There's a Certification For Every Kind of Eco-Friendly Yard!
Updated: Mar 2, 2021
Whether you consider your yard a pollinator habitat, native plant habitat, wildlife sanctuary, wildlife habitat, green landscape, native plant butterfly garden, or even a monarch way station there’s a certification for it!
In my last post I suggested the many reason to consider getting your yard certified and posting a sign to help normalize naturalized landscapes. Hopefully, the following information will help you decide which organization best aligns with the message you want to share with your neighbors and community. Don't feel the need to stop at one though!
I’ve included an overview of certification requirements from Georgia organizations and made a list of some national organizations you can self-certify through from any state. Scroll away and click the highlighted links for more details. Please share to spread awareness. Georgia Organizations Native Plant Habitat certification from the Georgia Native Plant Society (GNPS) I value the time and effort this certification process took. It requires a site visit and for you to remove all invasive plants from the category 1 and 2 lists on the Georgia Exotic Pest Council. This is a change-driven certification because popular traditional landscape plants still sold at nurseries in Georgia are on this list including English ivy (hedera helix), sacred bamboo (nandina domestica), big or common periwinkle (vinca major or minor), Chinese or Japanese privet (ligustrum), and Chinese wisteria (wisteria sinensis). It was affirming to have my yard profile added to the GNPS album (you can see mine by clicking here). Both Silver and Gold certification require a percentage of your yard include native plants in four different categories (trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses, perennials, annuals, vines, mosses/lichens, water/bog plants) and that 5 out of 10 sustainable gardening practices are followed (support wildlife, compost, avoid herbicides and pesticides, capture and use rainwater, use soaker hoses, minimize lawn areas, mulch, or leave the leaves, reduce use of fossil-fuel-powered lawn equipment). The difference in the levels depends on what percentage of your yard is landscaped with native plants. The certification is $30 and includes a yard sign plus you need to be a member of the GNPS ($30 for an individual).
Georgia Audubon Society’s Wildlife Sanctuary Program certification was the most rewarding certification for me personally because my property was chosen as one of only a handful of certified properties for the 2019 Atlanta Audubon Sanctuary Tour. I was told that although it was the smallest property on the tour it showed that even a small semi-urban yard can become a wildlife sanctuary. You can pick an area of your yard to be certified but the area must be at least 50 square feet, the lawn less than half of the area, half the plants in the area need to be native to Georgia, and surprisingly ¼ of the area can be invasives or non-native plants (this is probably geared towards certifying large parks where invasives are a challenge to remove completely). In addition, two listed plant layers are required (ground grasses or forbs, shrubs, mid-story trees, canopy trees), outdoor cats can’t be fed or maintained, basic wildlife components are needed (4 food sources, water source, 4 cover and nesting shelters), and safe wildlife practices need to be in place (minimal outdoor lighting, bird-collision prevention features, no pesticides, and limited use of leaf blowers). Once you feel you meet the requirements you can schedule a site visit and once certified you will get a sign and be added to a list of over 600 certified properties in Georgia. The certification fee is $30 and includes a yard sign plus you need to be a Georgia Audubon membership ($35 for an individual).
Georgia Green Landscape Steward certification from UGA Cooperative Extension has a helpful and detailed educational component of available power point presentations and videos. Once you review the educational components in 10 categories (composting, invasive plants, mulching, biodiversity, water quality, stormwater management, water conservation, welcoming wildlife and pollinators, native plants) to see what metrics you’ve met, and possibly implement additional sustainable landscape practice projects, you fill out a scorecard. The minimum number of points necessary to meet certification requirements is not difficult if you are already following sustainable landscape practices. My score was more than double the requirement, but my yard is already certified by multiple other organizations! If you’re a newbie to sustainable landscape practices, this certification is a good template to help you create a healthier ecosystem in your yard. There is no fee for the certification and if you want a yard sign the fee is $15.00.
The Pollinator Habitat certification from Environmental Education of Georgia’s Monarchs Across Georgia program requires growing at least two milkweed species, hosting plants for five butterfly species, four nectar sources in each of three seasons, having a butterfly habitat (water source, basking site, shelter), spaces for native bees to raise young, and following nine conservation practices (including composting, mulching, avoiding herbicides, pesticides and fertilizers, using drip soakers, using native plants, xeriscaping, reducing or eliminating lawn) The process involves completing and getting an application approved to see if any changes are needed before officially applying through an online application, making payment, and sending photos of your garden. Certifying your habitat is $10 for a certificate or $38 for a certificate and a yard sign.
Local Chapters of National Organizations
Check your local or state Audubon chapter to see if they have a Wildlife Sanctuary Program
Check your local or state Native Plant Society to see if they have a yard certification program
National Organizations The National Wildlife Foundation has an online application to designate your yard a Certified Wildlife Habitat. To get this popular certification and yard sign there is a checklist confirming several elements in the categories of food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. For a $20 application fee you receive a certificate, one year membership in the National Wildlife Federation, a National Wildlife magazine subscription, a discount on NWF merch, and the opportunity to purchase a yard sign for $30.
Wild Ones has a Native Plant Butterfly Garden certification and registration program for gardens if the garden is at least two years old and at least 75% of the plants are native. Additional requirements include not using pesticides and herbicides, removing invasive plants, providing pollinator food sources, listing native plant sources as well as host plants, shrubs & forbs (for every season), sedges, grasses, and trees. You also need to note what percentage of your landscape plants are milkweed, nectar, and non-native. The certification is super simple and requires a much simpler pre-certified list to check off if you’re already certified by the Monarch Watch or Monarch Waystation or the North American Butterfly Association. The application appears to be free, and once certified by Wild Ones, the yard signs can be ordered for $28.
To register your yard as a certified Monarch Waystation through Monarch Watch you need to complete an online certification application. The cost for both the application and sign is $33.
The North American Butterfly Association Butterfly Garden certification requires 3 host plants and 3 nectar sources. They encourage but don’t require native plants (what a missed educational opportunity!) and pesticides are discouraged. Certification application is $15, and signs are $25 each once your garden is certified
The Xerces Society has more of a pledge program than a certification process. You must promise to 1) Grow a variety of bee-friendly flowers that bloom from spring through fall 2) Protect and provide bee nests and caterpillar host plants 3) Avoid using pesticides, especially insecticides. 4) Talk to neighbors about the importance of pollinators and their habitat. The Pollinator Habitat pledge sign is one of my favorites because it has the tagline Planted for Pollinators, Protected from Pesticides. The sign is a pricey $57 but it's also one of the most inviting and it supports a worthwhile organization.