The goal of conservation landscaping is to reduce pollution and improve the local environment. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, this style of landscaping is sometimes called BayScaping.

Conservation landscaping provides habitat for local and migratory animals, conserves native plants and improves water quality. Landowners benefit by reducing the time and expense of mowing, watering, fertilizing and treating lawn and garden areas. Conservation landscaping can also be used to address problems such as erosion, poor soils, steep slopes or poor drainage.

Many landscapes typically receive high inputs of chemicals, fertilizers, water and time. They require a lot of energy (human as well as gas-powered) to maintain. These inputs can be reduced through the application of organic alternatives, decreasing the area requiring gas-powered tools and using native plants that can be sustained with little watering and care.

One of the simplest ways to begin is by replacing lawn areas with locally native trees, shrubs and perennial plants. The structure, leaves, flowers, seeds, berries and other fruits of these plants provide food and shelter for a variety of birds and other wildlife. The roots of these larger plants are also deeper than those of typical lawn grass, and thus are better at holding soil and capturing rainwater.

Native plants naturally occur in the region in which they evolved. Because native plants are adapted to local soils and climate conditions, they generally require less water and fertilizer than non-natives. Natives are often more resistant to insects and disease, and thus are less likely to need pesticides.

Wildlife have evolved with native plants and are able to use them for food, cover and to rear young. Using native plants helps to preserve the balance and beauty of natural ecosystems.

If gardens are to have the greatest ecological value for wildlife, it is necessary to mimic natural plant groupings and incorporate features that provide as many habitat features as possible.

Plants are one of the most important features of an animal’s habitat, because they often provide most, or even all of an animal’s habitat needs. Animals in turn help plants to reproduce through the dispersal of pollen, fruits or seeds. Consequently, plants and animals are interdependent and certain plants and animals are often found together.

Each plant prefers or tolerates a range of soil, sunlight, moisture, temperature and other conditions. Plants sharing similar requirements are likely to be found together in communities that make up different habitat like wetlands, meadows and forests. Matching plants with similar soil, sunlight, moisture and other requirements, and planting them according to existing site conditions will not only do a good job of approximating a natural habitat, but will also increase the chances of a plant’s surviving.

For a few dollars, your state or local cooperative extension office can analyze a small soil sample sent them (for contact information, see your government listings in the phone book). The results will include soil type (sand, clay, loam, etc.), pH and fertility status and recommendations for amending the soil to make it into “average garden soil.” By selecting native species that thrive in the existing conditions, it won’t be necessary to add soil, fertilizer, lime or compost. If you do alter soil conditions, then select plants suited to the new conditions.

Instead of isolated plantings, such as a tree in the middle of lawn, group trees, shrubs and perennials to create layers of vegetation. These layers provide the structure and variety needed for shelter, breeding or nesting for a diversity of wildlife.

To provide food and cover for wildlife year-round, include a variety of plants that produce seeds, nuts, berries or other fruits, or nectar. Use evergreens as well as deciduous plants. Allow stems and seed heads of flowers and grasses to remain standing throughout the fall and winter.

Most nurseries carry some native plants, and some nurseries specialize in and carry a greater selection. As the demand for native plants has grown, so has the supply at nurseries.

A list of some of the many retail and wholesale native plant nurseries in the Chesapeake Bay region is available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Chesapeake Bay Field Office at

Once you begin to explore and experiment with native plants, you’ll soon discover that many of these plants go beyond just replacing worn out selections in your yard. Native plants will eventually reduce your labor and maintenance costs, provide habitat for wildlife and create a sense of place.

A new publication, “Native Plants for Wildlife Habitat and Conservation Landscaping: Chesapeake Bay” provides details on more than 400 native plants. To request a copy contact: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Chesapeake Bay Field Office, 177 Admiral Cochrane Drive, Annapolis, MD 21401, phone 410-573-4593, or e-mail Leave your name, mailing address, and number of copies requested (up to 10).


Americans manage more than 30 million acres of lawn and spend $750 million per year on grass seed.

In managing our yards, we tend to overapply products, using 100 million tons of fertilizer and more than 80 million pounds of pesticides annually.

The average homeowner spends 40 hours per year behind a power mower, using a quart of gas per hour. The resulting grass clippings consume 25–40 percent of landfill space during a growing season. Per hour of operation, small gas-powered engines used for yard care emit more hydrocarbons than a typical auto (mowers 10 times as much, string trimmers 21 times, blowers 34 times). A yard with 10,000 square feet of turf requires 10,000 gallons of water per summer to stay green; 30 percent of the water consumed on the East Coast goes to watering lawns.

Bayscapes Online

Several organizations offer information online about BayScaping in the Chesapeake watershed. To learn more, visit: