Gardening To Protect The Chesapeake Bay

Did you know that the way we garden can impact the Chesapeake Bay? Even if you don’t live directly near the bay, anyone living in the full watershed area (which includes 6 states and DC) has an impact on what does and does not run off into the waters of the bay.

Why Is Runoff Bad For The Bay?

Water runoff itself is inevitable, but what the water carries with it while it is flowing into the estuary is what is important. Certain pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, chemicals, bacteria, or excessive nutrients from farm manure and other waste products can have a harmful effect on the flora and fauna living in and around the bay. By controlling what can fall into those run-off flows, and creating more natural filtration systems, we can help keep the water that does make its way to the bay clean and safe for the Chesapeake ecosystem.

Chesapeake Bay Watershed

Ways To Save The Bay:

Reduce The Use Of Chemicals

When man-made fertilizers are used in excess, the extra nutrients can make their way into storm drains and runoff water. These huge boosts in nitrogen and other nutrients can create algae blooms. These blooms both block light from entering the water and consume the oxygen in the water, suffocating natural aquatic plants and local fish in the estuary. Also, many pesticides have been found to negatively impact the life cycles of other beneficial animals, such as bees and bird eggs. Natural pest control and organic fertilizers should always be tried first.

Prevent Erosion

If your property slopes and water runs directly through your garden soil and straight down the drain, adding some erosion control to your landscaping can help slow the flow of water. This allows time for harmful particles to be filtered out of the water before it’s gone. Erosion control can be found in the form of groundcovers, native grasses, trees, shrubs, french drains, or using raised bed gardens to stop soil from running off.

Rain Barrel

Build A Rain Barrel

Rain barrels are a great source of irrigation for your gardens, and can help stop water from rushing directly from our gutters through our lawns and into our storm drains. 

Note: it’s important to prevent mosquitoes from breeding in the standing water in rain barrels. This can be done by using a mosquito block, adding a layer of oil on top of the water (i.e. hort oil or cooking oil, or even safe soap), adding fine mesh overtop the barrel, or letting goldfish live in your rain barrel (as long as the water stays at a safe temperature and the fish can be brought inside for the winter).

Plant Trees

Reforestation has a major impact on the environment, but it also has a direct impact on the Chesapeake Bay. Tree roots are for excellent erosion control and assisting in filtering stormwater runoff. Many trees are important homes for the birds and animals that are part of the natural life cycle, and these animals directly impact other populations in the bay (fish, oysters, etc). There are many volunteer organizations that host tree planting events to help support new forests being planted in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Rain Garden

Plant A Rain Garden

In addition to rain barrels, trees, and erosion-controlling ground covers as ways to filter rainwater before it gets to the bay, whole gardens can be planted with the key purpose of holding onto the water before it gets into drains. Learn more about how to plant a rain garden.

Plant Native & Pollinator Gardens

By planting native and pollinator gardens, you are supporting key players in the life cycle of the Chesapeake ecosystem. Native plants require less maintenance because they are indigenous to the area. Local pollinators and wildlife love native plants because they provide familiar shelter and food sources.

Conserve Water

A few ways that you can conserve water are by:

  • watering your lawn in the morning
    • watering lawns in the morning allows them to more effectively absorb water before the hot mid-day sun evaporates it
  • replacing parts of your lawn with gardens and landscaping
    • this reduces the amount of water runoff
  • using drought-resistant and native plants
    • these plants require less water and can tolerate longer periods between waterings
  • helping to reduce the amount of excess water being used at home-
    • watching water use can help improve water quality


Composting is a fantastic way to create natural fertilizer at home by simply saving your scraps! While compost piles used to take up lots of space and be very time-consuming, these days there are lots of bins available that make composting easier than it has ever been!

Reduce One-Time-Use Plastics

One-time-use plastics only increase the amount of litter and pollution in the bay. Just one small replacement can help stop litter from getting to the bay and harming local wildlife.

One tip for reducing plastics when gardening is to use compostable seed pods for starting seeds. Try seeing how many replacements you can make around your home and garden!



If you love nature, love gardening, and want to meet like-minded people, one of the best ways to help save the Chesapeake Bay is to get involved with one of the many volunteer organizations. You can help plant gardens, plant trees, clean the shorelines, or partake in lots of other beneficial activities. This is a great way to support the bay and have fun doing it!


If you live on the water:

  • Set up an oyster garden off of your dock
  • Wash your boat if you travel to other waters (to prevent microscopic invasive species)
  • Plant erosion control grasses along the shoreline 

By keeping the water clean and keeping the local wildlife safe and supported, we can ensure the continuation of a healthy Chesapeake ecosystem and enjoy our beloved oysters and blue crabs (with Old Bay of course!). 

Any other Bay-saving strategies? Let us know in the comments.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Karen Royer Reply

    Thank you recommending the use native plants – something that every homeowner can do. Creating a new garden where there was previously turf grass is a win for the Bay and all of the birds and pollinators that live in the watershed. Non-native plants have little to no benefit while native plants support all kinds of life!

  2. Rose A Gulledge Reply

    Hello. Great article! Do you offer rain barrel workshops (sessions that offer information while making a rain barrel)? I think it would be super popular and would be a great way to get out the need for more rain barrels in Bowie and surrounding towns. Hope you consider this suggestion.

    • Sarah Smith Reply

      hello! we do not have any rain barrel workshops planned yet but it’s a great idea!

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