Landscaping Your Yard

When you landscape your yard, there are many ways you can help the river. Follow the guidelines below and start creating a river friendly yard!

Creating a River Friendly Yard

Use beds as buffers. Create or expand beds using native or low maintenance plants next to water bodies, streets, driveways, and sidewalks. This will create buffers to help prevent runoff and keep fertilizers and chemicals on your lawn. In addition, this will reduce the size of lawn that you have to maintain, saving you time and money!

Use the right plant in the right place. Select plants based on the conditions in your yard and the requirements of the plant (soil type, amount of sunlight, mature size of plant, etc.). Utilize plants and turfgrasses that can rely mostly on normal rainfall conditions. Native plants are often a good choice because they are adapted to the local climate and soil conditions and provide habitat for wildlife. Try to avoid St. Augustine grass. It generally requires more water, fertilizer, pesticides and maintenance than other drought-tolerant varieties like Bahia grass.

For more information about selecting the right plant for the right place, check out the St. Johns River Water Management District Waterwise Landscaping website and searchable plant database or the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods landscaping website. Also, check out Jake Ingram’s list of “Reliable, Durable and Dependable Native Plants for Northeast Florida.” Jake is a retired landscape architect with expertise in native plants.

Plant trees. Trees help reduce the volume and slow the flow of stormwater. Trees are natural pollution filters, filtering stormwater by removing nutrients, like nitrogen, and other pollutants. Trees also improve air quality, reduce energy consumption by shading and cooling our homes and businesses, and provide valuable habitat for insects and wildlife.

Use an organic mulch (not cypress) around plants to retain moisture and slow runoff. Leaves, wood chips, pine bark, and pine needles are examples of recommended mulches to use. The Florida Native Plant Society advises against using cypress mulch, because valuable cypress trees and habitat are destroyed for the sole purpose of creating a mulch product. For more information, visit Save Our Cypress.

Learn how to educate your Home Owners Association on River Friendly Yards Ordinances

Maintaining a River Friendly Yard

Mow high. Keep your lawn 3″ or higher and never cut off more than 1/3 of the grass blade each time you mow.

Keep it sharp. A sharp mower blade helps create a healthier lawn and reduce the amount of fertilizers and water that you need to use.

Use a mulching mower. Leave the grass clippings on the lawn. The grass clippings will decompose and add nutrients to the soil, reducing the amount of fertilizers that may be necessary to apply.

Let only rain down the storm drain. Keep grass clippings and fertilizer from entering the storm drains. Don’t blow or sweep grass clippings, leaves, or fertilizer into the storm drains.

Reducing Runoff

In addition to using planted beds as buffers as described above, consider the use of berms (raised earthen areas), swales (small dips in the ground), or rain gardens to manage and slow down water runoff, allowing it to percolate into the ground. Harvesting rainwater with cisterns or rain barrels also helps manage stormwater, in addition to providing water conservation benefits.

Use pervious materials, like gravel, crushed stone, mulch or pervious concrete or pavers, when building or expanding driveways, walkways, and patios. These materials minimize runoff, by allowing stormwater to percolate down through the surface into the soil where it can be naturally filtered and pollutants are removed.

Direct your gutter downspouts toward your yard or garden and away from driveways and sidewalks.

Selecting a Lawn Care Company

Use the River Friendly information we have provided and the following questions to help you select and develop a contract with a lawn maintenance service company. If you already have a lawn maintenance contractor, ask him/her to modify their maintenance practices based on the following recommendations and questions.

Is your company a licensed pest control company? If not, do you subcontract with a Florida licensed pest control company to spray for weeds, insects and diseases?
Make sure your lawn care company is licensed by the state, if they are providing pesticide applications.

Do you assess a lawn for problems before applying herbicides and pesticides?
Some companies spray for weeds and insects without determining the extent of the problem. If you do have a problem with weeds and pest insects, chemicals should be used sparingly, and only in areas that have problems, not on the whole property. Lawn care companies should monitor weeds and pests instead of spraying on a fixed schedule.

What products do you use and what are the active ingredients in these products?
Toxic chemicals should be limited, especially in areas where children and pets will play. Get a detailed breakdown of what products are applied and when before you sign up for the service. Companies are required to leave notice of what was applied at the time of service. Also, they should keep detailed application records at their office. You can request this information from the company, as needed.

You can learn more about the health risks of different chemicals by contacting The National Pesticide Information Center (1-800-858-7378), or online at Beyond Pesticides.

Do you offer an Integrated Pest Management program or other alternative services?
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is designed to reduce pesticide use by using a combination of tactics to control pests.

Do you provide training for all of your employees in the Florida-Friendly Best Management Practices for Protection of Water Resources by the Green Industries, and/or Florida Yards and Neighborhoods (FYN) principles?
Your local county cooperative extension service often offers courses and workshops for lawn care companies.

Do you follow Green Industries Best Mangement Practices?
Here are some of the BMP’s that we support:

  • Apply no more than .5 pounds of water-soluble nitrogen (N) and 1 lb. of total N per 1,000 sq. ft. per application.
  • Avoid the application of fertilizers before heavy rains are expected and during flood or storm watches.
  • Mow high and only cut up to 1/3 of the leaf blade at each cutting, frequently sharpen mower blades, and leave grass clippings on the lawn.
  • Never sweep or blow grass clippings, leaves, or debris into the road or down storm drains.

Do you use low phosphorous, slow-release fertilizers and what is the percentage and ratios of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium)?
See the above information about selecting fertilizers.  We recommend fertilizers with 50% or more of the nitrogen in a slow-release, water-insoluble form.

Does your company perform a soil and tissue analysis to help determine the appropriate lawn fertilization requirements?

Carefully review the services provided before entering into a contract with a lawn care company. First, visit the University of Florida IFAS Extension website, Considerations for Developing a Lawn and Landscape Maintenance Contract.