Skip to Content
Sonoma County Home | County Departments | Contact Us  

Pollution Prevention - Hiring a Gardener

Know what you are paying for and what impact it has on the environment. Gardeners frequently state that they would adopt environmentally preferable lawn care practices if their customers didn’t insist on "business as usual". Read the suggestions below and choose the practices that you would like your gardener to follow. Keeping your yard healthy will not only save you money, but will protect your family’s health and the environment.


Make sure that you and your gardener understand that when debris enters the storm drains, it flows to the creeks where it decomposes, dropping oxygen levels in the water too low for fish to survive. Sediment from our yards usually accompanies the debris, which cause the creeks to be over silted, greatly impacting the environmental health of our waterways.


Inquire if the gardener is a licensed landscape contractor. Often, when gardeners are licensed, their license number is displayed on their business card and on their vehicle. When serious pest infestations do occur, call a licensed pest control operator and inquire if their practices are less-toxic. Ensure that your gardener is knowledgeable in pest identification and disease diagnosis as well as Integrated Pest Management (IPM). IPM is a decision-making process that encourages people to use environmentally compatible techniques and products. IPM recognizes that pests are part of our eco-system, but seeks to prevent damage from pest populations reaching unacceptable levels. Regular monitoring and record-keeping of pest populations becomes a valuable reference to establish your own personal tolerance level. Once a pest infestation reaches beyond that threshold, a decision can be made as to which means of control will be used: cultural (modification of plant care activities, water, plant placement and pruning), physical (picking the pests off the plants by hand), mechanical (use of a weed-block or sticky traps), biological (use of beneficial insects to prey on harmful insects) or chemical (use of least toxic pesticides where serious damage would be done).


When applying pesticides, please know that “the label is the law”, which means it is unlawful and environmentally unsound to use the pesticide in any manner other than how it is stated on the label. Pesticides are labeled either Caution, Warning or Danger. Even with Caution-labeled pesticides, there are safety practices users should follow.

Quick Tips for Designing your lawn and garden

  • If you have a yard that is being re-designed or hasn’t been landscaped yet, you have an opportunity to be well-informed about the best foundation for your garden.
  • Select plants that grow well in our local environment while considering growth patterns and maintenance requirements to help your garden achieve and retain its optimal health... in other words, use the right plant in its right place.
  • Healthy plants have the most resistance to pest infestation. Looking at the plants and noting any changes in their condition will provide an opportunity to address any problems before the situation is serious.
  • Minimize annual flowers, which require as much water as a lawn and must be replaced 3-4 times each year.
  • Choose California native and Mediterranean-climate plants first. They are drought tolerant and hardy in this area.

Quick Tips for Lawn Choice and Care

  • Consider lawn alternatives that can handle some foot traffic: Caraway-Scented Thyme, (which doesn’t require any mowing), Woolly Yarrow, Mother of Thyme, O’Connor’s Legume or Garden Chamomile.
  • Plant Tall Fescue, Dwarf Tall Fescue, Red Fescue and Perennial Ryegrass. These are preferred grasses in the Bay Area that require fewer inputs of water, fertilizer, mowing, pesticide and maintenance time and are referred to as “cool season” grasses.
  • Where you have an existing lawn, familiarize yourself with what soil and grass type you have. Know the potential problems and pests of your grass. Learn what time of year to monitor for those pests. When treatment is called for, select the least-toxic method as a preventive measure, rather than waiting until the problem requires a more aggressive treatment.
  • Consider some of the following and give your gardener clear instructions on how to maintain your lawn. These will help build fertile soil and vigorous, deep-rooted lawns. A healthy lawn can resist disease and drought damage, and out-compete most weeds without reliance on chemicals. An unhealthy lawn (or any tree or plant) is prone to attacks by pests.
  • Use a mulching mower that leaves grass clippings on the lawn which provides free fertilizer, keeps refuse charges down and helps lawns grow more green and dense.
  • In fall and spring, aeration of the lawn by hand or with a power aerator eliminates thatch build up and allows water to penetrate to the root zone.

Maintenance Practices

Another option when there is an advanced pest infestation or disease on an annual or perennial, is to remove and replace the plant. It may be that the environmental cost of applying chemicals in this situation is greater than a removal and replacement. Analyze if the plant is in its preferred location, with proper soil, moisture and sun.

Checklist for your gardener

If your landscaper or gardener also designs and chooses your plants:

  • Analyze and prepare soil for planting using appropriate amendments, tillage and grading.
  • Design and plan the garden based on how it will be used, water efficiency, ease of maintenance and low waste.
  • Design and install the irrigation system to efficiently water desired plants, minimizing weeds, waste, and costs.
  • Use the right plant in the right place. Plants are healthiest when placed in their preferred environment. Consider the sun exposure and shade received, amount of irrigation needed, and pruning practices.
  • Plant insectary plants – those that attract beneficial insects to your yard to prey on the harmful insects.
  • Maintain the perennial lawn without seeding with annual grass, retaining the drought tolerant, lower-maintenance perennial grass lawn.
  • Set mower height up to 2 - 2.5" on perennial tall fescues (1.5" on annual or bentgrass lawns) to increase drought tolerance and discourage invasive weedy grasses.
  • Aerate the soil by inserting a 6" garden fork every 4" and levering to loosen the soil. To eliminate thatch accumulation, avoid over-watering or over-fertilizing.
  • Avoid pesticides or weed killers on the lawn. Studies have shown that commonly used chemicals (quick-release fertilizers, pesticides and weed-&-feed products) can kill beneficial soil organisms and contribute to soil compaction, thatch build up and lawn disease. These same chemicals harm human health, pets, wildlife, creeks and rivers.
  • Do not apply fertilizer on perennial lawns (no more than twice per year for annual lawns, and slow-release fertilizers only). Over-fertilized lawns, blue green in color, are unhealthy and prone to thatch build-up, pest infestation and drought damage.
  • Use a rake or industrial-duty broom to clean up yard debris, pathways and sidewalks. Leaf blowers cause air and noise pollution, offer less control over the debris and require the same amount of time to do the same job by broom. Definitely don’t allow any area to be cleaned by hosing down method. Make it clear to your gardener to avoid any debris entering storm drains.
  • Control weeds with layers of mulch, biodegradable fabric, cultivation and water management to prevent nutrient loss and waste generation.
  • Water lawn deeply and evenly at a rate appropriate for the grass variety, climate and season.
  • Utilize a water-conserving irrigation schedule, delivering water to the root zones and not exceeding the amount needed by the plants. Watering in the morning avoids (when the sun and wind are low) the high-evaporation rates between 10am-4pm.
  • Store fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides and oils out of the way of rain or irrigation, as even the residues on the containers can be washed off and into storm drain system and flow to nearby creeks.
  • Place yard clippings in a compost pile and monitor it so that it effectively breaks down and can be used again in your yard. Or, place it in yard debris bins for pick up or ask your gardener to haul it away as part of their service. Composting provides high quality soil and helps keep refuse fees down.
Although every effort is made to provide complete and accurate information on this website, users are advised to contact appropriate Permit Sonoma staff before making project decisions. This may involve contacting more than one section within Permit Sonoma(e.g. Building, Plan Check, Zoning, Well & Septic, etc.) since each section implements specific codes or ordinances which may affect your project.
Sonoma County Home | County Departments | Contact Us | Accessibility Assistance | This page was last updated .
Permit and Resource Management Department County of Sonoma