We spend a lot of time walking around conserved land and farms, affording us the opportunity to experience some beautiful scenery and many well-managed properties. We have been making note of some of the best practices we see that improve ecological value and enhance natural resources. Here, we offer up five tips for earning a “gold star” in stewardship.
1. Buffer Your Stream or Pond
Many landscapers do their best to maintain clean lines and clear viewsheds, and this often includes mowing right to the edge of a stream or pond. We say…don’t do it! A streambank or pond edge devoid of vegetation is highly vulnerable to erosion, especially during high water or flood events. Vegetation also provides shade and a cooling function, improving the quality of habitat for aquatic invertebrates, tiny but important links in the food web. For ponds, leave a no-mow buffer of at least three feet on all edges. For streams, nothing beats a buffer of trees and shrubs….the wider, the better!
2. Avoid Invasive Species as Ornamentals or Ground Cover
There are a growing number of nurseries that specialize in native plant propagation and sales but, unfortunately, there are many nurseries that continue to sell plants that have been designated as “invasive,” even though their destructive impacts to our natural areas are well documented. Particularly popular, yet very aggressive and amongst the worst of the worst, are, winged euonymus (burning bush), Japanese barberry, callery (‘Bradford’) pear and pachysandra. Know what species you are planting and seek out native plants, trees and shrubs whenever possible. Protect our native wildflowers and our woodlands by avoiding invasive species.
3. Don’t Underestimate the Appetite of Deer
Eco-minded and shade-seeking landowners may choose to plant young trees on their properties and around their homes. We love tree planting! But remember that our region is teeming with a robust deer population, and half-hearted protection will not deter a hungry deer. Deer will eat whatever they can access. Protect young trees from deer browsing and bark rubbing with tree shelters or fencing that is at least four to five feet in height.
4. Just Say No to the Volcano!
We are sure you have seen them—large mounds of mulch surrounding the base of a tree trunk. This is a no-no. There is no need to place a huge mountain of mulch around the base of a newly planted tree. In fact, this can do more harm than good. Some mulch around the base is perfectly fine—just don’t form a volcano, which can cause excess moisture at the base of the tree, causing rot and suffocation. Goodbye mulch mountain, hello healthy trees!
5. Contain Your Cows and Horses
We love livestock…but not in our drinking water, please! Streambank fencing is a well-established Best Management Practice that is easily put into place and effective in keeping livestock out of streams. Fencing not only benefits the stream (via reduced erosion, eutrophication and sedimentation), but it also benefits the animals’ health, as standing in water causes foot rot and other livestock diseases. Use a stabilized stream crossing to allow livestock safe and limited access to the stream for drinking water.