Removing Invasive Vines at Loyola Blakefield

by Ray Heil

As a practicing landscape architect, I’ve planted thousands of trees in my career.  Planting a tree is always a hopeful experience; we’ve always understood that if we can assure that the new tree is established after the first 3 years, the odds are good that it will continue to grow successfully and confer multiple benefits on the community.  But this is no longer true, due to the proliferation of aggressive invasive vines in the urban and suburban areas of Maryland.  We’re all familiar with stories about kudzu, “the vine that ate the South,” which is not a major problem in central Maryland, but what about English Ivy, Porcelain Berry, and Oriental Bittersweet, which are “devouring” our local trees?  You can see these invasive vines everywhere along local roads covering our trees and inhibiting their growth.  Depending on the size and vigor of the tree, these aggressive vines can be fatal.     

Volunteers removing invasive vines from trees
An example of invasive vines on mature trees. These vines were removed by Green Towson Alliance volunteers at Blakehurst Retirement Community in 2019.


Towson’s Loyola Blakefield High School, despite its continual growth, still enjoys stands of native tree species along the peripheries of its campus, and in protected stream buffer areas. As a member of Green Towson Alliance, I have been actively removing invasive vines from native trees in parks and private properties for a number of years.  For three years, Loyola Blakefield has invited me to talk about invasive vine removal and to lead field work with its students.

In August, I worked with 45 sophomores and their teachers during orientation week.  My in-class presentation included two short videos: on the importance of native plants with Doug Tallamy, and how to remove invasive vines from trees. (You can access these videos on Youtube.)

After introducing myself and the Green Towson Alliance, I tried to engage the students with questions, like which county do you live in? (Most were from Baltimore County, some from the city, but 4 other counties were represented.)  I told them that I am concerned about the world they will inherit, and about how emissions of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, are forming a “blanket” in the earth’s atmosphere that is holding in the sun’s heat and warming the planet.

I provided a simplified description of how a tree takes in carbon dioxide, combines it with water and sunshine to create energy for the tree to grow, and gives off oxygen, making it possible for us to breathe.  I discussed the important role plants play in providing oxygen to support other life forms, pointing out that during the very early years of the earth’s evolution, there wasn’t enough oxygen in the atmosphere to support animal life, until plants appeared.

I described the particular importance of plants native to central Maryland in supporting the native insects and birds with which they co-evolved, and ultimately, in supporting us.  So, removing invasive vines from native trees is something we can all do to mitigate climate change and address the decline of native insect and bird species.

I asked if any of them want to be engineers. A few students raised their hands, and I asked if any of them had ever thought about the possibility of creating a machine that would take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen to the atmosphere?  Some thought that was possible.  Then I pointed out that we already have a “machine” that does just that: the tree. 

I asked why they think it is 5 degrees cooler on the Loyola campus than it is in downtown Baltimore. This led to a brief discussion of the heat island effect in cities and the benefits of trees in cooling the atmosphere.

Finally, I pointed out that my generation has made major mistakes in the way we have treated the natural world because we don’t understand it very well. As students, they have a great opportunity now to learn about the natural world in depth, so they can preserve their home planet for themselves and future generations. 

After a brief review of the tools we would use in the field, and of what vine species we would be removing (mostly English Ivy this year) and which to avoid (poison ivy), we trooped out to the stream buffer on campus, which is “protected” from cutting but not from invasive vines.  Fortunately, I had cut English Ivy that covered a large white oak there last year, so I used that tree to demonstrate what we hoped to accomplish, and to point out that the ivy, while dead on the tree’s trunk, had started growing again at the base and would have to be removed from the roots.

Quiet but attentive in the classroom, the students were active in the field, and worked almost 2 hours removing ivy vines from trees.  I worked along with them but was exhausted after 60 minutes.  Their teachers kept the process going. 

I hope to be invited again next year to work with Loyola students.  They seem to be increasingly receptive to our message.  They are the future, and they are inheriting a world in profound need of ecological restoration.   

Ray Heil is a Professional Landscape Architect, and a Certified Maryland Master Naturalist. He is on the Executive Committee for the Green Towson Alliance, and is a Lead for the Homegrown National Park Workgroup.       

What not to do (in your yard) this fall

How skipping some traditional landscaping practices can increase our much-needed pollinators and support wildlife

I have just spent an insane amount of time dethatching my lawn and aerating by hand, and I’m still not finished. (Dethatching removes dead grass so new seed makes good contact with the soil which helps germination; mine had accumulated for 10 years). My shoulders ache and I have blisters all over. But I do have 6 paper bags destined for the recycling center and a lawn full of scattered soil cores – which a flock of robins just discovered.

This was not my original plan for revitalizing our grass. And as I sit down to take a much-needed break, I decide to add one more thing on my “What Not To Do in Fall” list. This is a list that keeps growing as scientists raise the alarm about the impacts of our traditional landscaping practices on wildlife.

By not doing the following, you’ll save time and lives.


Creatures of all kinds wait out winter in and amongst fallen leaves and garden plants. Some caterpillars drop from the canopies of our native trees to nest in the ground. Some butterflies, like the Mourning Cloak, hibernate as adults within the leaves. While others spin their chrysalises and cocoons and try to stay camouflaged in leaves or on plants. Also in the blankets of leaves are lightning bug larvae, salamanders, frogs and more.

If we attract insects and other wildlife to our native plant gardens in the spring and summer, we should also make a plan for their winter hideaways too.

Instead, Do This!

Leave the Leaves

Instead of bagging up all of your leaves or chopping them up with a mower, consider instead:

  • Leaving them in a thin, scattered layer on your yard (too thick can smother your grass)
  • Raking them into your garden beds
  • Raking them into a designated leaf zone
  • Leaving them under trees so you can create a soft landing for insects

Leave the Stems

Many birds and small mammals will eat seeds from plant stalks throughout the winter. If you avoid the typical fall “clean up” and leave your stems of black-eyed Susans, coneflower and goldenrod, for example, you will be sure to attract goldfinches, chickadees and more. Grasses like Little Bluestem are a source of both shelter and food.

Most of our native bees live only a few short weeks as flying insects; they spend most of their time developing from eggs to larvae to pupae to adults. Thirty percent of our native bees are cavity nesters and will often seek out hollow plant stems (the others nest in the ground). The solitary female bees lay eggs on top of pollen balls – which they have collected from their preferred plants – within chambers in the stems. The bee larvae will develop throughout the growing season and overwinter in the stems.

Xerces Society. Bee larvae in hollow plant stem.

Lose more Lawn and Go Natural

Each year I have less lawn as my native plant gardens and trees expand, but still have quite a bit to manage. I am still perfecting the natural approach, which will be different for every lawn and will change over time. This fall, I’m following the suggestions from a recent soil analysis from the University of Delaware and adding specific nutrients that will benefit the soil and promote root growth. While aerating and overseeding with tall fescue seed in the fall is standard operating procedure for our region, it’s best to rent a mechanical aerator and dethatcher, if you have a large space. Trust me! Check here for previous blogs on low-impact landscaping and the problem with pesticides.

Come Spring!

If you have accomplished the What Not To Do In Fall list, you will be rewarded with more visitors to your yard.

For the first time last spring, I observed brown thrashers tossing leaves with their long beaks. I regularly see evidence of small bees nesting in old flower stalks (look for the “dust”) and signs of metamorphosis are everywhere.

A successful winter could mean more sparkly summer evenings, as lightning bugs signal for mates. And there will be more generations of pollinators like small carpenter bees. Since one out of every three bites of food we eat is courtesy of our pollinators, to sustain them is to sustain ourselves.

Thank you for resting this fall!


Leave the leaves from the Xerces Society

Nesting & Overwintering Habitat (detailed fact sheets)

What To Do In Spring from the Xerces Society

Life Cycle of a Mason Bee and How to Build a Bee Nest

More information on natural lawns:

Our website

Paul Tukey On Sustainable Lawncare

This blog post was written by Cary Murphy of Green Team Urbana and was reprinted here with permission. Check out their website for lots of good articles about gardening to support our backyard ecosystems,.

5 Rituals to Fall for in Autumn

And only one involves pumpkin spice…

by Anne-Marie Bonneau

The cooler weather brings with it many fall rituals. The following five will enrich your life while reducing waste.

Leaving the leaves

Last year, California became the first state to ban the sale of polluting, gas-powered leaf blowers. Hooray! These obnoxious devices emit more pollutants than some trucks. If Californians want to blow their leaves, they’ll have to buy battery-operated leaf blowers to do so.

But why blow the leaves around at all? Gathering up nutrient-rich leaves, bagging them in plastic and sending them off to landfill where, like all organic matter, they emit planet-heating methane gas, only to turn around and spend hard-earned cash on fertilizer and mulch requires way too much work!

When the leaves drop, consider doing nothing, other than watching and perhaps posting a couple of pictures of them on Instagram. The leaves will enrich the soil, provide cover for critters and provide free, water-retaining mulch. If you do rake them up—a thick layer may form on a lawn that you don’t want to kill—consider putting them in a flower bed or save them for the compost pile. Compost bins need lots of dry brown matter.

Buying the first sugar pie pumpkin or kabocha squash of the season

Sugar pie pumpkins and kabocha squash are now back at our farmers’ market! I cook these whole either in my pressure cooker or in the oven. After puréeing the flesh, I put it in pumpkin pie or pumpkin and spice sourdough quickbread or something savory like pumpkin dal. So good! Any leftover purée goes in the freezer in wide-mouth glass jars. Go here for instructions for freezing food in glass jars.

Roasting all the tomatoes

When we broke up with plastic, I had to figure out how to replace canned tomatoes—cans are lined with plastic (the stuff is everywhere!) and although many food manufacturers plaster the claim “Now BPA-Free!” on their packages, the can linings may contain something similar and just as bad. So I started a ritual of buying two or three 20-pound cases in late September or early October, when the prices have plummeted, and roasting them.

I spend a weekend cutting the tomatoes into wedges, spreading them out on baking sheets and roasting them at a very low temperature (275°F) for a couple of hours. Roasting concentrates the flavor and prepares these gems for their next incarnation—in tomato paste or pizza sauce or chana masala or tomato soup or spaghetti sauce or anything else that calls for canned tomatoes. I then pack the tomatoes into wide-mouth glass jars and after they cool, freeze them.

During this ritual, as I chop the 150th tomato, I ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Then in winter, after thawing out a jar to make a fabulous sauce or other tomato-based dish, with that first taste comes my answer.

Here are more detailed roasting instructions. This year I also made a few jars of tomato purée and am sold. I’ll include those in my yearly squirreling-away-the-tomatoes ritual. Go here for the purée instructions.

Purging stuff

As we move back indoors with the cooler weather, we may need to declutter to make our homes more comfortable. Recent graduates, new parents, growing kids—they all have needs, perhaps for the items you no longer want.

My friends and I haven’t been able to organize a clothing/stuff swap since before Covid. I think it’s about time we did. Go here for info on our first swap from the Before Times and ideas for organizing a swap of your own. Or post your stuff to give away in a Buy Nothing group or on Nextdoor.

A school clothing swap

In 2019, my friend Monique Labelle-Wheeler, a teacher in Ottawa, organized her elementary school’s first clothing swap. It was a great success! Another one is in the works for this year.

I thought that by educating young people, it’s possible to remove the stigma about shopping secondhand and show them something we can all do to help save our planet. I told the kids that wearing secondhand clothes means that these garments won’t get sent to the dump. — Monique Labelle-Wheeler

Imagine if every school in North America hosted a clothing swap at least once a year. Literally tons and tons of clothes would be diverted from landfill.

Go here for Monique’s guest blog post outlining how to organize a clothing swap at your child’s school. Please steal this idea! Or do a costume swap for Halloween!

Hazardous stuff

While you’re purging, you may come across some household hazardous waste that can’t go in the regular trash. Go here for a blog post my daughter, a waste management professional, wrote regarding household hazardous waste. She recently made a small pile of decades-old paint cans she found in our garage. We’ll make an appointment with our city to drop those off.

Emptying the freezer

In fall, I also like to purge the freezer to make room for all the tomatoes and pumpkin purée I’ll stash in there. Although we didn’t buy very much at the farmers’ market this past weekend, we’ve been eating well all week long thanks in part to the food stashed in the freezer. (Did you know, freezing tofu renders a wonderfully chewy, meaty texture?)

Practicing a new or existing skill

The cooler weather is a good time to pick up a skill you can practice indoors—sewing, knitting, woodwork, cooking. As our society went all in on consumer culture, it abandoned many life skills, leaving us helpless and dependent on corporations to fulfill our every need. And as those corporations squeezed more out of their workers and drove down wages, many of us have no time to apply these skills.

One of the many aspects that I love about a low-waste lifestyle is the recovery of some of these hands-on, life skills. My neighbors may be (monetarily) richer than I, but they’re not eating better bread!

My friend Any uses fabric scraps and paper scraps for her hand-stitched English paper piecing

Five Rituals to Fall for in Autumn by Anne-Marie Bonneau originally appeared in The Zero-Waste Chef in September, 2022, and is reprinted with the permission of the author. Read about her new book and other other great ideas on living mindfully and well on the Zero Waste Chef website.

Candidates for Baltimore County Council Answer Questions about the Environment

We hope everyone will vote in the Primary Election on July 19.

Last month, GTA emailed all of the candidates for County Council for the Councilmanic Districts around Towson- Districts 2, 3, 5, and 6, inviting them to reply to five questions on environmental issues we consider to be high priority for Baltimore County. We received replies from 5 candidates: Izzy Patoka (D) and Tony Fugett (D) (Dist. 2), and Caitlin Klimm-Kellner (D) , Mike Ertel (D), and Tony Campbell (R) (Dist. 6).

The questions are listed below in bold, with the responses we received following the questions.

We encourage members of Green Towson Alliance to consider the candidates’ responses, below, when voting, and to hold the responding candidates who are elected to account.

You may also wish to email candidates who did not reply with questions about their environmental platforms. The email addresses of all the candidates we contacted are listed at the bottom of this document. We have also included a link to a list of questions for the candidates for the 6th Council District that was prepared and published online by the Towson Communities Alliance.

Thank you, as always, for all you do for our natural world.
Green Towson Alliance Executive Committee

Question 1: Several Maryland counties have strengthened their laws regulating how the Maryland Forest Conservation Act of 1991 (FCA) is implemented. Provisions in the FCA were intended as a minimum, with each county responsible for developing implementation laws in their own county. In 2022, the Baltimore County Commission on Environmental Quality (CEQ), at the request of the County Council, created a report including recommendations on strengthening forest conservation in our county, but thus far no changes have been made. The 3-part CEQ report is attached below for your information. Do you favor legislating improvements to implementation the Forest Conservation Act in Baltimore County, and if so, what changes do you support?

Response from Izzy Patoka (D) District 2:

I sponsored Resolution 135-21 that requested that the Baltimore County Advisory Commission on Environmental Quality (the “CEQ”) provide findings and guidance regarding the adequacy of maintenance periods for afforestation and reforestation projects. Currently, the County Code requires maintenance of afforestation and reforestation projects for a period of three years, with the intent of the law being that trees shall be established such that they survive for a longer period so that they replace forests lost to development. So the answer is Yes! At this point I support firm commitments from developers with longer maintenance periods an appropriate
species type planting.

Response from Tony Fugett (D), District 2:

To support resident’s quality of life, the environment must not only be considered, but protected. Therefore, I favor legislation improvements to implementing the Forest Conservation Act in Baltimore County. In addition to the recommended changes by the Baltimore County Commission on Environmental Quality (CEQ) I believe we should also:
● Analyze our existing trees within County easements to determine if they
are failing and need to be replaced.
● Increase replanting efforts of native plant species near riparian buffers and
● Support our natural resources management staff through funding that will
allow the County to extend its maintenance management plans and hold
developers accountable for their disruption of natural resources.
● Require developers to comprehensively analyze development impacts on
natural resources, hydrology, geology, and soils and place a 2:1
requirement on tree placement. So for every tree removed due to
development, the project must replant and maintain two trees.
● Increasing funding to purchase and conserve lands for the enjoyment and
prosperity of the natural environment and our residents.

Response from Caitlin Klimm-Kellner (D), District 6:

I do support legislating improvements to implementation of the Forest Conservation Act. I would follow the Commission on Environmental Quality’s recommendations. I would also strengthen the requirements for maintenance. For example, developers should be required to do inspections once a quarter instead of twice a year. I would also add that if any tree dies in that time period of developer responsibility, they must replace the tree. Baltimore County must also increase inspections to match the quarterly rate I suggested.

Response from Mike Ertel (D), District 6:

Yes, I favor legislating improvements to the Forest Conservation Act. I’d like to see the elimination of waivers.

Response from Tony Campbell (R), District 6:

      I agree with the four recommendations offered by the Baltimore Commission on Environmental Quality. Specifically making three changes to current county law:

·         Lowering the Forest Conservation Law from 40,000 to 20,000 SF

·         Revise fee-in-lieu charges as recommended

·         Increasing the maintenance period for developers to 10 years.

Question 2. Implementation of the state’s Roadside Tree Law (COMAR Title 5-401) in Baltimore County has been delegated to the Department of Public Works and Transportation. Currently, roadside trees are removed upon request from property owners for a small fee, and replacement trees are not required to be planted. Do you support reforms to strengthen the way Baltimore County implements the Maryland Roadside Tree Law to protect healthy trees and replace in the same geographic area those trees that must be removed?

Response from Izzy Patoka (D) District 2:

Yes. Tree removal initiatives must be done in a parallel effort with tree planting efforts. There are many organizations to partner with such as Blue Water Baltimore.

Response from Tony Fugett (D), District 2:

Trees contribute in several ways to our environment, from providing oxygen and improving air quality to climate amelioration, conserving water, cooling streets, and conserving energy. I support reforms that strengthen how Baltimore County implements the Maryland Roadside Tree Law to protect healthy trees and replace those that must be removed in the same area. I believe that roadside trees should only be removed is they cause harm or danger to pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicular drivers.

Response from Caitlin Klimm-Kellner (D), District 6:

I do support reforms to strengthen Baltimore County implementation of the Maryland Roadside Tree Law. Unless the tree is going to cause bodily harm, extreme building damage, cause major roadside visibility obstruction, the trees should stay on the property. If a property owner wants the tree removed, the fee should be increased and there should be a requirement that they must plant additional trees either on the property or within a county recommended area.

Response from Mike Ertel (D), District 6:

Yes, I’d also like to move not to have the county pay for any healthy trees being cut down that have buckled sidewalks. We need to add more arborists to the county DPW / DEPS staff.

Response from Tony Campbell (R), District 6:

Yes, I support reforms to strengthen Baltimore County DPW’s implementation of the Maryland Roadside Tree Law.  Replacement trees should be planted, and perhaps some tax reduction incentive to homeowners to provide maintenance of the new trees.

Question 3: Currently Baltimore County Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability relies primarily on traditional stormwater management strategies such as large regional ponds and stream restoration projects, both of which cause environmental damage. Industry best practices recommend addressing stormwater runoff close to where the rain falls through bioretention facilities, raingardens, green roofs, bio-swales and other environmental site design techniques, which are less damaging. Do you support a legislative effort to ensure that DEPS follows best practices to address stormwater runoff in the county?

Response from Izzy Patoka (D) District 2:

Yes . We should not settle for anything less than best practices in the industry.

Response from Tony Fugett (D), District 2:

Although buildings have gotten higher, and our cities have gotten smarter, our water infrastructure systems have not changed over hundreds of years, resulting in line failure, water contamination, and adverse environmental impacts. Access to clean water and the ability to treat wastewater are growing concerns, along with managing waste, water loss, flooding, and the impact of climate change and rapid urbanization. I support legislative efforts to ensure that DEPS follows best practices to address stormwater runoff in the County. I would hope to see the following improvements that have been implemented in counties and cities across the nation, such as:
● Improved packaging in grocery and retail markets
● Bag collection fee to promote the use of reusable bags
● Installing smart water and waste management technologies that detect
leakage, provide predictive maintenance, and support just-in-time waste
● Assisting businesses to switch to gray water infrastructure for landscape
● For development, reducing the extent of clearing, grubbing, and paving
● Eliminating the need for stormwater management ponds for development
(i.e. Pembroke Woods LID Subdivision in Frederick County, MD)
● Working with the Planning Department to create realistic parking
allowances for development.

Response from Caitlin Klimm-Kellner (D), District 6:

Yes I do support legislative efforts to ensure that DEPS follows the best practices in regards to stormwater runoff. As county residents, we do not hear enough about the best practice recommendations and I believe we need to legislate these efforts to ensure the best environmental practices.

Response from Mike Ertel (D), District 6:

Yes, I’d like DEPS to require stormwater runoff  through bioretention facilities, raingardens, green roofs, bio-swales and other environmental site design techniques.

Response from Tony Campbell (R), District 6:

Yes, I would support a legislative effort to better manage stormwater runoff.

Question 4: Baltimore County’s land development process has long favored the interests of the development community at a significant cost to the environment. The Green Towson Alliance promotes the following changes to the development process:
Strengthen the County’s Adequate Public Facilities Legislation to require fees from developers to fund water and sewer systems, public roads, schools, open space/parks, and other utilities.
Reform the environmental variance process to include a public comment period and tightening of criteria for granting variances.
Limited Exemption & Special Exception reforms, including notification of affected communities, guidance to communities in interpreting plan refinements, and an appeals process for administrative decisions.
Do you support these changes to the county’s land development process?

Response from Izzy Patoka (D) District 2:

Yes. In my first year of Office I supported legislation to create impact fees to offset the negative effects of development. I also support the implementation of the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance Task Force recommendations.

Response from Tony Fugett (D), District 2:

It is time for Baltimore County to favor its residents and the environment. I support changes to the land development process. I believe in civic engagement and transparency. Residents should know when development is proposed within 600 feet of their residence, so communities can come together to make a collective statement on its impacts.

Response from Caitlin Klimm-Kellner (D), District 6:

Yes, I support changes to the county’s land development process. Baltimore County is behind on developer fees so strengthening the County’s Adequate Public Facilities Legislation would help get the county to match other areas. I also believe that the residents should have a say in every decision and support the public comment period for environmental variances. I do need some additional research and conversation (regarding) Limited Exemption & Special Exception reforms. The way it reads to me is that we would be limiting notification of affected communities; and I believe communities should have as much notification and details as possible.

Response from Mike Ertel (D), District 6:

Yes, I support these changes to the county’s land development process.

Response from Tony Campbell (R), District 6:

For too long, developers have had their way in Baltimore County.  The “Pay for Play” system has benefited politicians and developers alike, and the environment and local communities such as Historic East Towson have suffered because of these backroom deals. 

Question 5: As Towson’s central business district is more densely developed, Green Towson Alliance supports the adoption of the urban design standards that were developed in the Walkable Towson Plan in 2010 so that the downtown is safer, more walkable, and more economically vibrant. Do you support the adoption by the County Council of better urban design standards for downtown Towson?

Response from Izzy Patoka (D) District 2:

Yes. Urban design stands are not static. They change with time. We may need to revisit all aspects of design in a post pandemic economy.

Response from Tony Fugett (D), District 2:

I support the adoption by the County Council of better urban design standards for downtown Towson, specifically traffic calming techniques and increasing opportunities and access to non-motorized transportation.

Response from Caitlin Klimm-Kellner (D), District 6:

I am a supporter of community plans therefore I support the Walkable Towson Plan from 2010. As stated on the Green Towson Alliance website: “this guidance and these regulations should not be compromised to further developers’ or governmental interests.” I fully support that statement and would like to partner with the Green Towson Alliance to ensure that those goals in the Walkable Towson Plan are being met.

Response from Mike Ertel (D), District 6:

Yes, we need Urban Design Standards for Downtown Towson.

Response from Tony Campbell (R), District 6:

As the former Bike and Pedestrian Program Manager for MDOT-SHA, I was involved with dozens of projects which helped to make communities across the state more walkable, more bicycle friendly, and healthier. Green and Open Space is at a minimum in the greater Towson area.  Trails should be developed between TU and downtown Towson, as well as the “Freedom Trail” linking Historic East Towson to the Hampton Historic Site.   Yes, I support the adoption of better urban design standards for downtown Towson.

Here is a list of the 15 County Council candidates Green Towson Alliance contacted:
District 2: James Amos (R )
Tony Fugett (D)
Izzy Patoka (D)

District 3: Wade Kach (R )
Roberto Zanotta (R )
Paul Henderson (D)

District 5: Philip DePaulo (R )
David Marks (R )
Crystal Francis (D)
Nick Johnson (D)

District 6: Tony Campbell (R )
Mike Ertel (D)
Shafiyq Hinton (D)
Caitlin Klimm-Kellner (D)
Preston Snedegar (D)

You can read the survey of District 6 candidates compiled by the Towson Communities Alliance here.

Lawn to Meadow Season Three

By Leslie Duthie

On Earth Day, I was scrolling through my email and came across a Washington Post article on 10 Ways We Can Reduce Our Carbon Footprint. Some of the things listed in the article I already do (#1 Create Less Food Waste, #5 Protect Our Forests), and some are good suggestions (#4 Shop Less, #6 Trade-In For An All-Electric Car). But right there at #2 is something I have recently been advocating for: Ditch the Lawn.

Ok, I haven’t completely ditched the lawn, but we are mowing less, and I am encouraging the spread of everything from violets to goldenrod into our green space that we call “lawn.”

Americans Love Their Lawn

The Washington Post article reminded me that Americans have a love affair with lawns. They are pristine, weed-free, large expanses of perfect green. And yet, they are essentially biological deserts – partly because of what we do to them and partly because they are a giant monoculture. Here are some of the appalling facts related in the article:

  • Lawn covers 40-50 million acres in the continental United States, almost as much land as in our national parks.
  • Lawns consume nearly 3 trillion gallons of water per year
  • 50 million pounds of pesticides per year are applied to lawns which can seep into waterways.
  • Gas-powered lawn and garden equipment used roughly 3 billion gallons of gas last year – equivalent to nearly 6 million passenger cars running for a year. This astronomic number is partly a result of poor efficiency.
  • Lawn care equipment (mowers, blowers) are responsible for 5% of the air pollution in the United States because lawn equipment motors are not regulated by EPA.

Two years ago, when we were encouraged to stay home due to the pandemic, I decided to kill part of my lawn. I wrote the article Lawn Murder describing the process of using cardboard, wood chips and a mix of purchased loam and compost to smother my lawn. It was the easiest garden I have ever started.

I sowed a bunch of seeds but primarily focused on sowing a native annual called partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata). I threw out some other seeds I had on hand and planted some small plugs of various meadow plants right through the cardboard.

Once the plants began to grow and the partridge pea began to flower, I did almost no weeding! I removed weeds like pigweed and burdock, but I tried to leave the garden to grow on its own. I did pull some of the partridge peas to give the plugs more light. I was amazed at what I had in mid-summer as the partridge pea – my annual cover crop – matured. The whole patch buzzed with the sounds of all kinds of bees! Some (Agastache, Monarda citriodora) seeds grew and bloomed in summer. Some transplants (Echinacea purpurea) also bloomed, but for year one, the partridge pea was the star of the garden. 

I was so happy with the garden that in the fall, I expanded it towards the back of the property – around the saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) connecting to the shade garden along the property line. In the shaded area, I used primarily golden star (Chrysogonum virginianum), ginger (Asarum canadense), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), and a few black cohoshes (Actaea racemosa) that I transplanted from another garden. As the growing season ended, I didn’t cut anything back. I let the partridge pea drop its seed back into the bed and go to sleep.

Year #2 Surprises

Last spring (2021), I removed the old stalks of the partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasiculata) as they were pretty tough. Some partridge pea grew from seeds and were scattered through the garden, but it was primarily concentrated in the front edge of the garden where I had planted strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) in mid-summer. The plugs and transplants I put in the first year began to thrive – they had developed good roots, and the tops were ready to grow, ready to out-compete the annual and show their true colors.

First-year a garden of partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasiculata).

Surprises? You bet! All of my perennials grew and overtook most of the partridge pea, creating a beautiful meadow of a variety of flowers. The Beebalm (Monarda didyma) bloomed in mid-summer. Despite planting what I thought was the red bee balm, they turned out to be hybrids of M. didyma and M. fistulosa because I had grown them from seed collected in a mixed field. The flowers bloomed lavender, pinkish, and a rosy purple instead of the red I hoped for. The purple giant hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia) was abundant as I had both seeded it and planted plugs. I harvested quite a bit for tea and the plants still grew and flowered in late August. I planted a few plants of yellow giant hyssop (Agastache nepetoides), which were 10’ tall! But like the beebalm, several turned out to be hybrids between A. nepetoides and A. foeniculum and had a weird purply-yellow colored flower. This was not what I wanted or expected, so in this case, I pulled the hybrids out and left the three pure yellow-flowered plants. Still, the garden was amazing!

The broad leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) was huge and loaded with flowers attracting many bees and pollinating wasps!  It began encroaching on other plants as it spread quickly from 1” plugs to large 12” clumps! I had flowers on my swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) and the self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) was forming a mat at the edge. Goldenrod came up and bloomed this second summer and added yellow to my mix of purples and white. The strawberries (Fragaria virginiana) were struggling under the tall partridge pea, so in late summer, I pulled the partridge pea from the garden so it would not go to seed, allowing the strawberries to spread and cover the soil.

The grasses have been slow. I knew this when I planted them. The little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) was too short and not all visible. In fall, I could see they had grown and formed clumps in various places. The Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) was small and did not thrive; I am not sure it is still there. I added some new plants such as skullcap (Scutellaria incana), sedge (Carex sp.), and catnip (Nepeta cataria). The newer back section of the bed is loaded with violets. They make a nice ground cover, and I added more black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) for some height above the violets. 

Stunning purple giant hyssop (Agastache scrophulariifolia), Monarda – it’s actually a hybrid between M. didyma and M. fistulosa), and partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasiculata) really give this new meadow some pop!

This second year I still did almost no weeding in the meadow. The density of the plants helped keep the weeds at bay. I did find mugwort (Artemesia vulgaris), an invasive species, coming up in the meadow. I pulled what I could and then dug it this spring to try to eradicate it before it takes hold. I had some weeds, such as pigweed and wild lettuce, which are easy to remove, and I still pulled some of the partridge pea. I had lots of color and lots of plants! This second year I had a lush garden of flowers. I was extremely pleased with the color and density of the meadow. I probably could let the garden grow on its own now.

Third Spring: From Nothing to Mature Meadow

This is the third spring from nothing to maturing meadow. I used a brush cutter and cut down the remaining upright stems in April. I left most of them on the ground but removed some stiffer things like the giant hyssop (Agastache sp.) and mountain mint (Pycnanthemum sp.) stalks. Although I was pleased with the beautiful flower plants of last year’s meadow, I am a gardener, so I am reassessing the mix. I need to make some additions and some changes.

I am removing some of the broad leaf mountain mint (Pycnanthemum muticum) as it overtakes other plants. I will add some true beebalm – the red one while leaving some of the hybrid Monarda already there. I will add some yellows, too – black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and native sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides). I have added some skullcap (Scutellaria incana) and some showy tick trefoil (Desmodium canadense) to add deep purple and pinks to the mix.

Shade meadow garden (meadow) featuring golden star (Chrysogonum virginianum) and Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).

Meanwhile, I am thrilled with the garden. The shade plants, particularly the golden star (Chrysogonum virginianum), have taken off. I can’t wait to see the garden in mid-summer. I see seedlings of partridge pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) coming up, and I know that they will help fill in any gaps. 

This project has been just amazing! Now, I am looking for new places to kill my lawn and add some new species.

Lawn to Meadow Season Three by Leslie Duthie originally appeared in the
ELA Newsletter, June 2022, and is reprinted with the permission of the author and the Ecological Landscape Alliance.

Towson Native Garden Contest!

Native gardens are blossoming across Towson. We know so because of the Green Towson Alliance’s wildly popular native garden contest. Last year’s first effort drew many entries and connected gardeners across Towson. I had the chance to visit several of the gardens, here, here and here, so much fun and inspiration galore!

A couple of things connected these very different gardens together. Each, whether in the back of row home on a narrower lot or a single family home on a wider lot, had a comfy space for sitting in and amongst the garden. One of the fun things about gardening with native plants is your garden comes more alive the more native plants you add. Having a place to sit and immerse yourself in it is one of the true pleasures of this endeavor.

A plant in common? All grow rudbeckia (Rudbeckia fulgida), the Maryland state flower. Yes, it is common but what a powerhouse! Early to green up, blooms July through September and then, those seed heads feed birds through the winter. It spreads on its own. It really needs no care. Grows in sun or part shade. It’s a great place to start. Why a contest? This was all a seed of an idea by Patty Mochel, a savvy media specialist by profession, and now a Doug Tallamy convert to native plants. Patty has always gardened. In her twenties she grew vegetables. She became a master gardener and added many trees, shrubs and flowers to her garden, always immensely enjoying it.

Please continue reading this article in the Nuts for Natives blog.

Volunteers Cleared Out 4.3 Thousand Pounds of Trash from Towson Streams This Spring

198 volunteers from neighborhoods all over Towson helped to clean up 4,300 pounds of trash from tributaries of the Herring Run stream in March and April. Green Towson Alliance organized the cleanups as part of Project Clean Stream for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay.

A neighbor cleans trash from the stream at Overlook Park.

Neighbors know first-hand about the trash they see in their neighborhood streams, and many of them volunteered to help clean it up. Some of the trash is accidentally or purposely thrown into stream beds, but much of it is washed from roads or sidewalks into streams during a heavy rain. If it’s not taken out, the trash will make its way down our rivers to the Chesapeake Bay.

Several terrific crews of Towson University students, who were taking part in University’s The Big Event, were bussed by the University to several clean-up sites.

Towson University students joined neighbors to collect trash from the stream in Glendale.

In Radebaugh Park, the students cleaned out trash from the stream and then helped neighbors chop out a wall of invasive ivy from their alley.

A Towson University student loading up a pickup truck with invasive ivy.

In Wiltondale, volunteers picked up trash, and pulled out lots of invasive garlic mustard from the banks surrounding the Herring Run stream.

Wiltondale crew.
Neighbors who helped cleanup Overlook Park.
Volunteers at Loch Raven Library.

In Knollwood as part of a  two-day cleanup of the stream in the proposed Six Bridge Trail project, volunteers worked through a downpour, and some of them wore waders so they could clean the stream completely. Items pulled out of the stream included pipes, wood, and grocery carts.

The team wearing waders in order to thoroughly clean trash out of the stream in Knollwood.

In all, Green Towson Alliance organized twelve stream clean-ups in March and April. Over the past six years, stream cleanups organized by the Green Towson Alliance have removed more than 17 tons of trash from tributaries of the Herring Run.

How to Plant a Tree

By Carl Gold

I am kneeling in the soil using my hands to fill a hole.  I am dirty and my back is stiff. My fingernails are cracked and my hands are callused and rough to the touch. I have not looked at my watch or cell phone for hours. I have spent the morning planting native trees. Planting a tree is like planting oxygen. Replanting trees in urban areas that have been denuded can heal heat islands, clean the air, filter water, reduce asthma, provide habitat and raise property values. Trees shade homes in the summer and serve as windbreaks in the winter. Trees absorb carbon and ultraviolet radiation. They are first line defenders against climate change.

Early spring and early fall are the best times to plant a tree. When a tree is planted it goes into shock- hot summer weather and drought add to this stress and can kill the tree before it has a chance to adapt. Similarly, freezing temperatures prevent root growth and a winter planted tree will struggle. If possible, plant a tree native to our region. Native trees bloom and leaf out timed to match the hatching of certain insects that rely on them for food. If those insects are not around migrating birds that feed on the insects will go elsewhere. A single mature oak tree can host over 500 species of nascent moths and butterflies – more than any other plant or tree. This is a wildlife smorgasbord. An oak may take 40-60 years to mature – but can live for centuries.

The planting hole should be 2-3 times as wide as the root ball. Start by removing any grass. Save it and set it aside. Make the sides of your circular hole perpendicular to the bottom- avoid slanted sides. The bottom of the hole should be flat so that water will not pool under the tree and tilt it. If your soil is severely compacted from development or construction, consider amending it with compost or better soil and increasing the width of the hole to give roots room to grow. Low-cost compost is available from Baltimore City’s Camp Small.

 Cut away any wire and burlap or remove your new tree from the plastic pot. Now you must act ruthlessly and counterintuitively.  If your tree grew in a plastic pot, it is highly likely that the roots are encircling the tree and if not addressed will ultimately girdle and kill the tree. Use a knife or your fingers to release the circling roots- it is ok to cut them to do this. If any of the roots have woody portions that are growing back towards the trunk- cut them off! They will never change direction so they must be removed to protect the tree from itself. Next, find the tree flare or first structural root- this is where the trunk widens at the base of the tree. It is likely to be covered with soil that you will have to remove. Planting depth is crucial. The tree flare must be visible just above the surface once you fill in the hole- it is better to be an inch too high than an inch too low- the tree will settle as you water it.  The easiest way to make sure the depth is correct is to lay your shovel across the hole as you are back filling from the soil you set aside.  The root flare should be level with the bottom of the shovel handle or slightly higher.   If you are working solo, stop and check that the tree is centered and straight. Take the grass you removed, flip it over and create a berm around the tree. Cover with mulch making sure to leave the flare exposed. Think doughnut, not volcano.

From March to October, water your new tree at least weekly the equivalent of one to two inches of rainfall for the first two years. You might want to stake it to protect against lawnmowers and weedwhackers. If deer are a problem, you can wrap inexpensive fencing around the stakes to protect the tree. Depending on how bad the deer problem is you may need to keep the fencing for several years. 

You have now given all of us a gift that will surpass anything you could do in your will.

Carl Gold is a Maryland Master Naturalist and a certified weed warrior and tree keeper. He can be reached at

Opinion: Red Maple Place is Not the Solution to Baltimore County’s Dire Need for Affordable Housing

March 24, 2022

By Nancy R. Goldring, Deborah “Spice” Kleinmann, Beth Miller, Peta N. Richkus and Will Schwarz

Goldring is the president of the Northeast Towson Improvement Association. Kleinmann is with the Greater Baltimore Group of the Maryland Sierra Club. Miller is with the Green Towson Alliance. Richkus is with Indivisible Towson. Schwarz is president of the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project.

Many of the facts behind Adria Crutchfield and Tom Coale’s commentary, “Baltimore County Needs Red Maple Place,” Maryland Matters, March 14], are indisputable: Baltimore County’s long and shameful history of explicit and institutional racism; a critical need for affordable housing in locations with easy access to public transportation and services; the county’s failure to make any real progress on its 2016 Voluntary Conciliation Agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and that its overall profile makes it logical that Towson census tracts are among those listed as good candidates for affordable housing units.

Unfortunately, the conclusion that opposition to Red Maple Place is “misguided, racist hostility to low-income families” misses the mark.

Baltimore County could hardly select a worse property to meet the need for affordable housing. The site is located in Historic East Towson, one of the few historically African-American communities still remaining in Baltimore County.

Its origins date to the 1700s and the slave plantation now known as Hampton National Historic Site. Some of the Ridgely family’s hundreds of manumitted slaves began their own community in the 1850s a few miles away in East Towson. Generations built homes and raised families there. Churches and community life flourished.

Unconscionably, for most of its history, Towson’s Black community has been the dumping ground for things white people didn’t want in their own neighborhoods.

Some examples: A massive BGE power substation relocated to the heart of the neighborhood in 1965, erasing eight homes. In the 1980s, more East Towson homes were lost to the construction of the Towson bypass. Several homes were razed to make way for a Stanley Black and Decker parking lot. The District Courthouse, the Towson library and four affordable housing projects also encroach on land that was originally part of the East Towson community.

Three previous proposals for the property (in 1956, 1960 and 1973 for apartments, offices and condominiums, respectively) failed, indicating enormous challenges for development that made the site unsellable as well. The owner of the property, a well-connected developer, was stuck.

Baltimore County to the rescue: under the previous administration the county brokered a deal between the property owner and Homes for America, thereby solving the developer’s dilemma. Two birds with one stone: the possibility of “movement” on the voluntary conciliation agreement commitments and making an influential developer happy.

Also a matter of record; the relationship between Baltimore Regional Housing Partnership, whose executive director and a board member authored the March 14 commentary, and its property partner, Homes for America, the nonprofit housing development corporation which specializes in developing and preserving affordable rental housing and is the developer of Red Maple Place, is a fiduciary one of long-standing.

Now comes Red Maple Place, a fully-formed product with no meaningful flexibility to its size or configuration. It’s disingenuous for the BRHP representatives to gloss over the objections that arose during the process as due to “aesthetics (and) environmental concerns.”

Homes for America and the county acted together to roll over Historic East Towson like a bulldozer.

The county waived one development and environmental standard after another to shoehorn this project into the last remaining green space in Towson. With too much building for the site, design standards, environmental laws and open space public facilities, all provisions put in place to protect the quality of life and health of Baltimore County citizens, were waived to enable this project.

To name the project for a native tree, so many of which will be destroyed by its construction, adds insult to injury.

Alternate, available adjacent sites in East Towson were also suggested which would have helped the county move forward on its voluntary conciliation agreement commitments without the environmental impact of the proposed site. This was rejected.

It is completely accurate to say the objections included “targeting a historically Black community.” As if doing so is acceptable.

The voluntary conciliation agreement stipulates the county is “to avoid clustering families using housing choice vouchers (i.e. subsidized housing) in racially segregated or low-income areas.” The African-American East Towson census tracts are among the poorest in the Towson area.

Clearly, the objections to Red Maple Place were not to affordable housing – a great need in Baltimore County. To charge otherwise undercuts the believability of the proponents’ arguments.

The many organizations and community members that support Historic East Towson will continue to object to locating the proposed project on the Historic East Towson site, as yet one more manifestation of the institutional racism that has systematically worked to destroy this almost 200-year-old African-American community over many decades.

This commentary was published in Maryland Matters.

Green Towson Alliance Announces Its Second Native Garden Contest

Green Towson Alliance is kicking off its 2022 Native Garden Contest, and any gardener who lives in a Towson neighborhood and incorporates native plants, trees and shrubs in their yard is welcome to enter. An entry can be a specific garden bed, or the whole yard. People who have a rain garden designed to reduce lawn runoff, or a garden that features mature or recently planted native trees are encouraged to enter the contest.

Why native plants? Native plants are defined as plants and trees that have been growing in our region since before European colonization.  Research has found that most insects can only ingest  plants they have co-evolved with for thousands of years. Most butterflies and moths can lay  eggs only on  specific  plants that they have co-evolved with. Caterpillars that hatch from those eggs, and other insects, are a vital food for songbirds, especially when they are nesting. Nearly all birds feed insects to their fledglings. No insects, no baby birds!

The Native Garden Contest will celebrate  Towson gardens and yards that  support the health of our local ecosystems. More information on the contest and the importance of growing native trees and plants in your yard can be found at

Start snapping pictures of your garden! Participants will be asked to upload photographs of their garden when the contest opens for entries on June 13th. GTA’s Homegrown National Park Workgroup will visit the entries and announce the finalists on July 16th. The public will be invited to vote online for their favorite garden.

Last year, 27 people entered their gardens, and there were more than 440 votes to choose the winners of the 2021 Native Garden Contest. Last year’s winners were homeowners in the Rodgers Forge, Greenbrier, and Loch Raven Village communities. Burkleigh Square won a special award for its Community Garden.

Green Towson Alliance is a group of Towson area residents who care deeply about our natural world and are working to mitigate the effects of climate change. We have planted hundreds of trees, cleared out tons of trash from local streams, restored woodlands and parks by removing invasive vines that are strangling mature trees, and advocate for good environmental policy in  Baltimore County. This is our seventh year of service to our community and the environment.

The Native Garden Contest was born from the imaginations of members of the GTA Homegrown National Park Workgroup. We are inspired by a national project to restore our ecosystems. The purpose of this contest is to encourage and celebrate Towson gardeners who incorporate native trees, shrubs, and plants in their landscapes. Together, we can do our part to protect and sustain  the natural environment for our children,  grandchildren, nieces, and nephews, and all we love, including the non-human species who share our communities.