution in our waterways.  In an effort to help homeowner and lawn care professionals care for lawns properly, the state of Maryland passed new fertilizer regulations in 2011.    These regulations set forth an important guidance for homeowners and companies in caring for lawns. 

Learn more about the new guidelines for lawns here.

The Watershed Stewards Academy advocates for the elimination of all fertilizers and pesticides wherever possible.  On turf lawns, it is essential to maintain dense plant cover to prevent sediment and nutrient runoff.  If you maintain your own lawn, here are some helpful hints to maintaining a lush dense lawn and reduce or eliminate harmful chemicals If you use a lawn care company to maintain your lawn, consider using Clean Lawn Care services.


Just like our DNA pre-determines our longevity, planting the right kind of grass in your yard can significantly increase the health of your lawn and reduce your need for fertilizers and pesticides.  

Don’t Grow Grass Where Grass does not want to Grow!

Consider alternatives to traditional grass if:

  • Your yard is shady or sandy
  • You have a steep hill and have trouble mowing the grass

Consider replacing those lawn areas with a conservation landscape of native trees or shrubs.  

If you like the look of grass, consider these low growing native alternatives:

Test Your Soil 

A list of University of Maryland-recommended soil testing labs can be found in UMD Extension Publication HG 110 and HG 110a.  

  • A basic soil test will tell you the major, secondary, and minor plant nutrients, pH, and soil organic matter.
  • Soil test results will provide lime recommendations to correct pH to the 5.5-7.0 range.  Adjusting nutrient levels based on soil test results will result in a better soil environment for growing lawns.
  • Note that soil tests do not typically provide information on nitrogen in your soil, since the concentration of nitrogen can change rapidly from day to day.  Therefore, every soil test will recommend addition of nitrogen fertilizer.  


  • Mow Tall!  Moving your mower deck to 31/2  inches high can reduce weeds by as much as   50-80%.
  • Mow with a mulching blade.  Leave clippings on your lawn for natural fertilizer.

Did you know… One gas mower running for an hour emits the same amount of pollutants as eight new cars driving 55 mph for the same amount of time, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.   The EPA states that 17 million gallons of fuel, mostly gasoline, are spilled each year while refueling lawn equipment.

Water Properly 

  • Rainfall in our area is often sufficient to adequately support lawns in our region.  Excess water can damage your lawn.  Most lawns in Anne Arundel County are tall fescue, a cool season grass that naturally becomes dormant (brown) in the summer.   For a healthy lawn, you may not need to water between July 4th and Labor Day.
  • When watering is necessary, water slowly and deeply (1 inch per week when there is no rain) in the morning only.  Watering in the evening can increase the opportunity for fungal disease on your lawn.  

Fertilize Wisely

  • Try Not Fertilizing, but if you must… “Fertilize in Fall if at All”  Fertilizing the lawn in the spring can lead to a weak lawn and weed problems.
  • Do not apply fertilizers to frozen ground, dormant turf, on sidewalks or driveways. 
  • Do not apply fertilizers within 10 feet of the water or when a heavy rain is predicted.
  • Use a product that is at least 50%  slow-release “water insoluble” or “controlled release”  fertilizer.”  This ensures that your lawn receives nutrients for a longer period of time. 
  • More is not better—apply only the recommended amount of fertilizer.  The rest just washes off.Carefully follow the recommended fertilizer amounts. Reference property fertilizer rates for your yard.    


Try Integrated Pest Management to control weeds and insects.  In many cases, a healthy lawn in your best defense against pests.

Lists of less harmful alternative pest control products can be found: