Chesapeake Bay Field Office -- BayScapes  

Springtime is around the corner, and many of us are turning our thoughts to our gardens. This year, as you’re selecting new plants or planning a new bed, keep in mind the principles of Conservation Landscaping or BayScaping:

Go Wild
Is your property a haven for birds and butterflies, or is it a monoculture of lawn? Wildlife need places to rest and hide, places to nest, and sources of food and water. You can create wildlife habitat AND reduce the amount of mowing you do by converting portions of your lawn into planting beds. Choose native plants that are adapted to your local site conditions (sun, soil type, and moisture). To ensure the best success for wildlife, choose plants with the following wildlife needs in mind:

  • Habitat
    • Select a small number of plant species and plant them “en masse”
    • Create vertical diversity by using plants with a variety of mature heights
  • Food
    • Include plants that provide berries or nectar
  • Water
    • Consider adding a water feature. A birdbath with fresh water daily is adequate for many species. You will attract a greater diversity of species with running or dripping water.

Go Native
Native plants are those plants which have evolved in a particular region. Natives are already adapted to your local soils and weather conditions, and often fair better on your property than plants from other regions, states, or countries, generally requiring less watering and fertilizing than non-natives. Natives are often more resistant to insects and disease as well, and so are less likely to need pesticides. This is good news for both the environment and the gardener. Best of all, local and migratory wildlife use native plants for food, cover, and rearing young. When we plant non-native species, there is the potential for wind or wildlife to bring uninvited seeds to local natural areas. These "invaders" sometimes disrupt the intricate web of life for plants, animals, and microorganisms. With natives, there are fewer consequences when your garden selection "escapes" to local natural areas. To learn more about this issue, see our webpage on Invasive Species. Using native plants helps preserve the balance and beauty of natural ecosystems. Learn more about native plants here.

The Big Picture
Replacing turf has additional benefits for both the environment and the gardener. The most obvious benefit is that the less grass we have, the less we need to mow. This saves us time as well as gas, reducing the amount of air pollutants we produce.

But there’s more! By replacing portions of our lawns with native trees, shrubs and perennials, we reduce the amount of chemicals and water we need to use. Deep rooted plants, such as most trees, shrubs and perennials, are able to make better use of rain water than typical lawn grasses, and so require less watering once established. We also reduce the amount of excess water that runs off our properties during rain events. Those deep rooted plants are also better at trapping and removing nitrogen and other pollutants from rain water. So replacing some of our lawn with deep rooted plant will have a positive impact on both air and water quality.

Dream Big, Start Small

You don't have to have a lot of time or money to begin BayScaping, and there is no one "correct" way to get started.

You might start by removing invasive or sick plants and replacing them with natives. Another great first step doesn't involve any gardening or landscaping at all...instead it involves long-term planning:

Take a plat of your property, or make a scale drawing, and sketch out your existing trees and other plantings.

garden diagram 1 garden diagram 2

Look for ways to connect isolated plantings, and to reduce the amount of mowing you do. Plan to eliminate lawn that is only "used" while mowing. Design paths and seating areas. If you need a visual of where your new beds might eventually go, you can try laying out string. For a more three-dimentional visual, you can mow areas you plan to keep in grass, with longer grass where you have planned your beds: if you don't like the way it "works," just mow everything down and try again the next time you're due to mow.

garden diagram 3 garden diagram 4

When you are done planning, pick a small, manageable area from your plan to convert to a BayScape. Use our Native Plants guide to select plants appropriate for your region and site conditions. You can find nurseries that carry native plants on our BayScapes website as well.

garden diagram 5

As time and money allow, you can add additional beds to your property.

garden diagram 6Home with planting beds - USFWS photo

How About a Butterfly Garden?

Although it is a nice looking plant, and attracts a variety of butterfly species as well as bees, we do NOT recommend butterfly bush (Buddleia). Thanks to wind-blown seeds, these plants have started to show up—uninvited—in natural areas, with a negative impact on local ecological systems.

Thankfully, there is a beautiful variety of native species that will provide nectar for butterflies, food for their caterpillars, AND look great in your garden. Be sure to cross reference this list with our Native Plants Guide to select plants that are right for your region:

Monarda didyma, or Bee Balm - Photo by Britt Slattery, USFWS
Monarda didyma

.Asclepias tuberosa, or butterfly weed - Photo by Britt Slattery, USFWS
Asclepias tuberosa

Baptista australis, or blue false indigo - Photo by Britt Slattery, USFWS
Baptista australis

Lonicera sempervirens, or trumpet honeysuckle - Photo by Britt Slattery, USFWS
Lonicera sempervirens

Rubus allegheniensis, or common blackberry - Photo by Britt Slattery, USFWS
Rubus allegheniensis

Phlox subulata, or creeping phlox - Photo by Britt Slattery, USFWS
Phlox subulata

Photos in this column are by Britt Slattery, USFWS



choke cherry

 (Prunus virginiana)

eastern redbud

 (Cercis canadensis)

American basswood

 (Tilia americana)


blueberries and cranberries

(Vaccinium corymbosum, V. pallidum (V. vacillans), V. angustifolium, V. macrocarpon)

Allegheny blackberry

(Rubus allegheniensis)


(Cephalanthus occidentalis)

New Jersey tea

(Ceanothus americanus)


(Lindera benzoin)

staghorn sumac

(Rhus hirta (R. typhina))

sweet pepperbush

(Clethra alnifolia)

pinxterbloom azalea

(Rhododendron periclymenoides)



(Bignonia capreolata)

trumpet creeper

(Campsis radicans)

trumpet or coral honeysuckle

(Lonicera sempervirens)


white snakeroot

(Ageratina altissima v. altissima (Eupatorium rugosum))

eastern or wild columbine

(Aquilegia canadensis)

milkweed, butterflyweed

(Asclepias incarnata, Asclepias syriaca, A. tuberosa

wild blue indigo

(Baptisia australis)


(Chelone glabra)

black snakeroot

(Cimicifuga racemosa)


(Conoclinium coelestinum (Eupatorium coelestinum))

threadleaf coreopsis

(Coreopsis verticillata)


(Symphyotrichum laeve var. laeve (Aster laevis), Symphyotrichum cordifolium (A. cordifolius), Eurybia divaricata (A. divaricatus), S. novi-belgii var. novi-belgii (A. novi-belgii), Doellingeria umbellata var. umbellata (A. umbellatus)), Ionactis linariifolius (A. linariifolius), S. ericoides var. ericoides (A. ericoides), S. novae-angliae (A. novae-angliae)

Joe-Pye weed

(Eupatorium dubium, E. purpureum, E. fistulosum,  E. hyssopifolium, E. maculatum)

wild geranium

(Geranium maculatum)

yellow sneezeweed

(Helenium autumnale)

swamp sunflower

(Helianthus angustifolius)

woodland sunflower

(Helianthus divaricatus)


(Liatris spicata, Liatris pilosa v. pilosa (L. graminifolia), L. scariosa)

cardinal flower, great blue lobelia

(Lobelia cardinalis, L. siphilitica)


(Monarda punctata, M. bradburiana (M. fistulosa), M. didyma, Pycnanthemum incanum)


(Phlox subulata, P. stolonifera, P. divaricata, P. maculata)

black-eyed Susan

(Rudbeckia hirta)


(Rudbeckia laciniata, R. triloba, R. fulgida, R. hirta)

fire pink

(Silene virginica)


(Solidago caesia,  Solidago canadensis, S. flexicaulis,  S. juncea,  S. nemoralis, S. odora,  S. rugosa,  S. sempervirens,  S. speciosa)

blue vervain

(Verbena hastata)

yellow ironweed

(Verbesina alternifolia)

New York ironweed

(Vernonia noveboracensis)

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