Fewer Plastic Bags and Styrofoam Pieces, Hurray!  Green Towson Alliance helps with Stream Cleanups for the 9th year in a row

by Carol Newill

Literally tons and tons of trash have been collected at sites along the Herring Run and tributaries to the Jones Falls in the 9 years that Green Towson Alliance has been recruiting and helping community leaders and volunteers.

This spring, fewer plastic bags and less styrofoam than usual were found at several of the 9 stream cleanup sites. Clearly, recent laws meant to minimize such pollution are working!

However, 136 bags of trash have been removed from 9 stream sites so far this spring. Sadly, most was plastic bottles and other plastics, as well as some cloth and metal items and 2 local street signs.

Towson University students with trash they pulled from the stream.

Where did all that trash come from? As our storms become more extreme, more of the trash from our streets and parking lots washes into the storm drains and then into the streams!

Girl Scouts pulling trash out of a tributary of the Herring Run tributary.

Volunteer participation has been terrific, as 198 adults and 33 children participated in the cleanups this spring so far. 17 Girl Scouts from Troops #1152, #04151and #02294 cleaned a long stretch of stream and its wide ravine. 78 Towson University students from Impact TU Day and many children from a variety of Towson-area schools accompanied their parents at other sites. County Councilmember Mike Ertel helped at several locations, too.

Baltimore County Councilman Mike Ertel working with neighbors to clean this Towson stream.

Teams at 4 sites removed not only trash but also invasive plants, ranging from English Ivy and Porcelainberry vines to garlic mustard and prickly multiflora rosa.

A volunteer clips invasive porcelain berry vines from a streamside tree.

We thank all the volunteers and especially their Site Leaders:  Christine Horel Accardo, Anne Estes, Adreon Hubbard, Berni Kroll, Barbara Lewis, Janice Millard, Beth Miller, Lilly Richardson, Holly Sebastian, Bob Simon, Mike Stopford, Diane Topper.

Baltimore County Council Chair Izzy Patoka with volunteers at a stream cleanup which hauled trash and a massive logjam out of the Roland Run stream in Ruxton.

Two more sites are scheduled for cleanup next month, in Wiltondale and in Fellowship Forest. To help on a weekend morning soon, contact GTA at https://greentowsonalliance.org/contact/

Come on, Get Sappy: Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Why Everyone Should Bird

by Adreon Hubbard

I didn’t used to think birdy thoughts on a regular basis. Like most people, I didn’t own a pair of good binoculars or know much about birds. After retiring, however, I signed up for a birding class, got a pair of excellent, yet affordable Vortex Diamondback 10 x 42 binoculars, and gained awareness, Matrix-style, of a new reality. Through numerous outings with instructor Marty Brazeau to local natural areas such as Loch Raven, Cromwell Valley, Oregon Ridge, Marshy Point, and with the help of free birding apps like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin Bird ID and eBird, I gradually learned how to spot and identify a variety of birds by their sounds, appearance, and behavior. Now I take binoculars with me on nearly every walk or trip, even on short jaunts in Overlook Park down the street or while strolling around our bird-friendly yard. 

An interesting species I recently learned about is a lesser-known migratory woodpecker that winters in Maryland and further south, the comically-named Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (YBS.) Its pale yellow belly can be hard to see, because this bird is usually clinging vertically to a tree trunk, busily making horizontal rows of small holes called sapwells, then licking up the oozing sap with its brush-tipped tongue. YBS is the only woodpecker that makes horizontal rows of holes, which I have observed on a variety of local trees. The holes do not damage most trees unless they are already in decline, and a variety of insects and other wildlife feed on the oozing sap, including hummingbirds. Hummingbirds even time their migration north to take advantage of the sapwells’ sweet sustenance. Any insects going to the sap are typically eaten by the YBS as well, before they can harm the tree.

YBS can be harder to see than other woodpeckers due to its mottled feathers blending into the tree bark, and it is relatively quiet. It makes a distinctive mewing sound, however, which can alert you to its presence. Males have a red crown and throat, whereas females have only the red crown. Both have a distinctive white wing stripe and striped face. I recently spotted a pair of them perched on our backyard utility pole. “No sap there,” I thought. Perhaps they were after insects hiding in the many holes and crevices, or perhaps they were just resting and posing for me to enjoy!

Thankfully, YBS is one of only 39% of bird species globally that are not in decline. North American bird populations have plummeted by three billion birds in the last 50 years due to habitat loss, collisions with glass, predation by outdoor cats, and other factors. Only when we notice and appreciate birds can we begin to work to support their continued existence. I highly recommend giving birding a try!


Marty Brazeau’s April, 2024 Costa Rica birding tour may still have openings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21IfZ2xz0L8 

Email Marty at tropicbirder56@gmail.com for questions about the trip or upcoming CCBC birding classes.

Consider joining the Baltimore Bird Club to connect with birders and ongoing birding outings https://mdbirds.org/join/chapters/baltimore-bird-club/

Visit https://abcbirds.org/ to learn more about birds and threats to birds. This group has many excellent, free bird webinars on youtube.

My email is hubbardesol@gmail.com for any questions on supporting birds.

Adreon Hubbard is a member of Green Towson Alliance. Besides birding, she leads a group that removes invasive plants from Overlook Park in Towson. A version of this article originally appeared in the February 2024  Idlewylde Newsletter.

Male Yellow-bellied sapsucker
Male Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Female yellow-bellied sapsucker
Female Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Horizontal rows of holes, called sapwells, made by Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers
on a tree in Baltimore.
Marty Brazeau, my inspiring birding instructor, at Loch Raven Reservoir.

Photos of the Yellow-bellied sapsuckers, courtesy of All About Birds.
The photos of the tree and birding instructor were taken by Adreon Hubbard.

Leave the Leaves: Less Work, More Ecological Benefit

by Adreon Hubbard

A walk or bike ride through Towson’s many charming neighborhoods makes a tree-lover really happy. So many yards are filled with trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants, in addition to the more traditional mowed grassy areas. This past fall, more than 300 native trees, including Bald Cypress, Black Gum, Fringetree, Willow and Northern Red Oak, Redbud, River Birch, Sweetbay Magnolia, Sycamore, and Tuiliptree were planted in Towson neighborhoods through our partnership with Blue Water Baltimore. Yay! Most people seem to agree that trees provide many benefits, including shade, cooling, cleaner air, stormwater and erosion control, pollutant filtering, habitat, and beauty.

Volunteers at work, planting native trees in a community park in West Towson.

There seems to be less agreement about what to do with all those leaves when they fall. The simple answer is–as the meme says–“leave the leaves.” Leaf “litter,” as it is so inappropriately called, returns nutrients to the soil, insulates plant roots, and provides critical overwintering and nesting habitat for many species of beneficial insects, including bees, fireflies, many butterfly species, and beautiful moths such as the ethereal Luna moth.

We tend to think of insects only when we see them in their adult form in the warm months while giving little thought to how they get through the winter. Unlike the famous migrating monarch butterflies, most species hunker down for the winter out of sight as either a larva, pupa, or adult in leaf litter, under the soil, or in crevices and nooks and crannies. Many of them unfortunately get killed when we blast the leaves with blowers or put them in plastic bags and get rid of dead plant stalks. Mulching the leaves with a mower puts nutrients back in the soil but also kills the insects. Populations of insects, and birds who depend on them, have plummeted in the last 50 years. Our yard practices matter because there just isn’t enough habitat “out there” anymore.

Since I retired and am home during the week, I notice the lawn services with their noisy leaf blowers removing every leaf from some properties. I take out my hearing aids and ponder ways to spread the message about insects and leaf litter. If you have a thick carpet of leaves, especially Oak or Holly leaves that can take years to break down, consider ditching the leaf blower or lawn service and instead gently raking some of the leaves into your plant beds or into piles in a far corner of the yard–your “wild area.” Get the kids involved–like the group of kids I saw in my neighborhood today squealing with delight while making and jumping in “the world’s biggest leaf pile.”

I would like to add that seeing your yard as habitat instead of just “lawn” or “landscape” is incredibly fun and rewarding. For example, on my daily rounds in the yard the other day, I unexpectedly discovered a large yellow-green and pink caterpillar with horns on its backside crawling on the native Blackhaw Viburnum shrub. I took a photo and uploaded it to the iNaturalist app, which identified it as a Hummingbird Clearwing moth larva in its final instar before pupating in the soil just under leaf litter. I had seen the fascinating native Hummingbird Clearwing moth before, but never the caterpillar, which feeds on the leaves of a variety of trees. Since I had placed only mulch at the base of the shrub, I went off to gather leaves from under the Pin Oak tree in front. By the time I had completed this task, the caterpillar had disappeared! Hopefully it either found another plant to eat or successfully pupated and burrowed through the thin mulch layer (no “mulch volcanoes” in our yard!)

Many neighbors tell me that they leave at least some of their leaves and laugh about being “lazy gardeners.” If you are not a “lazy gardener,” I hope I’ve inspired you to think about leaves as habitat and allow at least some of your leaves to lie where they fall or gently rake them into your garden beds. You may even be inspired to leave seed heads of your flowers for the birds, spent stalks for bees to nest in, and a wood pile! In Spring and Summer when you see adult bees, butterflies, and maybe even a Hummingbird Clearwing moth, you will feel good knowing that you helped them.

A Hummingbird Clearwing moth caterpillar in Adreon’s yard. Its head is to the right.
Adult Hummingbird Clearwing moth Adreon saw in Pennsylvania last summer.
Adreon placed fall leaves under this Viburnum shrub so the month has a perfect landing
place to pupate and overwinter among the dry leaves.
This yard sign was created by GTA member Nan Wray. Luna Moth on the right.
A No Mow area of Adreon’s yard with pathways and native sedges that hold the leaves nicely
The leaves and decomposing log in this plant bed will provide a winter home for many wild creatures.
Close up of another No Mow area with native Bunny Blue Sedge and groundcover plants.
Kids playing in leaves in Adreon’s neighborhood.

Adreon Hubbard is a Master Gardener, Master Naturalist, retired teacher, and a member of Green Towson Alliance. She has taken the photographs in this article.

Green Towson Alliance Calls for the Baltimore County Council to require an independent review of the information and methods Baltimore County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) uses to approve new development and a moratorium on approvals until new methods are implemented. 

Green Towson Alliance (GTA) and other advocates have challenged the sanitary sewage capacity in the Jones Falls Sewershed since 2016 and are convinced that raw sewage is fouling open waters while more development is being approved. A network of pipes run alongside and under our streams to carry raw sewage from our homes and businesses to treatment plants.  The state of Maryland has laws that require the conveyance of this waste to be safely contained within the sanitary sewer system. But in Baltimore County’s Jones Falls watershed, the size and condition of these pipes is inadequate to prevent raw sewage from overflowing and fouling waters in our streams, lakes, and rivers, especially during heavy rainstorms. This is because stormwater enters pipes through defects and mixes with sewage in quantities that are greater than the pipes can accommodate. Overflows are a costly and dangerous threat to public health and aquatic life.

Both Baltimore City and County are under a Consent Decree to fix the causes of sanitary sewer overflows. The County has performed multiple engineering studies that consistently show a dangerous lack of capacity and how to fix it, but the resources to make those corrections have never materialized.  Since the earliest of these studies in 2012, almost 2.5 million square feet of development have been added in the Baltimore County Jones Falls Sewershed and more development is in-line to be approved. 

DPWT reviews each development proposal for adequate sanitary sewer, but they do not consider the volume of sewage during storms, as is required by the Maryland Department of the Environment. In Baltimore County, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) makes the final decision on approving new development. On July 31, 2023, the ALJ denied approval of Greenspring Station, a proposal for 61 new homes in the Jones Falls Sewershed because expert testimony proved that there were not adequate facilities to safely convey the sewerage to a treatment plant. This is the second development that was denied for this reason, (Bluestem was the first in 2019) but DPWT refuses to acknowledge the error in its methods.

During the next two months, Baltimore County will be amending its Water Supply and Sewerage Master Plan that they must submit to the Maryland Department of the Environment. GTA has submitted a statement to the Planning Board, County Council and County Executive’s Office requesting specific actions be taken to ensure that sanitary sewage does not overflow. Our statement calls for development approvals in the Jones Falls sewershed to be suspended until an independent review of information and methods used to approve new development and redevelopment for adequate sanitary sewer facilities is conducted and implemented.  

Citizens should not have to hire attorneys and expert witnesses to be protected from sanitary sewer overflows! Everyone should be equally protected by environmental laws prohibiting sanitary sewer overflows. Importantly, all watersheds throughout the County will benefit from a correction to the information and methods used to review sanitary sewer adequacy for new development and redevelopments.

Seven community associations along with two umbrella community association groups have already endorsed the GTA statement. Blue Water Baltimore and Sierra Club Maryland Greater Baltimore Group have also signed-on.

The statement from the Green Towson Alliance Executive Committee can be found here.


2023 Triennial Review

Green Towson Alliance Executive Committee
September 8, 2023


As described by the Maryland Department of Planning, “each county is required to prepare, adopt, and annually maintain, a 10-year forecasted Water and Sewerage Plan to demonstrate how safe and adequate water and sewerage facilities will be provided to support planned redevelopment and new growth.” Baltimore County’s plan is due this year for its triennial review by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).
The plan first will be reviewed by the Baltimore County Planning Board and then referred to the County Council with any recommended changes. The plan must be approved by the Council and then sent to the County Executive for his approval before being submitted to MDE for final approval.

There is systemic error in the way Baltimore County regulates adequate public sanitary sewerage facilities, the County’s own Administrative Law Judges have confirmed that error and the Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) cannot be relied upon to self-correct.

Therefore, we believe that:

  1. The plan must be amended to require a comprehensive review by outside experts of the methodology and information used by the Baltimore County Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPWT) to a) prepare the Basic Services Sewerage Map and b) review individual development plans to determine whether public sewerage facilities are adequate to support the development described in the plans.
  2. The County Council should enact an ordinance suspending the approval of any development plan requiring the approval of a hearing officer as described in Subtitle 2 of Title 4 of Article 32 of the County Code until the independent review is completed and any recommended changes are implemented.

There is systematic error in the regulatory process by which the County purportedly ensures that sewage from redevelopment and new growth served by public sewerage facilities does not overburden those facilities.

The most important requirement of the sewerage component of a Water and Sewerage Plan is that a county has a regulatory process that complies with Section 9-512 of the Environment Article of the State Code by ensuring that new development served by public sewerage facilities is not approved unless sewage from that new development can be safely conveyed, pumped and treated by those facilities. The County’s process does not satisfy that requirement.

The County’s “adequate public facilities ordinance” (APFO) is found in Title 6 of Article 32 of the County Code. According to Section 32-4-410 of the code, the standard for public sewerage facilities is that they “must be designed and located to function safely and without danger of contaminating groundwater, surface water, or public or private water supplies.”

That standard is supposed to be enforced through annual adoption of
Basic Services Sewerage Map (BSSM) prepared by DPWT in
accordance with Section 4A02 of the Baltimore County Zoning
Regulations and through a a project-by-project review by DPWT. Earlier this year, detailed testimony was submitted to the County Council in opposition to Bill 19-23, which approved the most recent BSSM prepared by DPWT.

The testimony, incorporated by reference to this letter, describes specific flaws in DPWT’s methodology, including the failure to evaluate sewage conveyance (pipe) capacity under wet weather conditions, and also identified the use of inaccurate information, including outdated population and employment estimates. The flawed methodology and inaccurate information result in systematic error by DPWT in recommending the approval of projects for the adequacy of public sewerage facilities, a fact borne out by recent administrative decisions.

Recent decisions by the County’s own administrative law judges have confirmed the systematic error by DPWT.

Beginning in 2018, a series of studies and reports done by private engineering firms on behalf of the County became available to the public. For the first time, Count residents had access to information indicating the DPWT was systematically overstating the adequacy of public sewerage facilities to support new development.

A 2012 study of the public sewerage facilities in the Jones Falls “sewershed” done for the County by the highly regarded engineering firm RK&K was not released to the public until 2018. Revelations of the numerous deficiencies identified by RK&K resulted in challenges to development plans on the basis that public sewerage facilities were not adequate, contrary to recommendations by DPWT.

In 2019, residents contested DPWT’s determination that public sewerage facilities were adequate for the proposed Blue Stem Village project near Lake Roland. They presented expert testimony based on the RK&K report.

The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) John Beverungen, disapproved the development plan for the project, stating that “the sewer system serving the subject property is woefully inadequate to handle existing demand, much less the additional inputs from recently approved developments in the Towson area.” (p. 25) He emphasized the deficiencies in the undersized 42-inch interceptor sewer that carried sewage under Lake Roland. (p. 23) His decision was upheld by the County Board of Appeals.

In July of this year, another ALJ member, Maureen Murphy, denied the proposed Greenspring Manor Development located on Joppa Road, also in the Jones Falls sewershed. After reviewing 13 days of testimony, including extensive testimony from a highly qualified sewer design engineer, she concluded, “it was clear to me the sewage path from the Property cannot handle the existing sewage which flows along that path, much the additional sewage that will come from adding 61 homes to the sewer system.” (p. 129)

Judge Murphy referred to other information that has come to light since 2018, including a “performance assessment” done by RJN Group in 2021. She noted that Johns Hopkins failed to correct deficiencies in eight pipe segments as required for their previous project at Greenspring Station, but clarified that the RJN model-predicted SSO’s “are not only within the Johns Hopkins sewer segments, but are also downstream from the Johns Hopkins’ segments and again within the Project’s sewer path” (p. 118)

Judge Murphy also referred to a 2022 report by the Ramboll Group. “I agree, unfortunately, that the results of the Ramboll report show a worsening of condition of the sewer system…” She found that both the Ramboll report and a 2022 evaluation of the Jones Falls sewershed done by Hazen & Sawyer provided “compelling evidence” that the pipes in the sewage path from the site of the project to the city/county line are at overcapacity. (p. 126)

In 2022, Judge Murphy concluded that the public sewerage facilities for the Torch Hill project on Seminary Avenue, also in the Jones Falls sewershed, were adequate. The Board of Appeals recently voted to approve her decision based on the record of evidence introduced at the Torch Hill hearing.

What changed between her decision in the Torch Hill case in 2022 and her decision this year in the Greenspring Manor case? The answer lies in a point emphasized by Judge Murphy in the Greenspring Manor case: “Neither the Ramboll Report nor the Hazen [Hazen & Sawyer] Report were produced in evidence in Torch Hill.” (p. 124)

The 2022 Ramboll and Hazen & Sawyer reports confirmed that the deficiencies identified by RK&K in 2012 still exist and that public sewerage facilities in the Jones Falls sewershed remain inadequate to support new development. In other words, the entire sewershed should have been designated as “deficient” on the 2022 and 2023 BSSMs approved by the Council.

The history of a lack of transparency by DPWT diminishes the agency’s credibility.

In the Greenspring Manor decision, Judge Murphy made a pointed reference to the failure of engineers from DPWT to appear at the hearing and testify in support of the agency’s position that public sewerage facilities were adequate for the project. In her words, “The silence is deafening.” (p.127) The implication is that the engineers were reluctant to put their professional reputations at risk by defending DPWT’s position.

She also alluded to DPWT’s lack of transparency: “But for the County documents produced through PIA requests, we would not know the extent of the DPWT concerns about the sewer for this project.” (p. 120) That lack of transparency was nothing new.

Environmental activists were tipped off in 2016 about the existence of the 2012 RK&K report described above, but it took them two more years and the intervention of Del. Dana Stein, vice chair of the House Environment and Transportation Committee of the Maryland General Assembly, to obtain a copy from DPWT. The report was part of a requirement under the 2005 consent decree with MDE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that the County prepare a Sewershed Repair, Replacement and Rehabilitation (SRRR) plan to prevent sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs).

It was not until 2020 that the same group of activists found out that it was DPWT employees, not RK&K employees, who selected the model for predicting the impact of rainfall on the system included in the SRRR plan. DPWT substituted a storm event of 6-hour duration occurring once every 10 years for the storm events of 24-hour duration occurring once every 10 and 20 years used by RK&K in its analysis.

The model selected by DPWT had the effect of eliminating the costliest upgrades that RK&K deemed necessary to comply with the federal consent decree. From all outward appearances, it looks like the SRRR plan was prepared by RK&K. Most of it was – just not the most critical component.  

Finally, during the Council’s annual review and approval of the BSSM in April 2022, Councilman Izzy Patoka asked a representative of DPWT about the condition of the Lake Roland interceptor sewer. The representative made no mention of the Ramboll report confirming that deficiencies identified by RK&K still existed.

The final draft of the Ramboll report was dated June 2022. There were only a few minor changes made to the initial draft published by Ramboll in February 2022, however, and DPWT was aware of the substance of Ramboll’s findings at the time of the Council hearing in April.

The Ramboll report was not disclosed to the Council, nor was it made known to the general public in time to be introduced into evidence in the Torch Hill case in July 2022. A member of the group of activists found the Ramboll report in November 2022. For some reason, the report was posted on the website of the Lake Roland Nature Council, not the first place one would look for a major engineering study done for the County.

Knowledge of Ramboll’s findings likely would have changed the outcome of that case. As described above, Judge Murphy observed in the Greenspring Manor case that “unfortunately, the results of the Ramboll Report showed a worsening of condition of the sewer system” since the 2012 RK&K study – not the improvement claimed by DPWT. (p. 126)

Under the County’s unusual law for approval of development plans, it was Judge Murphy who made the administrative decision on behalf of the County whether or not to approve the proposed development plan for Torch Hill. I.e., the proceedings before her were not an appeal of a prior decision. County agencies, including DPWT, were under a duty to prepare comments for her consideration.

If the County is going to place final administrative decisions on the adequacy of public sewerage facilities in the hands of ALJ’s, then its agencies have a duty to make sure that the ALJs have current and accurate information when decisions are made. In the case of Torch Hill, that meant that DPWT should have provided the Ramboll report to Judge Murphy in time for the July 2022 hearings, even if that required updating its initial comments.

For a span of ten years DPWT failed to disclose documents in a timely manner, took other actions that misled the public about deficiencies in the County’s public sewerage facilities and recommended approval of development that those facilities could not safely support. The review of the County’s process for ensuring the adequacy of public sewerage facilities to support development cannot be entrusted to DPWT.


The fact that ALJs, obligated to apply the law and engineering principles as explained by experts to specific facts, are now consistently rejecting DPWT’s recommendations that public sewerage facilities are adequate to serve proposed projects demonstrates that there is something inherently wrong with the methodology and information used by DPWT. And the fact that engineers from DPWT do not show up at the hearings to defend their recommendations demonstrates that those engineers know something is wrong.

The County’s use of flawed methodology and inaccurate information shifts the burden and expense of enforcing the State and County environmental law described above from DPWT to ordinary residents. That not only results in sporadic and ineffective enforcement but also raises a profound issue of environmental justice: Only residents who can afford to pay lawyers and expert witnesses to contest DPWT’s recommendations before an ALJ get the benefit of law enacted to protect them from the harm done by SSOs.

The Water and Sewerage Plan must include a requirement for a comprehensive review by a team of outside experts of the methodology and information used by DPWT to prepare the BSSM and to review and approve individual development plans for adequacy of public sewerage facilities. The current regulatory process is broken and must be fixed.

Additionally, the County Council should enact an ordinance suspending the approval of any development plan requiring the approval of a hearing officer until that review is completed and any recommended changes are implemented. The Council is the only entity in the County that has the power to impose such a “moratorium” on development.

The Green Towson Alliance Executive Committee:

John Alexander
Ray Heil
Kirsten Hoffman
Beth Miller
Dr. Carol Newill
Lauren Stranahan

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.

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/

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,.

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.