Now that spring has sprung, our attention turns toward our yards. Today, few of us have the time or resources needed to maintain a formal landscape. As a result, people are exploring alternatives to traditional landscapes, and many have responded with a more natural yard. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, this style is called BayScaping. BayScapes are environmentally sound landscapes benefiting people, wildlife and the Chesapeake Bay.   BayScaping advocates a holistic approach through principles inspired by relationships found in the natural world.

The BayScapes program teaches homeowners and landowners how to practice conservation landscaping, conserve water, create diversity, use native plants, create wildlife habitat, use Integrated Pest Management and plan for the long term.

Conservation landscaping works with nature to reduce pollution and enhance wildlife habitat. It encourages a low-input formula for yard care: less fertilizers and pesticides, proper lawn care and alternatives to turf.

The wise management of soil, water and vegetation is the key to conservation landscaping. This includes maintaining a healthy vegetative cover, preventing soil erosion from wind and water, and maintaining proper soil pH and fertility levels.

The increasing human population puts a serious strain on natural resources. At some homes, as much as 40 percent of the water used each month finds its way into the landscape. Excess or wasted water runs off the land carrying nutrients, sediments and even traces of toxic products into nearby creeks and streams. Protection of local waterways depends upon reduced water runoff. You can reduce the amount of water used to maintain your yard by as much as two-thirds, with little expense or effort. Some key elements include timing and thoroughness of watering, proper equipment and plant selection. Diversity in the landscape provides for the needs of people and wildlife. No matter how large or small an area, you can create diversity by using different types of plants. Native grasses, ground covers, wildflowers, shrubs and trees provide a variety of shapes, colors, smells and habitats. Even very small or urban yards can be transformed using container gardens, patio and deck plantings and wall gardens for an esthetically pleasing and dynamic landscape.

Native plants may be defined as those species that were present when the first Europeans arrived in the New World. Because they are well-adapted to local climate and soil types, native plants require little maintenance such as trimming, watering and fertilizer applications. The most beneficial plants are those species that are native to your particular region or state. This ultimately saves time, labor and money. By planting native plants at home, we can reduce the amount of nutrients and chemicals running off our yards and gardens into local waterways, and help to improve water quality.

Habitat refers to the food, water, cover and nesting sites needed by all living creatures to survive. Forests, meadows and wetlands are rapidly being converted to other uses to accommodate the growing number of people.

Whether developed for homes or businesses, the result is the same: Wildlife habitat is lost. We can help to restore wildlife habitat one backyard at a time. Backyard habitats provide safe havens for animals to live and move among. We can provide food and cover by planting a variety of locally native plants. Nesting boxes and sources of water also provide habitat components critical for wildlife. 

Integrated Pest Management is the combination of biological, physical and chemical methods to control pests. IPM offers a variety of choices to manage pests, including many natural and biological controls. It includes the proper identification of pests, the use of beneficial insects and animals to get rid of undesirable pests, the use of organic pesticides and careful and directed pesticide use. While IPM does not totally eliminate chemical pesticides, it can reduce the volume used on the land. This approach minimizes impacts on wildlife and the Chesapeake Bay.

BayScaping also involves long-term planning. Don't try to change your whole yard all at once. Start small and build over time. Decide what kind of landscape you want in five, 10 or even 20 years and then work toward those goals. By looking at the big picture, you can design a landscape that meets your needs, expectations, budget and time while incorporating the BayScapes principles. Planning involves four basic steps: inventory existing site conditions; realistically plan uses for different parts of your yard; select plants that are best suited for each use; and determine costs of maintenance.

By BayScaping, you can reduce the time and labor spent maintaining your yard, create wildlife habitat, reduce pollutants to waterways, and even save money. For information or to receive a BayScapes Information Packet, contact: the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service at 410-573-4593; any Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay office; or the Chesapeake Regional Information Service at: 800-662-CRIS.