OCEAN CITY – Homeowners have the opportunity to receive free plants to beautify their property and benefit the environment at the same time through the town’s mini-grant program.
The town is offering mini-grants for the Bayscape Planting Program. The program offers native plant material to homeowners to plant bay friendly plants on their property.
Applications are due by April 15. The first 20 applicants to submit a grant application will be offered the plants. The grants provide $200 per homeowner to pay for plant material. The plants should be delivered around mid-May to be picked up, installed and maintained by the homeowner.
Bayscape gardens benefit the homeowner, the local environment and the Maryland Coastal Bays. The native plants help provide a habitat for local and migratory birds and animals, improve water quality and reduce the need for chemical pesticides and herbicides.
“Once they get established within the first year, they are native and they don’t need a lot of fertilizers, or pesticides, or herbicides,” City Engineer Gail Blazer said. “They like to be planted near the same type of plants, they are used to the water that we get, they are acclimated to this area … we’re reducing the amount of runoff that you would get from pesticides.”
Bayscape gardens are valuable to the homeowner because they offer great visual interest and also reduce the time and expense spent on mowing, watering and fertilizing. Bayscape plants can address areas with problems such as erosion, poor soil or poor drainage.
“They are very pretty,” Blazer said. “They are also better for the native and migratory animals that are used to the type of plants that are here, it is good for their habitat, food, shelter, water quality.”
She explained that the plants absorb the nutrients and help prevent runoff into the bay. Bayscape gardens help out in not having to use so many pesticides and herbicides that you would use on other types of plants.
The grants are provided through Ocean City’s mitigation fund, created through developers who don’t spend the time to create such gardens because they are trying to construct as much parking or building space as possible.
“There isn’t enough room for them to meet all the requirements so they can offset that by paying the mitigation fee,” Blazer said. “That fee cannot go into the general fund, that fee has to be used for the habitat and water quality benefits.”
She said that the fund “has to be spent somewhere”, so she figured why not assist those homeowners who are willing to create Bayscape gardens or plant beach districts plants and make rain gardens.
“It’s helping us spend this money where it is meant to be spent,” Blazer said.
Blazer began the Beach District Project in 2007 and followed it with the Bayscape Garden Project in 2008.
“The beach district starts around 30 feet from the beach replenishment line and that area is a harsh environment,” she said.
Between the Nor’easters, salt air, hot sun and direct sunlight, it is tough spot for vegetation to survive. The Beach District Project provides plants, such as high tide bush or beach grass, which are strong and hearty and don’t get upset by the harsh environment.
The mini grant program for the Beach District is offered November through December every year. The planting on the dunes take place during this time of year.
“I get a really good response from the people receiving the grants,” Blazer said. “They are all very appreciative and they think it is a great program and a great opportunity for them to beautify their property but it is also helping the environment.”