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. If there are certain pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, chemicals, bacteria, or excessive nutrients from certain farm manure or other waste products, then these 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.

Ways to Save the Bay:

Reduce use of chemical fertilizers & pesticides:

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, which 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!

grasses and gravel replacing lawn

Plant Erosion Control:

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, allowing time for harmful particles to be filtered out of the water before it’s gone. This can be in the form of groundcover plants, french drains with stone, or using raised bed gardens to stop soil from running off. 

bright pollinator garden

Plant Trees:

Reforestation has a major impact on the environment, but it also has a direct impact on the Chesapeake Bay. Tree roots are both excellent erosion control as well as assisting in filtering runoff water. 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 in order to help support new forests being planted in the Chesapeake watershed. 

Plant Native Plants & Pollinator Gardens:

By planting native plants and pollinator gardens, we support key players in the life cycle in the Chesapeake ecosystem: native birds and bees.

rain barrel with mesh cover

Conserve Water:

Water lawns in the morning, replace parts of your lawn with gardens and landscaping, use drought resistant plants or native plants, and help to reduce the amount of excess water being used at home. 

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, by adding a layer of oil on top of the water (i.e. hort oil or cooking oil or even safe soap), by adding fine mesh overtop the barrel, or by letting goldfish live in your rain barrel (as long as the water stays at a safe temperature [i.e. no direct hot summer sun] and the fish can be brought inside for the winter). 

heron enjoying the shade of trees on the bay

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 water before it gets into drains. You can learn more about how to plant a rain garden here:


Composting is a fantastic way to create natural fertilizer at home simply by 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 1-time-use plastics:

Use compostable seed pods when available, and other small replacements can help stop litter from getting to the bay and harming local wildlife. 


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!

aerial view of Chesapeake bay tributaries


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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