Helpful Information for Residents
How You Can Help Keep Our Streams and Rivers Clean and Help Reduce Flooding
A riparian zone or buffer zone is the land adjacent to a body of water, such as a lake, pond, stream, river, or wetland. Development activities within riparian zones are severely restricted in order to safeguard the water quality and to protect the riparian and aquatic ecosystems. The width of the riparian zone depends on the aesthetic and ecological value of the body of water and is defined by the State of New Jersey. Within Berkeley Heights, a riparian zone of 50 feet is required for the Passaic River and its tributary streams. Much of the Passaic River frontage in Berkeley Heights is protected by the Passaic County Park, but a portion of the Passaic River frontage, and several of its streams, adjoin residential properties. The riparian zone is measured from the top of the bank of the river or stream and extends 50 feet on both sides of the watercourse. Within this zone, the vegetation should be allowed to remain in its natural condition. There should be no cutting of trees or brush, no dumping of fill or regrading, no construction of any kind, and no discharging of stormwater in a riparian zone. This means there should be no cultivation or maintained lawns within 50 feet of one of these watercourses.
If your property adjoins the Passaic River or one of its streams, a portion of your property may be a riparian zone and thus subject to these restrictions. These FEMA flood hazard zone maps show the watercourses and riparian buffers in Berkeley Heights to which these regulations apply. If your property adjoins one of these stretches of water and/or includes a riparian zone, is the riparian zone in a natural state, or has it been encroached upon by development or cultivation? You can help protect the riparian zone, and thus protect the ecology of our waters, by removing invasive plants and by planting suitable native grasses, herbaceous plugs, woody shrubs, and trees along the riparian zone. Suitable native shrubs and trees buffer pollutants from entering the river via stormwater runoff and prevent erosion of stream banks. Turfgrass does not provide a high level of treatment for stormwater runoff and does not benefit the river ecosystem.
The Riparian Planting Zones illustration is similar to the planting zones for rain gardens: wet or toe zone, bank or slope zone, buffer, or upland zone. You can find a list of native plants suitable for riparian buffers here. An expert at a garden center should be able to help you if a particular native plant is not available.
Riparian Planting Zones
For further information on the regulations governing riparian zones, see the relevant section of the Berkeley Heights Municipal Code. Here is further information on the benefits of riparian buffers. Contact the Environmental Commission at EC@bhtwp.com if you have questions on these requirements or would like advice related to a riparian zone on your property.
How to Improve Your Soil and Reduce Yard Waste
According to the EPA, the amount of yard waste that ends up in landfills has decreased over the decades, but millions of tons of yard waste are still landfilled each year. Homeowners who usually dispose of their leaves should consider other methods of managing leaves, trimmings, and branches that incorporate them back into the soil instead of the landfill. Leaves can be collected and used as a mulch for landscaping or garden beds, and should be spread thickly as they will flatten quickly with rain. A low labor solution is to keep the leaves and twigs in place and mow the lawn normally, but leave the shredded leaves and grass on the lawn where they will fall to the soil and quickly decompose. If it is preferred that leaves and trimmings be removed from the lawn, the shredded leaf and grass mix collected when mowing can be composted to an organic fertilizing soil amendment for the lawn or garden. More information about recycling yard waste can be found in the article “Improve Your Soil by Raking Less,” by Terry Ettinger. Should you choose to compost your yard waste, all you will need is a few square feet of space outside and a good shovel, but your setup will vary depending on several factors.
You can compost at home in many different ways. If your yard space is limited or you do not want to dedicate any lawn space to a compost pile, you can compost your leaves and lawn trimmings with other organic waste in a self-contained tumbler. Rotating compost tumblers can be made at home or purchased, and range in size from a few gallons to hundred-gallon drums. During the warmer months, a compost tumbler in the sun can heat up quickly and speed up the breakdown of leaves and organic waste into compost. For those with yard space ready for compost piles, an area tucked away in a corner or otherwise out of the way should be cleared to bare soil. A large frequently turned outdoor pile resting directly on the soil will also take advantage of macro-organisms, such as worms and insects, to help decompose organic matter into usable compost. Compost piles are commonly mounded without support, contained in a four-sided box frame, or supported on three sides by mesh fencing. Compost piles should be contained in some manner, but you can be as creative as you want with your pile. There are many online resources to help guide someone getting started with home composting, such as the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet on Home Composting.
US EPA - Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling - Yard Trimmings: Material-Specific Data
Do You Know What is Growing on Your Property?
Removing Invasive Plants and Planting Natives
Plants that are native to North America - whether trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants - improve habitat quality for wildlife native to this continent. This makes planting them preferable to plants that originate from other continents that native wildlife may not be able to benefit as much from. Beneficial insects, birds, and other animals use native plants as a resource and as habitat, so a stand of native wildflowers should bring you views of blooms and wildlife. Native species are just as, and often more, aesthetically pleasing compared to non-native ornamental plants, and they bloom in-stride with surrounding native plants in the landscape around your property. Native plants are adapted to growing in the climate and soils of the region they are native to, meaning they grow well in their native range with minimal human intervention, resulting in native landscapes often requiring substantially less maintenance than non-native landscapes. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, The long-term upkeep of native plants can be dramatically less costly than turf grass, as well as take less time. The majority of New Jersey soil is privately owned, so private landowners have the opportunity to take conservation into our own hands by improving the landscape for ourselves and the life around us. This means creating landscapes that support a diversity of species & complex food webs, store carbon, and protect the integrity of our watersheds. Local nurseries and garden centers often sell a selection of native plants, and there are many options to purchase native seedlings and seeds online.
Many popular species of plants sold for use in landscaping and as ornamentals are not native to North America, and some may be invasive. Garden centers may sell invasive plants such as bamboos, barberries, and many others, inadvertently leading to their introduction when homeowners buy and plant them. Invasive non-native plants have the potential to out-compete native plants and cause harm in some way or another to ecosystems and the species within them. When invasive plants are introduced to a landscape and they spread, the quality of the habitat will likely be degraded for native wildlife. There are many invasive herbaceous and woody species of plants found in Berkeley Heights, and chances are high you have at least one invasive species of plant growing on your property right now. These plants originate from other parts of the world, but can grow and even thrive in our climate and ecosystems. Non-natives may be attractive to homeowners, but they likely provide wildlife little to no resources. Since invasive plants do not originate from this area, there may be no natural controls to their spread if released into nature. New Jersey is taking steps to reduce the presence of invasive species state-wide, but it is up to landowners to control what grows on their property. Invasive plants range in size from small grasses to large trees, and the only way to know what is growing in your yard is to check yourself.
There are many resources online to help identify common invasive species of plants found in New Jersey, which can help you know what to look for when inspecting your property. The New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team website, url: https://www.fohvos.info/invasive-species-strike-team/, contains information about invasive species, their identification & eradication, interactive maps, and more. The New Jersey Invasive Species Council website also contains invasive species lists, facts, and management plans. Once you have taken care of any invasive plants on your property, the Native Plant Finder website is a great tool to learn about native plants of New Jersey and the species they benefit.
Don’t Throw It Out, Compost It!
Reduce Waste, Save Money And Improve Your Soil with a Compost Pile
Composting is a process that allows for the bulk decomposition of organic matter. Leaves, wood, vegetable scraps, and many other kinds of organic matter can be composted into nutrient-rich humus. Turning your food waste into compost instead of garbage reduces the amount of waste entering landfills, stores carbon, and provides gardeners with an organic soil-improving amendment. All you need to compost is a few square feet of space outside and a good shovel, but your setup will vary depending on several factors. You can compost at home in many different ways. If your yard space is limited or you do not want to dedicate any lawn space to a compost pile, you can compost your organic waste in a self-contained tumbler. Rotating compost tumblers can be made at home or purchased, and range in size from a few gallons to hundred-gallon drums. For those with yard space ready for compost piles, an area tucked away in a corner or that is otherwise out of the way should be cleared to bare soil. Compost piles are commonly mounded without support, contained in a four-sided box frame, or supported on three sides by mesh fencing. Compost piles should be contained in some manner, but you can be as creative as you want with your pile. Before setting up your composting area, also consider how you plan to decompose your organic waste.
Two common methods of decomposition are aerated composting and Vermicomposting. The main difference being the size of the life form performing the decomposition. Aerated composting utilizes micro-organisms found naturally in organic materials and soils to break down vegetative waste. Heat is produced by decomposition, which speeds up the breakdown of waste and boosts microbial growth. Using this method compost must be turned frequently to replenish oxygen in the pile for microbes, and to release excess heat. Compost temperature should be monitored, because a sufficiently hot compost pile will destroy soil pathogens, insects, and weed seeds in the pile, but if allowed to over-heat some beneficial micro-organisms may not survive. Vermicomposting utilizes soil macro-organisms to break down organic matter, and can be used to compost smaller piles that may not generate much heat. As the name implies, worms play a large role in decomposition in a vermicompost system, but there is a large diversity of soil macro-organisms that aid in the process. A large frequently turned outdoor pile resting directly on the soil will take advantage of both micro-organism and macro-organism action to quickly decompose organic matter into usable compost. While a large effort could be put into a home compost operation, even unmanaged piles will turn into compost given enough time. There are many online resources to help guide someone getting started with home composting, such as the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet on Home Composting.
It’s Your Lawn, Cut it and Leave it
Grass clippings are a major part of New Jersey’s municipal solid waste stream. As a Berkeley Heights resident, you are already helping to avoid air pollution and wasted resources by recycling. You can do more by reducing waste at the source. Leave the grass clippings on your lawn when you mow, and let nature do the recycling.
As a general rule, mow to a height of 2 ½ to 3 ½ inches. How often you mow is best determined by the rate of growth of the lawn. Mow as frequently as necessary to remove no more than 1/3 of the leaf height in a single mowing. That is, mow by the time leaves reach a 3¾ inch height when cutting to 2½ inches, or mow by 5¼ inches when cutting to 3½ inches. As a general rule, mowing once a week is adequate for mowing heights between 2½ and 3½ inches; heights of cut below 2½ inches will require more frequent mowing.
It is usually not necessary to remove clippings. Returning clippings to the lawn will recycle nutrients to the soil and grass and also reduce waste. Mulching mowers facilitate this by chopping the clippings into smaller pieces.
Contrary to the widespread misconception, returning clippings do not contribute to thatch accumulation in a lawn. However, heavy clipping yield - such as might occur if you don’t mow often enough - might necessitate clipping removal or dispersal to prevent the accumulation of large clumps of clippings on the lawn surface, which can smother and kill the grass.
For more information on lawn care, visit the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet - Your Lawn and Its Care.
Invasive Insect Threatens Ash Trees in Union County
Berkeley Heights to Take Countermeasures
May 2020 - The emerald ash borer (EAB), an invasive insect native to Asia that has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees (Fraxinus species) has now been found in Union County. Three years ago, as the insect was found in other counties, Berkeley Heights took action to protect ash trees in the municipality and applied for a Community Forestry Grant to treat ash trees along the right of way.
This year Berkeley Heights is continuing treatment and has awarded a contract to Keiling Tree Care of Basking Ridge. The company has a website, employs a certified tree expert, and holds a pesticide license.
“The company was the low bidder,” said Environmental Commissioner Richard Leister, “and meets all the qualifications for the work.”
Ash trees can be infested by the emerald ash borer years before the tree begins to show symptoms of infestation, which begins when female beetles lay eggs on the bark of ash trees. The eggs hatch and larvae bore into the bark to vessels underneath that carry fluid.
As the larvae feed and develop, they cut off the flow of nutrients, eventually killing the tree within three to five years. Symptoms of infestation include canopy dieback, woodpecker activity, missing bark, D-shaped exit holes, shoots sprouting from the trunk, and S-shaped larval galleries under the bark. The ash borer has killed hundreds of millions of trees in North America.
If an ash tree is already infested or in poor health, it may be best to remove the tree before it poses a hazard to people and surrounding structures, according to the NJ DEP. Communities, businesses, and residents with high-value, healthy ash trees can treat the trees before any infestation occurs.
Anyone who sees emerald ash borer or suspected evidence of tree damage is urged to call the New Jersey Department of Agriculture as soon as possible at (609) 406-6939 or a DEP forest health specialist at (609) 984-3861.
Several insecticide options are available to protect landscape ash trees threatened by EAB. A Certified Tree Expert or Forester who holds a pesticide license can help evaluate, treat, or remove infested ash trees. Check https://njtreeexperts.org for a list of tree professionals serving your area.
"Not all ash trees along the right of way are treated," said Richard Leister. "Small ash trees will be removed and any large ash trees that may be compromised will be marked for removal."
Here’s how to identify an ash tree:
The ash borer is about 1/2" long and 1/8" wide:
Watch Out for Tree Volcanoes
It’s spring, and homeowners and landscapers are preparing their gardens, pruning their trees and shrubs, and mulching. The NJ Shade Tree Federation recommends that the best mulches for trees are shredded pine or hardwood bark at least 3/8” in size, pine needles, one-year old wood chips, or shredded and composted leaves. But the Federation warns against building volcanoes on tree trunks. Instead, start six inches from the tree trunk and mulch outward to the edge of the dripline. Keep the mulch about 3 inches deep. You may use woven landscape fabric or newspaper under the mulch in heavy weed areas. But don’t use plastic under the mulch.
Harmful Effects of Using Rock Salt on Outside Household Surfaces
Many local households use rock salt to melt ice and snow from outside surfaces, however it can pose hazards to humans, pets and property. Rock salt may scorch plants and impact soil quality resulting in depressed yield and growth if applied on surfaces that are close to vegetated areas. Salt residue may build up and cause permanent damage to asphalt, pavements, wood decks and floors. When pets walk on surfaces treated with rock salt, it can attach to the animals’ paw pads causing irritation or burning. Once pets step on rock salt, they are likely to lick their paws, which once ingested, can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, seizures, extreme fatigue, unusual drooling. Lastly, when applied in large quantities, rock salt may find its way into groundwater supplies which can ultimately harm aquatic animals and humans. Alternatives to rock salt include: use of electric-powered snow blowers, non-toxic ice melt and sand.
Want to Remove a Tree? You Need a Permit!
If anyone wants to remove a deciduous tree over 8 inches in diameter or an evergreen tree over 6 feet tall from a property or right of way, the Township ordinance requires they apply for a permit. The tree ordinance applies to all properties in the township regardless of where the tree is located: commercial property, private residences, and school properties. Any person violating or causing to be violated any of the provisions this chapter shall be subject to a fine.
How Can Berkeley Heights Manage Flooding?
It’s clear: The primary cause of flooding problems is too many impervious surfaces that drain directly onto adjoining properties and into our storm sewers and waterways. This is particularly a problem with major rain events, and these are expected to become more frequent and more severe due to climate change. We need to intercept stormwater runoff by capturing it at source, infiltrating it into the ground, reusing it or releasing it more slowly.
The Environmental Commission is promoting the use of “green infrastructure” to do this wherever possible. Green infrastructure is a cost-effective, sustainable and environmentally friendly approach to stormwater management, encompassing rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, and permeable pavements. This contrasts with the more traditionally used “gray infrastructure” such as pipes, gutters and basins.
The Environmental Commission has begun working with the Engineering Department to develop a stormwater management ordinance that goes beyond state minimum requirements to reduce local flooding risks. The ordinance seeks to achieve these goals through new retention requirements, a lower threshold for applicability to minor developments, and additional requirements for green (vs. gray) infrastructure.
You can find more information on green infrastructure here:
Lawn Fertilization Tips
When you’re fertilizing the lawn, remember you’re not just fertilizing the lawn
Now that the warmer weather is here, many of us are thinking about fertilizing our lawns, to restore them to that perfect early-summer green. But run-off from lawns and gardens can carry nutrients – especially phosphorus and nitrogen – into our streams and rivers, where they can cause blue-green algae to proliferate. These algal “blooms” can spoil the water quality, disrupt the environment for other wild creatures, and produce odor and toxins that may be unpleasant or even harmful to people and pets.
You can minimize the impact of your lawn treatments on the natural environment by:
- Not applying fertilizer when a runoff-producing rainfall is expected or when the soil is already saturated;
- Ensuring you don’t spread or spill fertilizers on impervious surfaces;
- Avoiding the use of phosphorus-containing fertilizers altogether;
- Mulching tree leaves and grass clippings as alternatives to synthetic fertilizers – mulching grass clippings instead of bagging them reduces the need for fertilizer by as much as one-half;
- For properties adjacent to streams and other bodies of water, maintaining a buffer of natural vegetation along the water’s edge to filter runoff.