164 Volunteers Cleaned Out More than a Ton of Trash from Towson Streams this Spring

Volunteers from neighborhoods all over Towson helped to clean up 2,857 pounds of trash from tributaries of the Herring Run and Roland Run this spring as part of Project Clean Stream for the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay. Every year, Green Towson Alliance organizes these cleanups in Towson, and this year, nine cleanups were held in April.

These youngsters helped look for trash in the Herring Run stream in Overlook Park.
GTA members Kathleen Brady (pictured) and Diane Topper led the Wiltondale Garden Club cleanup in the Wiltondale Community.

Some unusual items pulled out of streams include a street sign, a wet vac, a lampshade, a skateboard ramp, a tire from a wheelbarrow, and a dollar bill.

Volunteers Jason and Wayne Prem found this skateboard ramp in Roland Run.

One of the cleanups concentrated on removing invasive plants from the area around the stream in their neighborhood; many volunteers taking part on the cleanups couldn’t pass by invasive plants like garlic mustard, which is easy to spot and pull, and can be found just about everywhere in the spring in Maryland.

Some of the invasive garlic mustard pulled up at Overlook Park.

Students from Towson University participated in five of the cleanups, as part of the yearly TU “big event” on April 30, in which students go into neighborhoods to help with community projects.

Members of the Towson University Gymnastics Team pitched in at Radebaugh Park and its surrounding neighborhood.
TU students from the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity with the trash they pulled out of the
Roland Run stream in Riderwood.

Since its inception in 2015, Green Towson Alliance volunteers have cleaned out nearly 16 tons of trash from local streams through these annual stream clean-ups. One big change is that we no longer find Styrofoam; its use as carryout containers was banned in Maryland in October, 2020. GTA member Lauren Stranahan coordinated this year’s stream clean-ups.

Some volunteers came equipped with boots and waders.

You Just Can’t Hack It: Correct Pruning for Healthy Trees

by Adreon Hubbard

On my walks through the neighborhood, I’ve noticed street and yard trees with various issues that might have been prevented through correct pruning. Our trees are subjected to many stressors beyond our control, but pruning when a tree is young is something the average person can do (even an arthritic retiree such as myself) to help the tree withstand these threats and live a longer, healthier life. Pruning also provides a fun outdoor workout and sense of accomplishment. Having just completed my TreeKeeper Pruning Certification, I am excited to share some tips and tricks. Even if you prefer to hire someone to prune your trees, knowing the basics can help ensure that you hire a competent professional and not a “hacker.”

Know when to prune, and keep safety in mind. The best time of year to prune most trees is generally thought to be in the dormant season, especially late Winter through early Spring. Pruning just before the flush of new growth allows trees to seal off their wounds rapidly. You can also see the branch structure clearly before leaf out, and there are fewer pests and diseases waiting to attack the wounds. Elms and oaks should only be pruned through February, however, due to their susceptibility to Dutch Elm and Oak Wilt Disease. Avoid pruning after severe drought. With that said, most trees can be safely given a light pruning at any time of year. 

Wait two-three years after planting your tree before pruning it to allow for proper root establishment, but don’t wait until the tree is so large you can’t reach the branches with a pole pruner while standing on the ground. Tree climbing, ladders, power tools, and removing branches larger than 4” in diameter or close to power lines are best left to the professionals!

Know your reason for pruning. The interrelated goals of human safety, tree health, and aesthetics are the main reasons for pruning. Weak branch connections caused by poor structure may cause branches to break off in storms, leaving a jagged tear which opens the tree up to disease and decay. Healthy tree structure reduces such risks and tends to look balanced and attractive. Before pruning, spend some time carefully observing the tree from different angles. Ideally, do this with a friend to have a second set of eyes on it. You cannot put back a branch once it is cut, so “less is more.” Pruning is recommended in order to:

  • Remove a second trunk or branch competing with the dominant trunk (certain species, such as SweetBay Magnolias, can be allowed to have multiple trunks) 
  • Remove dead branches or stubs
  • Remove or shorten crossing, rubbing branches
  • Remove or shorten nuisance branches in the street or sidewalk
  • Remove branches with a V-shaped union (weak attachment)
  • Thin the crown to increase light penetration and air flow
  • Remove basal sprouts (“suckers”) or water sprouts

Know where to make the cut. Every cut causes a wound to the tree that never completely heals. Instead, the tree seals off, or compartmentalizes, the wound by making a callus around it. Arborists call this C.O.D.I.T.: Compartmentalization of Decay In Trees. Incorrect cuts lead to poor wound closure, leading to decay and infection. Look for the swollen part of the branch or trunk where the branch is coming out. That swollen area is called the branch collar and contains special cells that seal off the wound effectively. Always cut just beyond the branch collar in order to leave the branch collar on the tree. Use sharp, by-pass hand pruners, a pruning saw, or pole pruners for the cleanest cut. A clean cut will heal faster than a jagged cut, just like our skin heals faster from a paper cut than a gash. Use the 3-cut method for larger branches to reduce the risk of bark tear (see diagram.)

Don’t be a hacker: pruning practices that harm trees:

  • Flush cuts: do not cut the branch flush with the trunk or parent branch–doing so will remove the branch collar and make the wound fail to close or close more slowly, leading to infection and decay. 
  • Stubbing: try not to leave a stub of the branch you are cutting. Be careful to cut just outside of the branch collar, but not too far outside of it. This can be tricky and take some practice.
  • Tipping: do not cut at a random spot on the branch just to shorten it. Branches should be cut just after a lateral branch one-third its size. Tipping causes the whole branch to die back and decay.
  • Limbing up: do not cut the lower branches of the tree higher than one-third of the way up the trunk. It is especially important for young trees to retain their lower branches, because they help the tree trunk grow thicker and stronger.
  • Topping/crown reduction: do not chop off the ends of the branches of a medium-large tree to reduce its size. This causes the tree to send up multiple water sprouts with weak branch connections in a frantic effort to produce leaves to feed the tree. It also creates large wounds that the tree is not able to seal off. Topping is an outdated, poor pruning technique no longer practiced by reputable arborists.
  • Over pruning: do not remove more than 25% of the tree’s branches. Additional pruning can be done when the tree is older.

Next Steps: Feeling overwhelmed? I would be happy to visit your yard to give you tips (please email me at hubbardesol@gmail.com), and a neighborhood volunteer tree pruning demo and event is in the works for next winter. If you would like to learn more about tree pruning and planting and become part of a community of wonderful “treeple” who love trees, please consider taking the excellent TreeKeepers class run by TreeBaltimore of Baltimore City Rec & Parks. https://www.treebaltimore.org/treekeepers. It is free, open to county residents, and offered every Spring and Fall. Don’t have time for a class? The USDA Forest Service PDF  HOW to Prune Trees is an excellent resource:, and there are helpful videos online, such as Ask an Arborist: The ABC’s of Pruning and 3 Step Pruning for Deciduous Trees. Thank you for caring for our community’s precious trees!


HOW to Prune Trees 

Gilman, Edward: An Illustrated Guide to Pruning, 3rd Edition https://wwv.isa-arbor.com/store/product/24/

Correct cut leaving branch collar intact.
Good wound closure
Good wound closure due to correct pruning.
Correct cuts retain the branch collar for good wound closure.
correct lateral cut
Correct lateral branch cut.
incorrect - tipping cut
A tipping cut causes the branch to die back.
Harmful pruning practices
Harmful pruning practices.
Water sprouts due to improper pruning
Water spouts are due to improper pruning.
pruning saw
Pruning saws are for cuts 2.5-10 cm in diameter.
Pole prunner
TreeKeeper facilitator Fred Chalfant prunes a city street tree with a pole pruner.
incomplete wound closusre
Incomplete wound closure due to large flush cut.

Adreon Hubbard is a certified Baltimore Weed Warrior and TreeKeeper, and a Maryland Master Naturalist and Master Gardener. She took all of the photos used in this article. The first two diagrams above are from a training PowerPoint from an online TreeKeeper class. The third diagram is from the USDA How to Prune PDF referenced in the article. This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of the Idlewylde Community newsletter, Idlewylde News. Adreon writes a regular nature column called In the Wylde.


Planning a construction project at your house? First, consider your trees. They provide you with beauty, shade, and higher property value, so try to plan around them if you can. Design your new room with a view of your tree and the bird house or the feeder and the squirrel’s acrobatics, and the ever-changing display of leaves and branches throughout the season.

To preserve the trees you already have, protect the roots. Tree roots can be damaged easily in the process of home renovation. Weakened roots can lead to slow death for the tree that can take 1 to 5 years to become evident.

If grading your property is necessary for the project, bring in a tree expert before you begin to move dirt. The roots are close to the surface; about 80 per cent of the roots lie less than 24 inches deep. Roots can be buried too deep or destroyed in the process of grading.

Keep heavy items OFF THE ROOTS. Vehicles and supplies can crush the soil, the roots, and the mycelial structures underground that are essential to tree health.

How to do this? Mark out the “critical rootzones” of your trees, and protect the roots inside the zone. This is an invisible circle that runs just outside the drip line of the tree (just inside the edge of the canopy of the tree.) Directions for how to measure this circle are here.

Put a barrier, such as orange construction fence, around the critical root zone to keep off any vehicle, supplies, or other items. Instruct the crew chief that you want to critical root zone protected. If workers must walk or carry equipment over the critical root zone, it should be covered with planks for plywood to minimize crushng or compacting the tree roots.

Water the tree, 20 gallons slowly every week during the growing season to support its health during construction! Apply 3 inches of mulch over the critical root zone, too, to both retain the moisture and indicate that this area is to be protected.

If, despite all precautions, you notice dead sections or branches in an otherwise healthy tree, this can be a sign of root damage. The dead limbs will need to be pruned out to give the tree the best chance to flourish.

Trees add enormous value to our homes and our community. It is wise to plan ahead to ensure that your tree will survive any construction or renovation coming its way.

This article was written by Nancy Colvin and Carol Newill for Stoneleigh’s Greening & Recycling Committee, and published in the Winter 2023 issue of the Stoneleighite.

Mature oak tree next to a home.
A mature tree is truly a thing of beauty and adds so much
to a home, a neighborhood, and our communities’ ecosystem.

A moral obligation to clean up the Chesapeake Bay

By Raymond Heil and Jodi Rose

It’s sobering, but not surprising, to read that the Environmental Protection Agency has found that the pollution reduction goals identified in the 2010 Chesapeake Bay Agreement will not be met. The EPA recommends that a new agreement and timeline be developed over the next year. This is the time for all of us to think about what can be done to help the states in the bay watershed finally achieve a clean Chesapeake Bay.

There are many reasons we are falling short of bay cleanup goals. Among them:

  • Our pre-1980 urban and suburban storm drain systems — our gray infrastructure — are designed to direct polluted stormwater runoff from buildings, roads, parking lots and lawns directly into the streams that empty into the Chesapeake.
  • Over fertilization of lawns and farm fields results in nitrogen and phosphorus polluting the Chesapeake and creating its dead zones.
  • A large portion of the land in the bay watershed is devoted to raising feed for chickens and cows. Streams draining these fertilized lands often lack natural forest buffers and in many areas more manure is produced than can be safely used.

All the major world religions believe that we humans, wherever we live, have a moral obligation to care for the earth. This is the foundation of our mission at Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake. What does moral obligation to care for the earth mean for those of us who live in the Chesapeake Bay watershed? It means that we all have a responsibility to understand how our lifestyles contribute to bay pollution and change our behaviors where needed — all out of respect for those around us for we all share this home together.

This responsibility falls on every person and organization, especially those who own or manage property in the bay watershed, from the owner of a rowhouse to the owners of large parcels of land, such as governments, corporations, universities, school systems, hospitals, retirement communities, shopping malls, farms and, yes, faith-based congregations. All these properties have hard surfaces, extensive lawns or agricultural fields that contribute unfiltered runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus into our waterways. The best way to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in runoff is to capture the rainwater where it falls, and to infiltrate it into the ground. The techniques to achieve this, called “green infrastructure,” include stream buffers, rain gardens, bio-remediation facilities, bio-swales, tree planting, and other techniques, which must be more widely used. Many congregations are already reducing their runoff, and are examples for the rest of us.

We are disappointed that the EPA has not forced the bay states to achieve the goals of their agreement. The bay cleanup program has achieved roughly half of its nitrogen and phosphorus reduction goals using EPA, state and local government programs, such as the stormwater management fee adopted by some Maryland jurisdictions. As strong enforcement of these “top down” initiatives continues, additional gains can be made by organizing a “bottom up” stewardship movement involving all of us.

The results of the 2017 Stewardship Index, sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Program, found that “71 percent of residents want to do more to make their creeks, rivers and lakes healthier, and 86 percent believe that if people work together, water pollution can be fixed.”

A broad range of grassroots efforts, aimed at all categories of land use, should be organized to help push the bay cleanup effort to achieve its goals. Additional government programs to incentivize this work will be needed. When we reach our pollution reduction goals, engaging the entire growing population of the bay watershed to maintain pollution limits will continue into the future.

We need everyone in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed with responsibility for property of any size to understand and take seriously their duty, not only to themselves, but to their children and grandchildren, to clean up the bay. We urge you to find out what you can do to reduce fertilizer use and to filter stormwater runoff from your property, and to take action to make it happen. IPC is committed to being a part of this grassroots movement.

Raymond Heil (raymondheil@verizon.net) is a board member of Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake; Jodi Rose (jodi@interfaithchesapeake.org) is IPC’s executive director.

This article was originally published as an Op-Ed by the Baltimore Sun.

Green Towson Alliance 2022 Year End Report

2022 was a banner year for Green Towson Alliance. We are pleased to have met many of our goals including planting trees in downtown Towson, helping community associations successfully plant native canopy trees in their neighborhoods, and cleaning trash out of our local streams that feed into the Chesapeake Bay.

Here’s what we accomplished in the past year:


In partnership with Blue Water Baltimore, GTA helped to coordinate the planting of more than 285 trees in Towson communities in the fall of 2022. Tree stewards worked with their neighborhoods to choose the right native tree for their yard or as a street tree.  The vast majority of these trees are canopy shade trees which can grow at least 60 feet tall and provide much greater environmental benefits than the smaller, understory species.

Tree planting in Anneslie


72 trees were planted by Baltimore County in downtown Towson in December. GTA volunteers advocated for years for the replacement of trees that had died or been removed.The County has created a Street Tree Replacement Program that will add 1,300 trees in six concentrated areas. We are delighted that Towson is one of those areas that will benefit from this critical green infrastructure.

Green Towson Alliance members join County Executive John Olszewski and other county officials at the street planting in downtown Towson.


GTA volunteers worked with the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS), the communities, and the developer of the Villas at Woodbrook (on the site of Villa Maria nursing home for the Sisters of Mercy on Bellona Avenue) to provide more open space, and to save a few more large specimen trees.


In partnership with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, GTA organized 216 volunteers to pull 4,570 pounds of trash out of neighborhood streams in the spring of 2022. In many cases, volunteers also pulled invasive plants out of stream beds and the surrounding areas. 

Stream Clean-up at the Loch Raven Library


 Green Towson Alliance testified at the Baltimore County Fiscal Year 2023 Budget hearing, asking the county to increase funding in the following areas:

  • Expand and maintain the shade tree canopy throughout the County to reduce flooding and excessive heat impacts due to climate change, as well as improve air quality and habitat for native birds and insects. The County’s Street Tree Replacement Program is a great investment toward this request.
  • Fund additional forestry positions in the Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability (DEPS).  Three additional forestry positions were created in the budget including an urban forester who is administering the Street Tree Replacement Program.
  • Fund a canopy tree inventory by DEPS using GIS, based on the Downtown Towson Tree Survey created by the Green Towson Alliance and plant trees downtown. DEPS is tracking the Street Tree Replacement program with a GIS program.
  • Fund a position in the Department of Recreation and Parks to administer a volunteer “weed warrior” program, like programs in Baltimore City and Montgomery County, that will organize and manage volunteer efforts for habitat restoration, particularly for removal of invasive vines that are slowly destroying our existing trees. We will continue to advocate for this.
  • Create a county-wide open space plan similar to the NeighborSpace of Baltimore County initiative. We will continue to advocate for this.


Green Towson Alliance volunteers have continued to remove invasive vines and plants from the Blakehurst Retirement Community property, in Radebaugh Park and Overlook Park. In parks, GTA members from nearby neighborhoods are working in coordination with the Towson Rec Council of Baltimore County Rec and Parks to remove invasive plants (Overlook Park) and plant pollinator-friendly native perennials (Radebaugh Park entrance gardens at 11 Maryland Ave). 

The effects of the invasive plant removal in Overlook Park were striking:

Beneficial native plants in Overlook Park got a boost in 2022 from the dedicated volunteers of Habitat Stewards of Overlook Park (HSOP.) Habitat was restored by manually removing (without power tools or herbicides) non-native invasive plants (NNIs) that outcompete and smother natives. In addition to freeing dozens of trees from English Ivy, the group’s methodical removal of aggressive non-native Porcelain Berry vines near the athletic field and stream gave a variety of native plants access to the air, water, and sunlight they need. It was exciting to observe so many natives unexpectedly rise up, phoenix-like, as if they had been just waiting for their chance. These native plants include: Blue-eyed Grass, Blue Flag Iris, Boxelder, Black Raspberry, Common Milkweed, Daisy Fleabane, Dogbane, Horse Chestnut, Pignut Hickory, Red Chokeberry, Tall White Beardtongue, and Virginia Creeper. Beneficial native insects seen utilizing these plants include butterflies such as Azures, Eastern-tailed Blues, Monarchs, Common Sootywing and Silver-spotted Skippers, Brown-belted Bumble Bees, Red Milkweed Beetles, and Orange Assassin Bugs. Birds seen include Red-shouldered Hawks, Pileated Woodpeckers, Gray Catbirds, Carolina Wrens, and many others.  

Tall white beardtongue (Penstamon digitalis) which appeared in Overlook Park
after invasive vines that had been covering it were removed.

The work at Overlook Park will begin again this month. If you’re interested in helping out, please contact Adreon Hubbard at hubbardesol@gmail.com.

Invasive plant removal at Blakehurst Retirement Community is ongoing as well. Volunteers worked through the early spring of 2022 and then paused during the summer while a professional environmental service company removed large areas of Porcelain Berry and other invasive species. Blakehurst is working with Baltimore County to re-forest at least some of these areas. 


GTA engaged in several public education efforts to inform our neighbors about the vital link native plants and trees play in supporting our environment.  This includes the Towson Native Garden Contest, which we have run for the past two years; an educational display at the Stoneleigh Elementary School Environmental Fair, the Church of the Redeemer Native Plant Sale and the Towson Gardens Day. We also arranged a tour of the green roof and rain gardens at Patriot Plaza and the Towson Fire Station which utilized native plants. We marched in the Towson 4th of July Parade promoting “Nature’s Communities” of native plants and the bees and butterflies they host. 

The Towson 4th of July Parade

More information on native plants and the upcoming 2023 Native Garden Contest can be found at nativegardencontest.com

Tanya Ray, one of the winners of the
2022 Native Garden Contest


GTA signed on as supporters of the Road to Freedom Trail, a proposed multi-purpose trail linking Hampton Plantation to Historic East Towson. The trail is conceived as an educational, environmental, and historical trail for walking and cycling that will tell the story of the relationship between the 500 enslaved people at the Ridgely estate and the enclave of those who were manumitted after 1829 and created a community nearby in Towson.

Community Kick-Off event for the Road to Freedom Trail.


 GTA advocated for the passage of several bills in the Maryland General Assembly.  The following bills passed: 

  • HB15/SB7 Invasive and Native Plants expands the list of invasive species regulated in Maryland.  It also requires state agencies and projects with state funding to prioritize the use of native plants. – PASSED
  • HB275 George “Walter” Taylor Act prohibits the use, manufacture or sale of fire-fighting foams, carpets and food containers that contain PFAS after January 2023.  PFAS are Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances which are a type of human made ‘forever chemical’ and a known carcinogen. – PASSED
  • SB541 Great Maryland Outdoors Act Provides historic investment in Maryland’s state park system.  It funds new full-time positions in the Maryland Park Service to deal with park overcrowding, addresses a long maintenance backlog, restores historic sites, fixes aging infrastructure, and acquires new parkland.  It also has provisions to improve the equity of access to our state parks. – PASSED
  • SB0528 Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022 This comprehensive climate bill requires the state to cut emissions 60% below 2006 levels by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2045 by addressing emissions from the transportation, building, and electricity sectors.  It also promotes equity in the allocation of climate funding. – PASSED

The following bills did not get voted out of their House/Senate Committees:

  • HB59/SB783 Constitutional Amendment for Environmental Human Rights guaranteeing each person in the State of Maryland the right to a healthful environment.
  • HB0135 Environment – Single-Use Plastics – Restrictions to prohibit a food service business from providing certain single-use plastic food and beverage products to a customer unless the customer asks for them.  The majority of these items are not recyclable and they often end up in our streams and rivers.
  • HB0376 Outdoor Preschool License Pilot Program – Establishment to establish the Outdoor Preschool License Pilot Program in the Maryland State Department of Education to license outdoor, nature-based early learning and child care programs in order to expand access to affordable, high-quality early learning programs and to investigate the benefits of outdoor, nature-based classrooms.

Green Towson Alliance  looks forward to another productive year in 2023.  You can find us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/GreenTowsonAlliance and on our website at https://greentowsonalliance.org/

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 ) jamesamos132@gmail.com
Tony Fugett (D) votetonyfugett@gmail.com
Izzy Patoka (D) izzypatoka@gmai.com

District 3: Wade Kach (R ) kachelection@gmail.com
Roberto Zanotta (R ) zanotta4md@gmail.com
Paul Henderson (D) henderson4balco@gmail.com

District 5: Philip DePaulo (R ) drphil@depalo.com
David Marks (R ) councilmanmarkscampaign@gmail.com
Crystal Francis (D) francisforcouncil@gmail.com
Nick Johnson (D) nickjohnsond5@gmail.com

District 6: Tony Campbell (R ) campbell4maryland@gmail.com
Mike Ertel (D) mike@ertelforbaltimorecounty.com
Shafiyq Hinton (D) shafiyq@shafiyqhinton.com
Caitlin Klimm-Kellner (D) cklimmkellner@gmail.com
Preston Snedegar (D) prsned53@gmail.com

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.