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By: Riley Rossi, PHG Event Assistant
During this time of social distancing, many of us are spending too much time at home restless and bored. One can only watch Tiger King so many times. Why not spend our time doing something hands-on, productive, and outside? If you have space, a simple garden in your backyard can be that new hobby, and it has plenty of obvious and hidden benefits for you and the environment. This is how I got started.
The first thing I asked myself was “What do I want to grow?” Do I grow large vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, or beans? Or do I grow some herbs such as basil, cilantro, and mint? Or do I just want to grow some beautiful flowers “Animal Crossing” style? I tried all three, some with more success than others.
Deciding where I want and could place this small garden was important. You have to think of sunlight and wind exposure. Are my plants going to receive enough sunlight or is there a giant tree blocking my path? Is the wind going to blow it all away? Where do the gutters drain to? Know your house. The east side of my house was the best location for me when taking all of these factors into consideration.
Next, you will want to gather all of the necessary supplies. Gloves, hand trowel, watering can, pruning shears, garden forks, spade, rakes. You might not need all this for something as small as growing cilantro, but they helped. Gloves, a trowel, and a watering can helped to get me started; all three for less than ten dollars at the local dollar store.
While gathering all of my supplies, I also started germinating. Who knew it was as simple as placing the seeds in between a damp paper towel and waiting? While I waited; I went and tested my soil. My local hardware store had a cheap PH meter that also measured moisture. For a simple tutorial on how to germinate, watch our video to the right.
If you want to learn more about how to test your soil, go here.
Planting and Transplanting
There are two main things to consider when planting or transplanting: timing and acclimation.
What time of year should you plant outdoors? This depends on where you live and what you are planting. You want to make sure your new seedlings or transplants do not go in the ground until the last spring frost is over. Furthermore, certain plants thrive in different temperatures and may grow better when planted at different times of the year. You can determine the most ideal time of year by either reading the information on the seed packet or utilizing a “growing guide” such as the one found here.
Did the seeds start indoor or outdoor? If the answer is indoors, then the seedlings need to become acclimated to the outside environment before transplanting. This process is called “hardening”, in which you slowly introduce the plants to their new environment, and can take 1-2 weeks. It gives the plants a chance to get acclimated to the outside before transplanting begins. To learn more about the process of hardening, go here.
When your seedlings are acclimated and ready to be planted, follow these few simple steps:
Dig a hole large enough for the seedlings
Carefully remove seedlings while trying not to disturb the roots
Set seedlings level with the soil surface
Mulch area to maintain moisture and temperature
Benefits of Gardening
The environment plays an important role in everyday life. One of the benefits of starting your own garden is saving money on homegrown vegetables. The trick to spending less is to maximize your garden space with high-yield crops like tomatoes, beans, squash, etc.
People who garden to grow their own food help decrease the pollution that is put into the atmosphere. You can consume the vegetables that you have grown instead of buying them at the store. This reduces the supply of vegetables that need to be transported and delivered to the markets. Gardens reduce the number of trucks on the road that ship food to the grocery stores. It saves on the fossil fuels and energy that is being used.
As mentioned earlier it’s also a great way to stay active. There is an accumulation of studies that show gardening can be beneficial to both mental and physical health because it combines physical activity as well as exposure to nature and sunlight.
Growing certain native plants and trees have numerous environmental benefits. Some of these benefits include providing much-needed shelter and food for wildlife (most importantly our pollinators!) and enhancing local ecosystem services by producing cleaner air, better water retention, and reducing erosion. Native plants also require less water, less pest management, and less overall maintenance; a win-win for both your wallet and the environment!
A starter list of backyard native plants to provide food and shelter for wildlife include:
- Black-eyed Susans
- White oak
- Black gum
Many pollinators around the world and in Maryland are in decline. As pollinators travel from plant to plant, they carry pollen, which helps plants reproduce, including food sources. Pollinators are important for our food but are also important to supporting habitats and food for many animals.
Pollinators include bees, butterflies, moths, wasps, and hummingbirds. Some pollinators, such as bees intentionally collect pollen, while others transport the pollen unintentionally while visiting flowers to feed on the nectar.
When thinking about your Spring garden, consider planting native wildflowers. This is the most significant action that you can take to support pollinators. Native plants are usually easy to grow since they are already adapted to the local climate and soil, and will flourish with minimal work and without fertilizers.
Some native flowers to consider planting are Wild Indigo, Butterfly Milkweed, Purple Coneflower, Field Thistle, and Mountain Mint. For a more extensive list of pollinator plants for this region, click here.
Have you ever been on a trail and wondered what a certain plant was? Do you have a favorite plant you want to learn more about? Do you just want to learn more about various plants that you encounter day today?
Learning how to identify plants has long been a difficult and tedious process, comparing sample pictures or even simple text-based descriptions to real-life examples that could be in a different state in real life can be near impossible. Modern technology can now help bridge the gap to help with this problem.
There are numerous apps that can be used to identify plants instantly with just a phone and internet connection, PHG went ahead and tested 5 free options to show which work the best in the Patapsco.
Google Lens is an app that can be used to identify just about anything in real-time, although here we are only testing its ability to identify plants and trees.
Seek, by INaturalist:
INaturalist has a strong presence in the sphere of technology and ecology and has released an app focused on identifying plants and crowd-sourcing their locations.
PlantSnap is an instant identification app developed by Earth.com.
PlantNet (Pl@ntNet) is provided by Plantnet-Project.org and has been available for over 5 years with a constantly growing database of plant species.
PlantFinder is a newer plant ID app that claims to recognize 90% of plant species internationally.
To compare these various plant ID apps we used them to scan a set of 3 pictures of known plants and 2 pictures of known trees. Here is a chart of how each app responded to each selected plant photo:
Google Lens provided the correct identification for each picture, although it was the fourth recommendation for tree #1 and the second for tree #2.
Seek was correct with 4/5 pictures although it only provided the genus of the plant, not the specific species. It also failed to identify plant #2 at all.
PlantSnap scored 3/5 but recommended the correct ID second for plant #3 and fourth for Tree #2. This app also has ads that limit its usability.
PlantNet scored a perfect 5/5 even without using its feature to upload multiple pictures for a single identification.
PlantFinder identified 4/5 pictures although it failed to produce an ID for plant #3. This app also has ads that limit its usability.
Considering all this, we recommend using PlantNet for all of your plant identification needs in the Patapsco Valley!
Nutrient Pollution is the excess of nutrients, mainly nitrogen and phosphorus, that end up in the environment and waterways. The primary source of these excess nutrients is fertilizer used for garden and lawn care. Stormwater and wind carry the fertilizer to the surrounding waterways, which then causes an overgrowth of algae or an algal bloom. When algae decompose, the process uses the oxygen in the water, creating "dead zones" where fish and other aquatic life cannot survive due to lack of oxygen.
How can you help? Avoid applying fertilizer or only apply when necessary and at the recommended amount. To avoid a runoff, do not apply fertilizer before windy or rainy days or close to waterways. Plant a rain garden of native plants to reduce the amount of fertilizer needed and to catch the rainwater. Plant mulched beds containing trees, shrubs, and native grasses along the low edges of your property to catch runoff.
Keep grass clippings and fallen leaves out of storm drains, waterways, and drainage areas.
The colors of Spring are always a welcome sight after months of dull greys and browns throughout the Patapsco Valley. Shades of greens and bright pinks dot the branches as our favorite trees begin to fill out again. As exciting as these changes are, some of them only appear to be the regrowth of our native forest. Many examples of early blooms and spring growth are actually invasive plants that spread throughout native forests and threaten to disrupt the native ecosystem.
Invasive plants are species of plants introduced to local areas from foreign ecosystems, often from Europe or Asia, that pose a threat to native ecosystems. This threat can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Perhaps the most common form is unchecked growth by the invasive due to a lack of predators. These plants can see explosive growth because, unlike their native counterparts, no local animals eat them and keep their numbers in check. Before long they have monopolized the available resources such as space and sunlight and forced out any remaining native competitors.
Here are some examples of these plant invaders that are common in the Patapsco Valley:
This shrub is easily identified by its reddish fuzzy stem and bright green leaves. Often found along trails and in patches, this plant produces berries in the summer and will spread if allowed to.
This vine is rampant throughout the Patapsco, found both in developed and wooded areas. Often planted for aesthetic reasons or in gardens, English ivy grows quickly and will climb trees in search of sunlight. As the plant grows it will cover and eventually smother its host tree, making it a serious threat to even our most established forests.
This is often found as a short ground cover in the understory of the Patapsco and throughout small patches of earth in developed areas. Celandine spreads quickly and can give an area the appearance of having a “green carpet” as it covers the forest floor.
This shrub has a woody stem and small, bright green leaves that turn red over time. It is also covered in long skinny thorns about a half-inch in length, making removal or even just touching this shrub painful. Barberry has numerous negative impacts on our ecosystem, including increasing local tick populations! Barberry is so impassible by larger predators (owls, hawks, and foxes) that it provides an unusually safe home for rodents. As the rodent population grows and congregates under these shrubs they support more ticks and eventually increase the spread of Lyme disease!
Help us repel these invaders!
Want to get out and help the Patapsco ecosystem yourself? Send us a picture of your work removing invasives, and a description of the total to Info@Patapsco.org and we will give you a shoutout for your help!
Ever come across a trail intersection and wonder where the other trail went? Hesitant to try out new trails without a detailed map of the area? Check out the AllTrails app, available on both iOS and Android, this app can help you plan your hikes and explore new trails while you are out in the park. The app is also available in both English and Spanish, simply change it in your account preferences. With over 60,000 trails cataloged and plenty within the Patapsco Valley, AllTrails is an excellent resource for looking up new trails or just offshoots of your favorites. The app allows you to use several overlays such as a satellite view or trail map view to help orient your position and find familiar landmarks, as well as see comments and recommendations from other local hikers. AllTrails is free to use but also has a paid membership version if you find it worth paying for. Keep in mind that while you can use AllTrails outdoors you may lose signal in some areas, so plan ahead.
Trail Map Layers
Naturally, AllTrails contains maps and locations of many trails through the Patapsco Valley, but it also allows you to view them with multiple different map layers. These different layers can help highlight the trail path, put it in the context of landmarks visible on satellite view, or help point out various roads nearby. Check out the same path below with several different layers for context:
Trail Map Road
Trail Map Satellite
Another helpful tool on the AllTrails app is the elevation profile. It can be rather difficult to visualize the terrain on standard maps, and even topographical maps can be difficult to read clearly. A clear-cut elevation profile can quickly and accurately give you an idea of the hills you will be facing on your hike. You can even work out paths that target your intended level of difficulty!
Now is the time to explore new areas and find new trails to hike, but you still want to know what you are heading towards right? Why not check out any of the numerous photos shared on the AllTrails app, pinned to various areas? These photos can give you a glimpse into what a new trail holds in various seasons before you even get to the trailhead. Check out some pictures below posted to the Union Dam Trail.
Visit the Patapsco Valley from the comfort of your own home! Visit this page to explore several 360° pictures from some of our favorite locations around the valley.
If you enjoyed this virtual tour of the Patapsco Valley, please consider supporting PHG in our work to protect these natural spaces. We can only accomplish our goals through donations and volunteering from people like you. We need your help to protect this treasured ecosystem!
From River Safety to Vernal Pools, learn about all themes related to the Patapsco valley in our extensive YouTube series of videos. Learn how you can play an essential role in protecting our environment and enjoy the rich beauty that Patapsco has to offer at the same time.
A healthy lawn can be beneficial to soil and water quality. But be careful. Fertilizers can be harmful to the environment if not used properly. When applied at the wrong time or over-applied, fertilizers can create problems such as affecting the salt in the soil, winter hardiness of plants, and making plants and grass grow excessively (which can mean more mowing!)
Excess nitrogen and phosphorus (two primary ingredients of fertilizer) can run off landscapes and pollute local streams and rivers, including the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay. An excess of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water can increase the growth of algae, which impacts the water quality and decreases the oxygen in the water that fish and other aquatic life need for survival.
Fertilize only as needed to maintain the health and quality of lawns. If heavy rain is in the forecast, avoid fertilizing lawns to prevent polluted runoff and avoid applying fertilizer between November 15 and March 1.
Did you know we're still keeping an eye on water quality during this time of year? Why? Winter salt.
Winter salt is used on roads and sidewalks in preparation for snowstorms to increase the melting rate. The salt washes off the roads and sidewalks and can end up in rivers and streams.
It impacts sources of drinking water and the organisms that live in the streams and rivers including fish, amphibians, and plants.
If you want to learn more about the impact of winter salt on the environment, be sure to check out the Maryland Department of Environment's guidelines.
While we often think of Earth Day as emphasizing environmental conservation, the history of Earth Day actually runs deeper.
Prior to the 1970s, environmental activism was practiced in a rather disjointed way with groups working on various aspects of conservation and often little overlap between rural and urban spheres. Earth Day brought together advocates on issues ranging from the impact of industrialization on natural resources to establishing urban green spaces, both of which are present in the Patapsco Valley.
More importantly, Earth Day helped provide a framework that helped people understand that issues such as pollution, urban sprawl, pesticide use, waste disposal, and wildlife conservation are all interconnected and that confronting them directly highlighted a much larger environmental crisis as well as an opportunity.
At Patapsco Heritage Greenway, we embrace this framework and work to preserve, protect, interpret, and restore the natural resources of the Patapsco River Valley. We uphold the sentiment that as humans we are inherently connected to and part of our environments, and that we are shaped by these environments just as much as they are shaped by us.
- Virtual Webinar: The Magical, Vital Vernal Pool. Learn about vernal pools, the threats they face, and actions governments and individuals can take to support local biodiversity. Click here to watch the webinar recording.
- Virtual Webinar: Stream Watcher Training. Join this online training to learn the tell-tale signs that a stream is in trouble and how to report it, pick up any trash/litter, or if it’s too much for one person to clean, work with us to schedule a future group cleanup. Click here to watch the webinar recording.
- Virtual Webinar: Invasive Plants of the Patapsco. Learn more about what invasive plants are, why they are bad, the most common ones found in the Patapsco watershed, and what you can do to help remove them. Click here to watch the webinar recording.
- Facebook Live: How to Remove Common Invasives of the Patapsco. Watch our recording of this live instructional video here.
- Facebook Live: Nature Scavenger Hunt Series in both English and Spanish. Week 1 recording found here. Week 2 recording found here.
- Marty’s Bird Identification Flash Video Games. Learn about birds found on the East Coast of the United States with this fun bird identification flash video game. Flashcards in a video format! Play the game several times to learn your birds. Click here to play. Be sure to subscribe to the channel by clicking here to be updated when future videos are released.
- The National Wildlife Federation has lowered the firewall for all of its online magazines, like Ranger Rick and Ranger Rick Jr, including many online games and videos. You can access them here.
- Virtual Webinar Series: Climate Change and Sustainability. Watch this webinar series to learn more about soil, gardening, landscaping, COVID-19, and health in the time of climate change. This series is presented by Dr. Sara Via, a professor and climate extension specialist at the University of Maryland, College Park.
- Webinar #1: Healthy Soil, Healthy Plants, Healthy Planet. Click here to watch the webinar recording.
- Webinar #2: Regenerative Gardening: Growing food successfully & sustainably in a changing climate. Click here to watch the webinar.
- Webinar #3: Regenerative Landscaping: How to make suburban landscapes part of the climate solution. Click here to watch the webinar.
- Webinar #4: COVID-19 & Climate Change: Why aren’t we responding more effectively? Click here to watch the webinar.
- Webinar #5: Climate Change Is Bad for your Health. Click here to watch the webinar.
- Webinar #6: The Power of Individual Climate Solutions. Click here to watch the webinar.
- Virtual Webinar: Environmentally Friendly Fall Practices. Learn more about ways to remain environmentally friendly in the fall. Topics will include proper leaf disposal, the potential harm of bonfires, the impact of road salt on our waterways, and more eco-friendly fall tips. Click here to watch the webinar.