Are you watershed friendly? Click in a room below to learn more
about what you can do to help keep our watershed healthy.
- Check for leaks. Did you know a leaky toilet could waste 200 gallons of water per day? (EPA) In fact, the average household's leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry!
- Replace your toilet with a low-flush model. Conventional toilets use 3.5 to 5 gallons or more of water per flush, but low-flush toilets use only 1.6 gallons of water or less (EPA). The Energy Policy Act of 1992 required all new home toilets manufactured to be 1.6-gallon toilets. However, many homes still have higher usage toilets. Replacing these toilets with low-flush toilets saves an average of $46 [SR1] per year from each unit's water bill (EPA). When you consider that over the course of your lifetime, you will likely flush the toilet nearly 140,000 times. If you replace older, existing toilets with WaterSense labeled models, you can save nearly 13,000 gallons per year with this simpler, greener choice. (EPA)
- Try low-flush toilet alternatives. “Plastic containers (such as plastic milk jugs) can be filled with water or pebbles and placed in a toilet tank to reduce the amount of water used per flush.” (EPA) By placing such containers in the tank in a spot that does not interfere with flushing mechanisms can save more than 1 gallon of water per flush. Instead of a plastic container, a toilet dam can also be used instead to hold back a reservoir of water when the toilet is flushed. Toilet dams result in a savings of 1 to 2 gallons of water per flush (EPA). It is important to make sure you know how many gallons your toilet uses per flush before adopting these alternatives.
- Never flush medication or pharmaceuticals down the toilet or drain. This method of disposal can threaten our environment and water. Pharmaceuticals that enter our water do not necessarily breakdown and our water treatment plants are not equipped to remove them from the water. A recent U.S. Geological Survey study found that pharmaceuticals flushed down the drain created a concentration of chemicals, such as sulfamethoxazole (an antibiotic used to treat a wide range of bacterial infections), triclosan (an antimicrobial agent commonly used in hygiene products), and caffeine, downstream from a major wastewater treatment plant on the west coast. As an example, triclosan is harmful in our water because it has been linked to creating antibiotic resistance and studies shows it disrupts and alters male and female sex hormones in animal studies (Food and Water Watch). Instead, dispose of old medications at your community’s drug take-back program. These programs allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal. Call your local or county government to see if a take-back program is available in your community.
Shower & Tub
- Consider installing low-flow showerheads. In an average home, showers are typically the third largest water use after toilets and laundry machines. For maximum water efficiency, select a shower head with a flow rate of less than 2.5 gpm. You can purchase some quality, low-flow fixtures for around $10 to $20 a piece and achieve water savings of 25%–60%.
- Shorten up that shower. The average American shower uses 17.2 gallons and lasts for 8.2 minutes with an average flow rate of 2.1 gallons per minute (gpm). Cutting your shower time down by even just two minutes each day will save 1,533 gallons of water each year.
- Avoid Microbeads. Microbeads are small plastics frequently used in body scrubs or face washes. These microplastics aren’t filtered out by wastewater treatment plants, and end up in local streams. Fish and other wildlife eat the microbeads, filling their stomachs with the inorganic materials. By choosing products that don’t contain microbeads, you can help to keep these harmful plastics out of the watershed.
- Install a faucet aerator. Faucet aerators are inexpensive devices that can be installed in sinks to reduce water use. These devices deliver a mixture of water and air that creates a non-splashing stream of water. Aerators can be easily installed and can reduce the water use at a faucet by as much as 60 percent while still maintaining a strong flow. Aside from being more energy efficient, aerators prevent splash, shape the stream of water, and reduce faucet noise. More efficient kitchen and bathroom faucets that use only 2 gallons of water per minute–unlike standard faucets, which use 3 to 5 gallons per minute–are also available [(Jensen, 1991) EPA].
- Reduce your water pressure. Pressure Reduction: Reducing water pressure will reduce the maximum water flow from a fixture on a fixed setting. For example, a reduction in pressure from 100 pounds per square inch to 50 psi at an outlet can result in a water flow reduction of about one-third [(Brown and Caldwell, 1984) EPA]. Homeowners can reduce the water pressure in a home by installing pressure-reducing valves. Many water use fixtures in a home, however, such as washing machines and toilets, operate on a controlled amount of water, therefore a reduction in water pressure would have little effect on water use on such fixtures (EPA). Reducing water pressure can save water in other ways: it can reduce the likelihood of leaking water pipes, leaking water heaters, and dripping faucets. Always be an engaged homeowner, check your pipes regularly for drips and leaks, and have them repaired immediately to conserve water in your home!
- Avoid microbeads. These tiny plastic particles can enter our waterways and wreak havoc on the ecosystem. The particles are too small to be removed by current water treatment processes and unfortunately enter our waterways, where aquatic life can consume them. New Jersey has passed a law banning plastic microbeads, which will go into effect in January 2018, and will gradually phase these products out of production. However, the microbeads may still be present in older products that remain on the shelves during the phasing out process.
- Avoid using anti-bacterial soaps that contain triclosan. Triclosan is persistent in water and can react with other chemicals to form cancer-causing agents. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there isn’t enough science to show that over-the-counter (OTC) antibacterial soaps are better at preventing illness than washing with plain soap and water. To date, the benefits of using antibacterial hand soap haven’t been proven. In addition, the wide use of these products over a long time has raised the question of potential negative effects on your health. (FDA)
Under the Sink
- Purchase environmentally friendly cleaning products to clean your bathroom. These products are widely available and some can even be made right at home! Using biodegradable or non-toxic cleaners work just as well as their alternatives without the damaging ecological impacts. You can research the products you use on the Environmental Working Group website and get recommendations for environmentally friendly alternatives. You can also review GSWA's presentation on how to create your own environmentally friendly cleaning products here.
- Toilets, showers, and faucets combined represent two-thirds of all indoor water use (EPA).
- More than 4.8 billion gallons of water is flushed down toilets each day in the United States (EPA). That’s enough to fill 7,272 Olympic sized swimming pools every day.
- The average American uses about 9,000 gallons of water to flush 230 gallons of waste down the toilet per year [(Jensen, 1991) EPA].
- Don’t waste water. Always wash vegetables and fruits in a large bowl or tub of water and scrub them with a vegetable brush instead of running the faucet. By putting a bit of elbow grease into cleaning your veggies, you can save an incredible amount of water.
- Get back to the tap. Cutting disposable water bottles out of your daily routine is an easy step towards living a more sustainable watershed friendly lifestyle. Consider instead keeping a pitcher of filtered tap water in your fridge at home. Purchase a reusable aluminum or glass bottle to carry along with you to the gym or workplace. By taking these simple steps you will save money and cut plastic pollution in the process. If you’re worried about the quality of your tap water, you can learn more about how to test it through GSWA here. (link to well testing page)
- Check for leaks. Being a conscientious home owner and a steward of the environment involves regular home maintenance. You should always check your pipes for any leaks both to avoid damage to your home and to conserve water. A small leak can quickly waste 170 gallons of water per day! If you suspect that you might have a leak or notice a drop in water pressure, inspect your pipes at once and call a plumber to fix them immediately.
- Keep it out of the drain. There are many common household food scraps that we pour down our drains which can cause problems not only in our household pipes, septic systems or municipal sewer plants, but can also be especially problematic and threatening to water ecosystems and their inhabitants. Modern water treatment facilities can remove many contaminants, but a lot of harmful chemicals and substances still end up in our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Always freeze grease and throw it in the garbage rather than down the drain, and practice composting other organic materials whenever possible.
- Use an aerator. Faucet aerators are a quick and easy way to boost water pressure while reducing water consumption. Faucet aerators are inexpensive devices that can be installed in sinks to reduce water use. These devices deliver a mixture of water and air that creates a non-splashing stream of water. Aerators can be easily installed and can reduce the water use at a faucet by as much as 60 percent while still maintaining a strong flow. Aside from being more energy efficient, aerators prevent splash, shape the stream of water, and reduce faucet noise. More efficient kitchen and bathroom faucets that use only 2 gallons of water per minute–unlike standard faucets, which use 3 to 5 gallons per minute–are also available [(Jensen, 1991) EPA].
- Plan ahead of time. If you are planning a nice dinner and know that your protein is sitting at home in the freezer, consider pulling it out and placing it in the refrigerator a few days in advance to allow it to thaw out. This method of thawing also allows the meat to defrost evenly and consistently, instead of defrosting in the sink with running water.
- Cut down on the meat. There is no better way to live more sustainably and protect our watersheds and ecosystem than by committing to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Deforestation, water pollution, and excessive water use, are all results of our current livestock industry. The amount of water required to produce just one hamburger is estimated to be around 150 gallons! (USGS) Committing fully to a vegetarian diet might be asking too much, however simply skipping that burger once a week can clearly have a tremendous positive impact on the environment.
- Compost at home. Throwing food scraps and other organic material in the trash is not only wasteful, but can also contribute to global climate change. According to the USEPA almost all of that uneaten food ends up rotting in landfills where organic matter accounts for 16 percent of U.S. methane emissions. (EPA) Instead, practice composting at home, it’s fun and easy to do and best of all it yields beautiful soil for gardening reducing the need for fertilizers.
- Run the dishwasher when it’s full. Most conventional dishwashers use the same amount of water and energy to run one cycle whether they are completely full or half empty. So always aim to run full loads whenever possible to conserve water and energy. Also, when you are in the market for a new dishwasher, always look for one with an Energy Star sticker on it. They use less energy, are less expensive to operate, and cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the alternatives. These highly efficient appliances can really save a ton of water. On average, washing dishes in dishwashers instead of doing it by hand, can save about 10 gallons of water per load, so go ahead and let the appliance do the work!
- Scrape your plate. If you don’t have a dishwasher, consider scraping all of the remnants of food off of your plate before you rinse them down. This simple step can save about 20 gallons of water each time you do the dishes. It isn’t hard to see how this can add up very quickly, so scrape away!
- Upgrade when you can. If you have an older washing machine at home, you might want to consider upgrading it to a more efficient model. Newer front loading washing machines use less water and energy and often require less detergent to get clothing just clean. Washing machines with the EnergyStar logo can reduce water consumption by as much as 45%. Simply switching over to high efficiency washing machine has the potential to save nearly 8,000 gallons of water per year!
- After flushing the toilet, washing clothes is the next largest use of water in our homes, consuming a whopping 40.9 gallons of water on average per load. Running a half load of wash consumes the same amount of energy and water as running a full load, so it certainly makes more sense to wait until you have a full load of laundry before running your washing machine. This not only conserves water and energy but it will also save you time, as you will be doing laundry half as often.
- Hanging up wet laundry to dry outside is a great option that saves energy and gets you outside with nature. Some studies even suggest that exposing your clean laundry to the ultra violet light from the sun can help to break down stubborn stains!
- Your choice in laundry detergent matters, and can have far reaching effects on the watershed. When chemicals such as phosphates, which make clothing brighter, enter the water they can lead to excessive algal growth which in time depletes the water of it’s oxygen. Laundry detergent can also contain a whole host of other harmful chemicals and additives as well. Artificial fragrances, bleaching agents, fabric softeners and stain removers are all common in some detergents. You can find out more about eco-friendly detergent options on the environmental working group’s website.
Under the Sink
What’s under your sink? We’re betting a bunch of cleaning products that are supposed to help keep a cleaner and thus healthier household… Unfortunately, many cleaning products are actually harmful to the environment and personal health. According to the Environmental Working Group, approximately 53 percent of cleaning products contain ingredients that are harmful to the lungs. About 22 percent contain chemicals believed to cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy individuals (EWG). Learn more to make smart, informed choices about which cleaning products do the job without sacrificing the health of the environment and yourself! To learn more, check out this past Breakfast Briefing from January 10, 2017 where Director of Education and Outreach, Hazel England, gives a presentation on Environmentally Sound Cleaning Products.
Here is a list of some common cleaners and things to look for/ avoid when purchasing them:
- Dish soap: Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and, in high levels, can reduce sperm counts in men. Triclosan can promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria.
- Drain cleaner: Sodium Hydroxide is extremely corrosive and can cause severe burns on your skin and in your eyes as well as a sore throat if inhaled.
- Window cleaners: Diethylene glycol depresses the nervous system. Butyl cellosolve damages bone marrow, the nervous system, kidneys and the liver. Ammonia leads to respiratory issues such as asthma and chronic bronchitis. 2-Butoxyethanol not only causes sore throats when inhaled but at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage.
- All-purpose cleaner: Nonylphenol ethoxylate, which is banned in Europe, biodegrades into more toxic compounds. Butyl cellosolve damages bone marrow, the nervous system, kidneys and the liver. 2-Butoxyethanol not only causes sore throats when inhaled but at high levels glycol ethers can also contribute to narcosis, pulmonary edema, and severe liver and kidney damage.
- Metal polish/cleaner: Ammonia leads to respiratory issues such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.
- Floor cleaner: Petroleum solvents damage mucus membranes.
- Oven cleaner: Sodium Hydroxide is extremely corrosive and can cause severe burns on your skin and in your eyes as well as a sore throat if inhaled.
- Toilet bowl cleaner: Chlorinated phenols are toxic to respiratory and circulatory systems. Chlorine can cause respiratory issues and be a serious thyroid disrupter.
What Can You Do?
The number one alternative to most household cleaners is vinegar and baking soda. Though this will take a little extra elbow grease and care, it will preserve your health and environment around you.
- Dish soap: Planet Ultra Dishwashing Liquid Hypo-Allergenic, Eco-Me Dish Soap, and Better Life DISH IT OUT Natural Dish Liquid (EWG “A” ratings)
- Drain cleaner: Typically, a drain should be cleaned non-chemically. This product gets a “B” rating by the Environmental Working Group – Drainbo The Natural Solution Natural Drain Cleaner
- Window cleaners: Simple Green Naturals Glass & Surface Care, Green Shield Organic Glass Cleaner, and Whole Foods Market glass cleaner (EWG “A” ratings)
- All-purpose cleaner: Planet All Purpose Spray Cleaner, Imus GTC All Purpose Cleaner, and Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 Hemp Pure-Castile Soap (EWG “A” ratings)
- Metal polish/cleaner: The highest rated products get “B” ratings from the EWG – Eco-Me Stainless Steel Cleaner and Earth Friendly Products Stainless Steel Cleaner & Polish
- Floor cleaner: Aussan Natural floor cleaner concentrate, Simple Green Naturals Floor Care, and Martha Stewart Clean Wood Floor Cleaner
- Oven cleaner: High heat and baking soda with vinegar are the best options. The highest rate product on the EWG gets a “C” – Aussan Natural oven & bbq grill cleaner
- Toilet bowl cleaner: Green Shield Organic Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Seventh Generation Natural Toilet Bowl Cleaner, and Earth Friendly Products Toilet Kleener
The EWG recommends avoiding some products altogether because they’re unnecessary or there are no safer alternatives. Among them:
- Air fresheners contain secret fragrance mixtures that can trigger allergies and asthma. Open windows or use fans.
- Antibacterial products can spur development of drug-resistant superbugs.
- Fabric softener and dryer sheet ingredients can cause allergies or asthma and can irritate the lungs. Try a little vinegar in the rinse cycle.
- Caustic drain cleaners and oven cleaners can burn eyes and skin. Use a drain snake or plunger in drains. Try a do-it-yourself paste of baking soda and water in the oven.
- Be careful with oil. Changing your oil at home is easy and can save you time and money, but every effort has to be made to ensure that it is done properly so your car will not leak oil and that the used motor oil is brought to a recycling facility so that it can be properly disposed of. Motor oil is toxic to fish and other animals and plants, yet according to the NJDEP, Americans spill 180 million gallons of used oil into our waterways each year. This is even more troubling when you consider that one quart of oil can contaminate a million gallons of drinking water (MCMUA)
- Consider a pervious driveway. If you’re planning to redo your driveway soon, choose a pervious driveway option that will allow stormwater to pass directly through, instead of running off and potentially collecting contaminants along the way. Many alternatives exist including; crushed stone, pervious concrete, porous asphalt, and porous interlocking paver stones.Pervious surfaces also help to reduce flooding.
- Avoid salt. Always try to use as little de-icing salt as possible, or choose an alternative such as a brine solution. Most commercially available rock salts contain chloride compounds that can have adverse effects on the local vegetation and water. You can also put down sand or gravel for traction as well, just be sure to sweep up any excess once the snow has melted so the fine sediments do not reach our waterways. Plan on shoveling snow off your driveway before it accumulates and becomes heavy or difficult to remove, and utilize the sun’s rays to help melt some ice before you resort to salting.
- Wash your car on your lawn. Rather than washing your car in your driveway, where soap can runoff and enter nearby waterways, consider washing your car on the lawn instead. An even better option is taking your car to the local carwash where the runoff water is captured on site, and frequently reused or sent directly to a wastewater treatment plant. Also, consider using a biodegradable, phosphate free soap, and use as little as possible to get the job done.
- Ditch the hose and use a broom to sweep your driveway rather than power wash it. Not only will this reduce water consumption, but it will also reduce the amount of runoff carrying contaminants from entering our waterways.
- Check the weather. Look at the weather forecast before applying any sealants or chemicals to your driveway. Be sure to allow ample time for the sealant to dry and adhere. This will not only ensure the product is effective, but also helps to prevent any harmful contaminants from leaching into the groundwater, streams, and waterways.
Hazardous Waste and Trash
- Clean up spills. When you are working in the garage, spills are bound to happen, just be sure to clean them up as soon as they happen. This will prevent them from seeping into the groundwater, or running off into the streets and entering our waterways. Use a quick drying absorbent such as kitty litter to clean up most spills and dispose of them properly. For larger spills or leaks call NJDEP and a professional hazmat team will be able to contain the situation.
- Dispose of waste properly. Contrary to what many people believe, storm drains do not bring runoff to water treatment plants but rather the water goes directly into our lakes and streams untreated. Not only should you never dispose of harmful chemicals down a storm drain, but they shouldn’t be dumped down any drains! Always properly dispose of used motor oil, antifreeze, paints, pesticides, cleaners, industrial solvents, and other potentially harmful chemicals by bringing them to recycling or Hazmat facilities. You can use this site to find nearby recycling and disposal locations.
- Keep a lid on it. Whether you keep your garbage and recycling cans inside the garage or out at the curb, you should always be sure to have a tight-fitting lid on the cans. This not only serves as a deterrent to animals such as bears and raccoons from knocking the cans over, but will also prevent litter from blowing away. It is up to us all to prevent litter from entering our streams and waterways.
- Use proper storage techniques. Storing paints and other chemicals is an important responsibility of any homeowner. Always make sure that they are secured in cabinets or up on shelves out of the reach of children. Once they are no longer effective, or needed, be sure to bring them to the nearest hazmat disposal facility for proper handling. If you have any question about what you are discarding, call your local DPW office. Morris County has Hazardous Waste drop off days several times a year. For more information you can call Morris County at 973-829-8006 and Somerset County at 908-231-7031.
- Determining the quality of your well water is an important obligation of all homeowners. GSWA runs a convenient and affordable well testing program (link to current well test page) each March in conjunction with the Kemmerer Library in Harding Township. In addition, many municipalities also offer well testing services and you can also have your water tested at the nearest State certified laboratory. You can find one in your area by calling the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791 or visiting www.epa.gov/safewater/labs.
- It is recommended (by the Rhode Island Department Of Environmental Management Office Of Water Resources) that the brine be discharged below the ground surface to a drywell wherever possible. This solution should not be discharged directly into streams or directed toward waste treatment plants, as they are unable to effectively treat and reduce the brine solution.
- If discharged to subsurface, maintain distance from wells and try to have the dry well down gradient from water sources. If discharged to surface, make sure it soaks into the ground and does not threaten your well or local water surfaces.
- If discharged to septic tank, install a screen to keep solids out of the leach field and pump tank more often because brine will settle to the bottom. (State of Rhode Island)
- Do not allow the water softener to soften hot water. The heated or softened water will become much more aggressive at leaching metals from water lines. Lead in soldered joints and copper in pipes and faucets are particularly vulnerable and two heavy metals that shouldn’t be present in significant amounts in your drinking water (State of Rhode Island).
- Ditch the traditional salt-based water softener in favor of some emerging alternative solutions. Some systems rely on electromagnetic waves to influence the ion balance and neutralize harder minerals. These systems emulate soft water by breaking some of the harder particles down into smaller pieces so that lime scale and other buildup disappears from your home. Other salt-free systems rely on proprietary technology to filter minerals from the water as is passes through. These systems rely on filters which can be easily changed and can be installed with minimal effort.
- Leave the clippings. Mowing your lawn is practically as American as watching Baseball during the summer months, but are you doing it in the most Watershed Friendly way? Rather than bagging the clippings you should practice mulching the organic material back into your yard. This not only provides a natural fertilizer, but you won’t have to take so many breaks during mowing! If you do choose to bag your clippings make sure to add them to a compost pile and avoid dumping them near waterways. Another great option is to allow a portion of your yard to revert back into meadow, it’s less hassle for you (less to mow) and you’ll be amazed at the biodiversity richness that will take over.
- Practice IPM. Rather than spraying harmful pesticides on your lawn, where you risk affecting the health of your family and pets, you can practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM utilizes natural remedies such as neem oils, and other natural products that are toxic to insects. You can also purchase beneficial predatory insects such as lacewings and ladybugs to eat all the harmful insects on your plants instead.
- Build a buffer. Healthy waterways require protection from contaminants carried by runoff across your lawn, shade from trees, and controls to minimize erosion. If you have a water body on your property, one simple solution that can accomplish all of these goals is a Riparian Buffer! By planting trees, shrubs, and grasses in a vegetated strip along the streambank, you can absorb these contaminants, help to keep the waters cool and oxygenated, and prevent erosion along the stream banks. With deeper root systems and dense networks of fine roots, trees and shrubs help to stabilize soils, reducing erosion. It’s a simple step that all homeowners can take.
- Weed by hand. Broad-spectrum herbicides such as organo-phosphates target all plants and kill indiscriminately. Rather than spraying your yard with such powerful and harmful herbicides, instead try just pulling weeds the old-fashioned way, by hand, or with a small trowel. If you do need to use herbicides, always take the necessary precautions and wear a mask, pants, and long sleeves to avoid contact. Carefully read the labels and apply only as directed. As with pesticides and fertilizers, make sure to check the weather beforehand and never apply herbicides when rain is in the forecast.
- Scoop the poop. Pet waste contains coliform bacteria and other pollutants, which can not only make people sick but can really harm our waterways. This bacteria can also enter our drinking water, and can kill off fish, wildlife and plants. Whether at home or at the park, always be sure to clean up after Fido and be sure to properly dispose of the waste in the trash. Hate the idea of biodegradable waste going to a landfill in a plastic baggie? You can build your own dog waste composter, or purchase one from most pet stores.
- Water only when needed. Homes with automatically timed irrigation systems use about 50% more water outdoors than those without, and can waste many gallons of water needlessly. Your system can waste even more if it’s programmed incorrectly. For example, if a systems is set to sprinkle even during wet weather, or a sprinkler head is pointed in the wrong direction, or the system is leaking. When it comes to gardening watering, a little maintenance goes a long way. While up to 90 percent of the water used outdoors is for irrigation, having a lovely green yard doesn’t have to mean using a lot of water. Watering by hand is most efficient, but if your home does have in ground irrigation (13.5 million homes do!) ensure it uses “smart” irrigation control technology. These systems use local weather data to determine if the sprinkler should activate or not.
- Minimize lawn. Trees and tall shrubs provide cooling benefits by shading building rooftops, sidewalks, and other impermeable materials that absorb and reradiate solar energy. Trees can help with that A/C bill as well! During the summer, trees can help shade home exteriors from the summer sun, reducing cooling needs. Reduced energy needs in buildings translate to lower energy bills for residents and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Mixed plantings tolerate drought better without showing the signs of stress that drought-stricken lawns can show. C
- Go native. Choose native plants and shrubs that provide food and habitat for birds and pollinators. These plants will not only thrive in your yard, but they will also help to support a thriving ecosystem and increase biodiversity. For ideas of which plants to include and other tips to consider, check out this helpful guide.
- Install a rain barrel. Green infrastructure isn’t just for municipalities or local governments, homeowners can just as easily adopt these solutions to managing roof runoff at home. Building a rain barrel is easy to do and the water that they collect can then be used to water gardens during droughts or wash your car or a pet. Learn more about rain barrels and or see if any workshops are being held near you!
- Choose native plants. These plants have historically grown in the state or region and have evolved to adapt to the climate, precipitation, soil pH, pollinators, and potential predators. They also require little to no irrigation once established, won’t require any fertilization, and in some cases, have even developed their own means of avoiding herbivory from predators. In addition, native plants will also attract pollinators to your yard and provide year-round pops of color. New Jersey boasts thousands of native plants, so your choice of plants in practically endless!
- Invest in a rain garden today! Rain gardens are specially designed landscape features that are engineered to intercept stormwater runoff and allow it to infiltrate through the ground naturally, and recharge the aquifers and provide baseflow to our local streams and waterways. They also prevent contaminants from entering our waterways and are a beautiful addition to any backyard. These gardens have the flexibility to be designed to fit your needs and can be catered to your style preferences. They can also be scaled up or down to meet the needs of the surface area that you wish to disconnect.
- Redirect stormwater. If a rain barrel or a rain garden does not appeal to you or you simply lack the space to install one, consider instead disconnecting downspouts from standpipes and allowing the stormwater to pass over your lawn instead of directly into the stormwater sewer system. If your yard is fairly compacted you may need to slightly aerate the surface to allow for better infiltration, but simply allowing stormwater to filter into your lawn naturally is an effective way to reduce runoff.
- Plant cover crops. Planting cover crop plants at home such as warm season grasses, stonecrop, and periwinkle to name just a few is an excellent way to hold soil in place and prevent sediment from entering our streams and rivers. These plants are known to quickly spread out and reproduce and form dense networks so be sure to plant them in an area that they can be well contained.
- Use hydrozones. Group vegetation with similar watering needs into specific “hydrozones.” This practice reduces water use and protects the plants from both underwatering and overwatering by allowing you to water to each zone’s specific needs.
- Choose porous pathways. Wood chips or pea gravel allow stormwater to pass through the pervious surface and reduce runoff. Conventional pathways can cause pooling and allow for stagnant water to develop in your garden.
- Use Mulch. Mulching your garden not only adds to the aesthetic appeal but it will also save you time and money, and conserve water in the process. Applying a layer of 3-6” of mulch around the base of your plants, shrubs and trees prevents soil from losing moisture to evaporation, which saves water, because they won’t need to be irrigated as frequently. Mulching also suppresses undesirable weed growth, and adds valuable nutrients back into the soil as it decomposes at the end of each growing season.
- Water at the right time. Avoid watering in the mid-afternoon, or when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. Instead, try watering in the morning or early evening hours, when the sun is low and temperatures are a bit cooler. More water is absorbed into the ground by the plants and less is lost to evaporation. This means less water is necessary to thoroughly water the plants and it goes to better use. However, you should also be cautious about watering too late in the day; leaves that stay wet throughout the night can sometimes encourage fungus and mildew growth.
Gardening for Birds
Birds promote forest renewal by dispersing seeds. To ensure that their populations stay strong and spread mainly beneficial native seeds, plant a variety of native plants in your yard to create a dynamic and healthy environment which encourages birdlife as well as insect pollinators. For a printable list of New Jersey native herbs, shrubs, trees and vines, click here.
- Test your soil first. Always have your soil analyzed in order to determine which amendments are needed prior to applying fertilizers. Contact your County Agricultural Agent and Soil Testing Lab. Avoid the temptation to fertilize your lawn with synthetic chemicals. If you do decide to use fertilizer, choose organic fertilizer instead. Also, always be sure to check the weather forecast and apply fertilizer only when there is no rain in the forecast. This will allow the fertilizer time to be absorbed and less will runoff your property and into local streams. Even better yet, try skipping the fertilizer all together!
- You can buy a cheap soil test kit for a few dollars and learn which nutrients your grass needs to thrive. The main nutrients for healthy plant growth are Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphates, or NPK, and each fertilizer will have differing amounts of these key nutrients, depending on its purpose (What Does NPK Mean for Fertilizer? The Spruce). If you purchase a fertilizer based on your soil test results, you are feeding your soil only what it needs and plants can absorb, and the plants that grow in it get just what they need to thrive. Many cooperative extensions will also test your soil for a fee, but it is simple to do yourself. Here is a link to see how. Over fertilizing can often lead to fertilizer runoff into nearby bodies of water, and lead to issues such as algal blooms- simply adding only what your yard needs helps protect water quality.