Tips of the Month
Stormwater (July 2022)
Due to our warming planet, we can expect increasingly frequent heavy rainstorms such as the one on June 2. Stormwater from your roof and other impervious surfaces carries sediment, pesticides, metals, salts, and other pollutants that can cause harm at multiple scales -- in your basement, yard, on adjacent properties, on a neighborhood scale, and/or in local or distant waterways. Here are some tips for dealing with these effects we are all experiencing.
- Help reduce stormwater flows from your property by reducing impervious surfaces, planting more bushes and trees (they absorb a surprising amount of water), and increasing the fraction of rainfall that soaks into the ground.
- You may want to utilize the Town's Consulting Water Management Program which is a free service to review your property and make recommendations about water management on your property.
- Consider implementing green infrastructure such as a rain garden, conservation landscape or permeable pavement to qualify for the County’s Rainscapes program. You can get a rebate up to $7,500 from the County.
- If you notice a clogged storm drain, call 311 to report it to the County. Or open a case online.
- Turn Around, Don’t Drown: When approaching floodwaters, remember that 6 inches of water are enough to damage your car and stall your engine. One foot of water is enough to float a car. Don’t drive through standing water and create waves. To prevent car damage, move your car before large storms if it’s parked in a flood-prone area.
TOCC Plant Invaders: English Ivy (June 2022)
One of the most common invasive plants around is English Ivy. It’s a problem because:
- The vine weakens and kills trees by engulfing branches and blocking sunlight. That prevents trees from making the food, via photosynthesis, needed for growth and health.
- Heavy vines and their increased air resistance make infested trees more likely to topple in high winds, heavy rains, and ice storms.
- It spreads voraciously on the ground, and when allowed to climb, produces berries that are transported into neighboring yards and forests. There they crowd out native plants and creatures that depend upon them.
- English ivy can be home to unwelcome wildlife, including rats, slugs, snails, mosquitoes, and ticks.
What to do:
- Prevent it from climbing trees. Cut the vines at the base. Pulling vines off can damage a tree so let them die and fall off naturally. If ivy’s climbing public trees, let Town staff know.
- Herbicides don’t readily penetrate the waxy barrier on English Ivy leaves. The best way to get rid of it is by pulling it up. Monitor for new growth from vines that were missed.
- Don’t help it spread. It should not go in your compost bin, in your yard-waste bucket, or on your landscaper’s truck. Bag it in plastic and send it out with regular trash.
- Plant something else! Native alternatives are best.
Links to identify and learn about other invasive plants: https://www.inaturalist.org/guides/8123
EV Resources (May 2022)
With recent gas price hikes, there has been an uptick of interest in hybrid and electric vehicles. There are already many models available but there will be *many* more options over the next 1-2 years. If you're interested in learning more to prepare for making your next vehicle purchase a hybrid or electric, here's several resources you can use:
- A 25" podcast which gives a great overview of the current state of all things EV and the flood of vehicles coming on the market in the next 1-2 years.
- Consumer Reports EV buying guide
- Montgomery County Zero Emission Vehicles Information webpage.
- Montgomery County EV Buyer's Guide (an excellent summary of all the models available now).
- Montgomery County "Take the Pledge" website which they're using to build commitments from County residents to facilitate purchasing discounts with local dealers.
Reducing Plastic Pollution (April 2022)
The widespread use of plastics that began after WWII was viewed as a great boon to modern society, but it has also created one of the most pressing environmental issues facing the world: the overwhelming global tide of plastic pollution that threatens our oceans, waterways, and wildlife. And if you think plastic recycling is a panacea, read about the important and interesting NPR and PBS investigation on the subject (search “NPR plastic recycling”). On the positive side, at a UN meeting last month, 175 nations agreed to create a UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution by 2024. Here are some actions we can take to change our plastic habits right now. Your choices and voices make a difference!
- Stop buying bottled water! Instead, buy reusable water bottles. Our tap water is fine, but you can also buy a filter for your kitchen sink or water pitcher with filter such as Britta.
- Opt for soft drinks and sparkling water sold in glass or aluminum.
- Remember to bring those reusable shopping bags… buy washable produce bags…encourage stores to use compostable produce bags (Trader Joe’s is now using them).
- Buy laundry detergent strips such as TruEarth or Earth Breeze rather than plastic jugs.
- Look for alternatives to shampoo, conditioner, hand soap and dishwashing soap bottled in plastic. More and more of these products are available in bar form. Check them out!
- Use biodegradable trash bags from a company like BagUps.
- Check out the many non-plastic products sold online by eco-friendly businesses such as The Earthling Company and Green Eco Dream.
- Take a moment to encourage a company to reduce or eliminate the plastic in their packaging.
Biophilia and You (March 2022)
On December 26, renowned biologist and author E. O. Wilson died at the age of 92. One of his many legacies is his book entitled “Biophilia”. Wilson argues that our natural affinity for life -- biophilia -- is the very essence of our humanity and binds us to all other living species.
During COVID, most of us have gained a greater appreciation for nature. How, then, could we cultivate and express biophilia in our Town, our homes, and personal lives?
- Pay attention. Every yard is teeming with various species living interconnected lives, to which we can bring appreciation and curiosity.
- Fear not. When we have this awareness, anxieties and fears are displaced by appreciation. Then, it’s possible to adopt an attitude of “cultivate and care” rather than “control and eliminate” to live with backyard nature.
- Follow the science. People who spend time in nature are proven to be more mentally and physically healthy.
- More is more. The oft repeated “less is more” doesn’t apply here. A diverse biome brings greater enjoyment and environmental resilience.
- Less is more. Well, maybe it does apply. All of our choices affect nature--from pollution in our immediate surroundings, to use of resources.
- We are not alone. When we express biophilia, we’re sharing that gift with our neighbors, our children, people worldwide and future generations.
Interesting and Eco-Friendly Gardening (February 2022)
Now is a good time to be thinking about planting and yard projects you want to do once warm weather returns, so here are some tips to create an interesting and eco-friendly landscape:
- Reduce lawn size. Environmentally friendly landscape designs mean less grass.
- Plant wisely: Choose native plants adapted to our area. There are lots of local contractors and nurseries who specialize in natives.
- Layer your landscape. This extends visual interest and improves biological health.
- Plant slopes with native groundcovers such as sedges (e.g., Carex appalachica).
- Don’t remove your leaves; they can be thinned in the spring if you need more light.
- Add pollinator friendly plants; include larval host plants (many are trees, also violets, milkweed, and parsley family members such as dill and parsley) as well as flowers.
- Plant flowering plants that bloom at different times so that there are floral resources for pollinators for the entire season.
- Aim for ground coverage with living plants (& less mulch). Include water in the garden.
- Harvest rainwater where possible. Take advantage of the County’s Rainscapes program, including up to $7,500 in rebates per household.
- Get educated: Montgomery College offers courses and Brookside Gardens, Audubon Naturalist Society, and others offer learning and experiential opportunities.
Spare the Salt (January 2022)
When snow and ice melt, the salt on roads, driveways and sidewalks gets dissolved with it, washing into adjacent storm drains, and making its way to our local waterways. Once in the water there is no way to remove the sodium chloride, and at high concentrations salt can harm fish and plant life. Salt is also a pet paw irritant, and it can seep into soil in your own yard, which can harm plants, and kill off microbes important to soil health and fertility. Here are some winter salt best practices:
- Avoid using salt if at all possible. Sand, ashes, or kitty litter are good alternatives if traction is the issue. Sand is definitely a better bet below 15 degrees Fahrenheit, when salt will be ineffective. Avoid using salt if the temperature is forecast to get above freezing for several hours of the day -- the ice will melt naturally, or enough so that you can easily scrape or shovel it away.
- Try de-icing products that are less harmful than sodium chloride. Alternative chemicals that are better for the environment are calcium magnesium acetate (CMA), calcium chloride or magnesium chloride. Strosniders in Bethesda carries several alternatives.
- If you must use salt for safety purposes, shovel or scrape first. The less snow and ice, the less salt you’ll need to use. Use the smallest amount possible, then wait. It can take time for the salt to have its intended melting effect.
- After the snow and ice have melted, if you have leftover dry salt and/or sand, sweep it up for reuse, or proper disposal. If you just leave it where it sits, it will eventually wash off into the watershed or your yard.
- For reinforcement of these points, here is the County salt website.
The Issue with Tissue (December 2021)
Americans’ love of luxury paper products is harming the environment. In the 90 seconds, it will take you to read this message, two football field-sized areas of the Canadian boreal forest will have disappeared. What are boreal forests and why should we care? Boreal forests are full of deciduous trees and conifers and cover vast expanses in Canada, Alaska, and Russia. They’re an important carbon sink which absorbs carbon dioxide -- a main contributor to global warming and climate change and they're home to abundant wildlife.
But these crucial forests are threatened, due in large part to the demand for virgin pulp to make ultra-soft TOILET PAPER, FACIAL TISSUE, PAPER NAPKINS, AND PAPER TOWELS.
Fortunately, there are eco-friendly alternatives:
- Look for recycled and chlorine-free paper products or products made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified bamboo. These are available in local stores and online. Recycled paper products (don’t worry -- not made from used toilet paper or Kleenex!) are almost as soft and strong as the “luxury brands” -- and without the negative effect on the environment.
- Use cloth rags, sponges, and dishcloths instead of paper towels whenever possible. Skoy cloths are an example of an effective, washable, and compostable cleaning cloth.
For specific guidance on the best and worst paper products to buy -- from an environmental standpoint -- here’s some helpful information from the Natural Resources Defense Council. Thanks for making climate-friendly choices!
Renewable Electricity Options (November 2021)
Reducing unnecessary electricity use is one of the best ways to reduce your home's environmental footprint. For example, at our Fall 2021 Trash & Treasures, Montgomery County hosted a “Lighten Up” booth to encourage the use of energy-efficient LED bulbs. Next on your list could be switching your household to renewable electricity supply. This will reduce harmful emissions, support the conversion away from fossil fuel-produced electricity and help the County achieve its goal of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2027 and 100% by 2035. Here are some quick tips for making the change:
- Easiest Option: Switching to a Renewable Electricity supplier is a fairly simple paperwork transaction. Use our Renewable Electricity Guide for step-by-step instructions to replace your PEPCO-supplied electricity with 100% wind- and/or solar-generated electricity.
- This State of Maryland website allows you to easily compare renewable energy supplier options available in our Town. (Hint: AEP and Groundswell are County-recommended suppliers because they are Green-E certified.)
- For more impact: Our Renewable Electricity Guide also discusses Solar Panels, Solar Co-ops, and Geothermal Energy for reducing fossil fuel-generated electricity use.
- This Montgomery County website provides options for residential energy switching and related clean energy topics.
Healthy Lawns Without Synthetic Chemical Pesticides (October 2021)
- Mow your lawn or have your contractor mow your lawn with the mower set as high as possible, thus allowing your grass to grow high and shade out weeds.
- Use a mulching mower, returning the resulting finely chopped grass clippings to your lawn, where they will greatly reduce any need to apply fertilizers.
- Consider aerating and overseeding your lawn in late summer/early fall. Now!
- Apply any fertilizer consistent with the MD State fertilizer law (e.g., no application between November 15 and March 1).
- If you want to use a pesticide for cosmetic purposes, use an approved and appropriately labeled organic substance.
- For the future, consider reducing the size of your lawn, converting some or all to more ecologically diverse and productive vegetation.
More information on organic lawn care and approved organic pesticides is available on the County’s website. The Climate and Environment Committee also is planning an event to inform and assist with organic lawn care.
Reduce Gas-Powered Leaf Blower Use (September 2021)
Please support the Town’s efforts to dramatically reduce the use of gas-powered leaf blowers this year and create a quieter and greener town this fall. To achieve this goal, the Town has taken the following actions:
Subsidies are available now through June 30, 2022, to support the purchase of battery-powered and electric leaf blowers, and related accessories.
Quiet Hours are in effect during which time gas-powered leaf blowers may not be used. Gas-powered leaf blowers may be used only between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. weekdays, and between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekends and holidays.
Gas-powered leaf blowers will be prohibited beginning in 2022 at any time from January 1 to October 14, in parallel with D.C. and Chevy Chase Village. Battery-powered and electric leaf blowers may be used all year. The subsidy is intended to help speed this transition.
To help ensure compliance:
- Residents may call the Town Office during work hours at (301) 654-7144 or submit a noise complaint on the Town website to report suspected violations: http://bit.ly/3jRm12r.
- Residents also may contact Montgomery County regarding noise issues: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/DEP/contact/noise.html
- Please help notify landscape companies of these restrictions.
Be Cool! (July 2021)
Now that we’re into the hot & humid time of year, here’s some reminders about keeping your family and others cool and saving energy and money:
- Install and use a programmable thermostat to optimize your cooling and savings. Set your default cooling temperature up several degrees.
- Close blinds or shades when there is direct sunlight hitting your windows. Open your windows when it cools off at night and close them when it heats up outside.
- Use fans – ceiling or household fans move air to keep you cooler and you can use bathroom or kitchen ceiling vent fans to exhaust hot air outside and reduce the AC load. If you have a whole house fan, use it to pull in cool outside air.
- Use plants and foliage shade outside of your home to reduce radiant heat.
- Turn off lights & unplug devices – they generate heat and waste energy & money.
- Make sure your interior spaces have proper insulation to reduce interior heat seepage (e.g. hot air from your attic/eaves can seep into the home through interior openings).
- Install a mini-split heat pump or window or portable air conditioner for room-specific cooling or for homes without ducts.
- Take advantage of PEPCO’s many programs for energy assessment and savings and switch to 100% renewable electricity supply for broader environmental impact.
- Have unused AC equipment (window units, fans, etc.)? Donate unneeded equipment or money to Community Forklift or Habitat for Humanity to help others.
Compost to Reduce Greenhouse Gases! (June 2021)
Only 1 in 5 Town residents is using the free weekly compost service (curbside pickup). The Town uses our tax dollars to pay for it. There's no direct cost to you if you use the service, and no additional cost to the Town if more residents participate. Why not take advantage?
The EPA estimates that in 2018, only 4 percent of wasted food was composted (2.6 million tons). Food waste in our landfills is a major source of methane gas that contributes strongly to global warming. Composting is easy and a great lesson for kids in how to care for our earth.
Visit https://customers.compostcrew.com/create-account/ to sign up for the free weekly compost service (see Town website Services/Trash and Recycling). You can compost almost anything that is 100% from plants and animals, including food scraps, coffee grounds and filters, used paper towels and napkins, other paper (though newspaper, cardboard and other relatively clean paper is probably best recycled), cut flowers and small amounts of yard and garden waste, and even wool and cotton fabric. For specific questions about what to compost and how to participate, visit www.compostcrew.com. For further questions, contact Christina Files at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the BUZZ on Mosquitoes? (May 2021)
Nobody likes being bitten, and we fear mosquito-borne disease. But mosquitos feed wildlife and even “natural” methods of killing them (yard sprays, bug zappers) also kill beneficial pollinators.
Try thinking LARGE (yard), MEDIUM (patio/deck) & SMALL (personal) scale.
LARGE: Limit breeding opportunities and welcome natural predators:
- Remove standing water -- even small amounts.
- Treat a pond, bird bath or rain garden with a form of bacterial insecticide that kills larvae without
- harming other creatures. (A popular brand is Mosquito Dunks or Bits.)
- Add movement to water: a fountain or “wiggler” attracts birds but keeps mosquitoes from
- breeding. Some are solar or battery operated!
- Invite mosquito predators with native plants and welcoming habitat: birds (especially swallows), bats, & dragonflies. Add fish and frogs to your pond.
MEDIUM: make your porch or patio less attractive to mosquitoes
- Scented plants like Citronella, Marigold, Catnip, and Lemongrass deter mosquitoes.
- Burn citronella in the form of lamp oil, incense, or candles and add atmosphere, too!
- Blow them away! Air movement not only cools you, and makes it difficult for mosquitoes to fly, but disperses CO2, body fragrances & heat that attract them.
SMALL: Protect your body
- Time your outside activity, avoiding dusk when mosquitoes are most active.
- Treat your skin. If you are concerned about DEET, try botanicals.
- Wear long sleeves and pants and spray clothing with a repellent.
Healthy Lawns (April 2021)
Cutting your grass short and using chemical pesticides and fertilizers can create an unhealthy "lawn desert." Here are some tips to avoid that:
- Mow high - never cut your grass shorter than 3 or 4 inches. This helps your grass tolerate heat and dry weather and suppresses weeds.
- Sharpen your mower blades often or ensure that your landscape contractor does.
- Leave grass clippings on your lawn to decompose. They quickly break down and return 50-100% of the nitrogen your lawn needs and release valuable nutrients -- free fertilizer!
- Overseed your lawn each year to have a healthy, thick lawn and crowd out weeds.
- Water infrequently, but deeply.
- Use only organic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Chemical pesticides and herbicides kill bees and other pollinators and have been banned for lawns by Montgomery County. And don't over-fertilize! Synthetic (chemical) fertilizers can easily leach out of the soil or wash off in the rain, heading directly to ground and surface waters.
- Avoid mosquito spraying which often isn't effective and kills beneficial insects.
- Reduce the size of your lawn and replace some grass with native plants and shrubs.
County Healthy Lawns website: https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/lawns/
Town Healthy Lawns webinar: https://youtu.be/ugxAbyCaZE0
Recycling…Made Easy! (March 2021)
Did you know...
- Labels do NOT have to be removed from glass jars -- make it simple: rinse and recycle!
- Plastic wrappers do NOT have to be removed off of plastic container: rinse and recycle!
- Metal seals around wine bottle necks to NOT have to be removed -- imbibe, rinse, and recycle!
- Letters with plastic viewing windows can be recycled!
- Plastics 1-7 can ALL be recycled, but our current recycling program does not accept clamshells containers of ANY kind.
Attract Birds with Native Plants (February 2021)
A silver lining to the pandemic is that people are enjoying our beautiful Town environment, including birdwatching and buying bird feeders to attract them. Another thing we can do to attract birds is to install plants that support them. The Audubon Society (https://www.audubon.org) has a database searchable by location to help you choose appropriate native plants. As an example, berry producing plants are generally great for birds, but there is a red-berried plant in our neighborhood that is toxic to them: Nandina, or Heavenly Bamboo. Click here for a list of plants native to Maryland.