LSU Expert Lists 7 Ways to Make Your Home Wetlands-Friendly
By Christine Wendling
LSU’s location at “ground zero” of coastal land loss provides a fitting backdrop for faculty experts to examine wetland and marsh degradation. Louisiana is home to 40 percent of coastal wetlands in the continental U.S., yet it experiences 80 percent of its coastal land loss.
Coming from Virginia to Louisiana for her job at LSU, Cassandra Glaspie, an assistant professor of Oceanography & Coastal Sciences at the College of the Coast & Environment, recently purchased a home on a wetland in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, about 10 miles south of Baton Rouge. Fascinated by Louisiana’s beautiful and fragile environment, she was determined to make proactive decisions about protecting the local flora and fauna. So, she sat down with the College of the Coast & Environment to list seven changes she made to her property to make it more wetlands-friendly.
1. Get the Right Fertilizer
“Right after we moved in, we wanted to make sure that we reduced the amount of sediments and any other material, such as harmful nutrient pollution, on our property from draining into the road and to the adjacent properties. The way that we did that was by making sure that we had a healthy lawn,” Glaspie said.
Glaspie took advantage of LSU AgCenter’s Soil Testing & Plant Analysis Lab which offers its services to homeowners who want to test the pH and nutrient levels of their soil and the nutritional status of their plants. The soil tests allowed her to determine exactly what type of fertilizer her lawn needed. The right fertilizer will adjust the soil pH and supplement any deficient nutrients.
A healthy lawn will retain its sediment rather than draining harmful nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, into nearby wetlands. It has the added benefit of preventing the lawn from eroding over time.
2. Strategically Plant Your Garden
“In areas of our property that we know tend to flood, we put gardens in because it's unlikely that grass is going to grow there. The plants that we placed there will take up the water and any excess nutrients that are there,” Glaspie said.
Additionally, mulch helps to absorb excess water and prevents it from washing away, so it can continue to be available to the plants there and will not make its way into the road, sewers, or canals.
Stagnant water is necessary for mosquito eggs to hatch into larvae. Planting a garden where it will absorb standing water has the added benefit of keeping pesky mosquitoes at bay.
3. Grow Native Trees and Food
“I tend to plant things that are going to require very little care—a little fertilizer and very little watering. I don't want to have to put additional water into my already waterlogged system. And, I want something that can survive the Louisiana climate,” Glaspie said.
Growing plants native to Louisiana is ideal because they will tolerate the climate well and they will not add anything foreign to the ecosystem that could invade and cause imbalances. Some invasive species that have now become common in Louisiana are kudzu (also known as Japanese arrowroot), Chinese privet, and the Chinese tallow tree. Trees in particular absorb a lot of excess water, so Glaspie chose to plant local magnolia trees in her backyard. Additionally, she planted satsuma trees, lime trees, and blueberry bushes in her backyard.
Lazy gardeners and beginners will like having native plants. They are lower-maintenance than other species, having already become accustomed to the climate; trees add much-needed shade to protect your yard from the sweltering summer sun; and producing your own food can reduce grocery costs.
4. Increase Permeable Surfaces
In a wetland, water is able to pass through permeable surfaces and get absorbed into the ground, where it is naturally filtered. But, when water hits an impervious surface, such as a concrete driveway, it flows into the nearest storm sewer or river, carrying pollutants with it.
“To increase the amount of permeable surfaces, what you can do is replace your concrete or pavement driveway with pavers. There are a whole bunch of different pavers, which are just anything that has additional cracks that allow water to seep through,” Glaspie said.
Glaspie’s next home improvement project is to replace her driveway with pavers that are diamond in shape and allow turf to grow in the middle of them. She wants to grow plants in the middle for even more water absorption. However, she said bricks are a nice option, too.
While pavers are generally more expensive than poured concrete or asphalt driveways, they are much easier to maintain and repair. In many cases, individual paving stones can be removed and replaced while still maintaining the visual integrity of the installation, unlike cracked concrete.
5. Control Water Flow with Gutters
“My house doesn't have gutters. A lot of Louisiana houses don't. I would love to have gutters put in and water redirected to either a rain barrel or an area that I know drains well so all of that water is not just sitting around my house,” Glaspie said.
Re-directing water from gutters to a rain barrel provides a convenient water source for gardeners to water thirsty plants. And, it prevents water from puddling around the home and potentially finding its way inside—and onto the dining room floor.
6. Use Targeted Pest Control
Spray-type pesticides are bad for the environment because the chemicals spread around the perimeter of a home will eventually drain into wetlands. Commonly, these sprays will not only kill pests but also insects that are beneficial to the environment. When trying to get rid of pests, like ants or mice, the goal should be to remove only the target organism. For example, Glaspie prefers mouse traps to rat poison because poisoned mice might eventually make their way outside and get eaten by larger predators that are then poisoned in turn.
“It's actually really common to find birds of prey that are poisoned by pesticide in this way,” Glaspie said.
Using targeted pest control reduces the amount of pollutants that make it into the water and reduces the risk of harming innocent bystanders, such as children, pets, or critters that are beneficial to the garden.
7. Clean Up Pet Poop
If you live on a wetland, eventually everything will find its way back into the water. So, believe it or not, cleaning up after the dog can actually have a large impact on water bodies that are surrounded by neighborhoods.
“There are examples in Virginia where an initiative like Scoop the Poop eventually led to noticeable changes in water quality. It makes a huge difference. It's a huge source of nutrient pollution and bacteria,” Glaspie said.
Of all the ways listed in this article to make one’s property more wetlands-friendly, this one is completely free. Anyone can do it and still feel like they’re making a difference in their local environment. Also, it will keep the neighbors happy!
For more information about Dr. Cassandra Glaspie or LSU’s College of the Coast & Environment, visit the college's website.
For more information about LSU AgCenter’s Soil Testing & Plant Analysis Lab, visit the lab's website.
A clover field Glaspie planted to prevent sediment erosion and
limit runoff of harmful nutrients
A native Louisiana flower, coreopsis, in Glaspie’s garden
One of Glaspie's blueberry bushes in bloom
A rain barrel that captures runoff from gutters