Jimmy Orth Executive Director for St. Johns Riverkeeper (left) and Cate Hurlbut President of Florida Native Plant Society (right) with Bonnie Sinatro at her River Friendly home

With toxic algae blooms occurring throughout our state, it is more important than ever to recognize the practices that will help keep our waterways clean.   
The annual Outstanding River Friendly Yard Award recognizes individuals or businesses that have implemented River Friendly landscaping and maintenance practices to reduce their impact upon the health of the St. Johns River and our environment.

St. Johns RIVERKEEPER, Florida Native Plant Society – Ixia Chapter, and the University of Florida IFAS Extension are pleased to announce the 2018 winner: Bonnie Sinatro.

Bonnie has taken steps in her yard to utilize low-maintenance native plants, prevent stormwater runoff and minimize the use of irrigation, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides:

"I feel a strong responsibility to the critters who share my yard and to my beloved and struggling planet to garden responsibly. I don't want to poison the earth with chemicals that are toxic to man and beast alike So many of our native flora and fauna have become threatened, endangered or extinct due to unethical profit made on the destruction of habitat or food source of those who cannot speak. I can't change the whole world but I can change how I manage my own small piece of earth and continue to share my plants and knowledge with anyone who is interested in doing the same."

The award recognizes the efforts of members in our community to create a River Friendly yard or landscape and reduce the impact upon the health of our waterways and natural environment by using low-maintenance native plants, preventing stormwater runoff, and minimizing the use of irrigation, fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. 

The excessive and inappropriate use of fertilizers is one of the leading causes of the nutrient pollution problem that plagues waterways throughout our state, triggering algal blooms, red tide events, and fish kills. In Jacksonville’s older neighborhoods, the storm drains lead directly to the St. Johns or its tributaries. As a result, stormwater that runs off of yards and into the streets picks up litter, debris, motor oil, fertilizers, chemicals, and pet waste along the way, and this polluted water is transported directly into our waterways untreated.

The award criteria are based on the University of Florida's Florida Yards and Neighborhoods principles:

Right Plant, Right Place – your plant selection should match the yard’s soil, light, water, and climatic conditions to create a drought-tolerant, low-maintenance yard. Landscape your yard with drought-tolerant plants and groundcover, including at least 50% or more native plants. Avoid invasive plants. Here are two great websites to help you find the right plants for your yard – www.floridayards.org and www.fnps.org (Florida Native Plant Society).

Water Efficiently – Follow your local irrigation ordinance and only water as needed. If your home has an in-ground irrigation system, ensure it is as efficient as possible by utilizing water efficient components and individual plant needs. Inspect and repair the system in accordance to changing weather patterns.

Use Fertilizer and Chemicals Sparingly – or not at all. Only use slow-release fertilizers (50% or more of Nitrogen is slow-release or water-insoluble) with little or no phosphorous to minimize runoff into the river or leaching into the groundwater. Adopt Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques to spot-treat and minimize the use of toxic chemicals.

Use Mulch – Mulch retains moisture, slows runoff, and controls weeds. Don’t use Cypress for mulch as the harvesting of cypress for mulch destroys living trees and important habitat for wildlife. Recycle your yard waste and leaves by using as mulch and compost.

Attract Birds and Bees – Use native plants to provide valuable habitat for birds, pollinators, beneficial insects and other wildlife.

Protect Waterfront – Maintain a 10’ buffer next to waterways or directly adjacent to impervious surfaces where chemicals and fertilizers are not used. Also, use berms or swales when feasible. Point downspouts toward yard/garden and away from driveways and sidewalks. Use permeable materials when possible for walkways, paths and patios. All of these practices can help reduce runoff that can pollute our waterways.

Benefits of a River Friendly Yard include:

  • Reduces the exposure of people, pets and wildlife to harmful chemicals.
  • Reduces nutrient pollution and helps prevent algal blooms and fish kills.
  • Provides important habitat for wildlife.
  • Conserves water.
  • Creates beautiful yards, while saving time and money by reducing the need for water, fertilizers, chemicals, and mowing. 

CLICK HERE for more information and tips about River Friendly landscaping practices.