Conservation@Home Eco-Friendly Landscaping Ideas and Certification Criteria

cah yard sign home pageThe biggest reward for using eco-friendly practices on your property is knowing you are contributing to clean water, rich soil, and resilient ecosystems that support people and wildlife. You can also become a certified Conservation@Home property by earning 100 points or more. Certified properties receive our attractive garden sign to display. (Certification is valid for five years and is renewable by a return visit.)

Start by choosing your approximate property size

Under one acre


Over one acre

Earn these required 50 points   Earn these required 50 points  
One shrub or tree native to northeastern Illinois 5 An annual record of the year's activites has been created (Use ours or create your own) 5
A simple map of the property has been sketched showing the path of rain water flow 5 An aerial map has been created which shows the main types of plant cover (e.g., lawn, woods), water features (e.g., pond, cree), and arrows showing the direction of rain water flow 5
Lawn chemicals are minimal (or nonexistent!) 10 Lawn chemicals are minimal (or nonexistent!) 10
Invasive species collectively cover less than 5% of the property 10 At least 10 trees or shrubs native to northeastern Illinois are present-OR-perennials native to northeastern Illinois make up at least 5% of the landscape 10
Plants native to northeastern Illinois make up at least 5% of the landscape 20 An ecological plan has been created that identifies 1)ecologically valuable features, if present, and a simple plan to care for them; 2)invasive species, if present, and a simple plan to reduce them; and 3)opportunties to improve ecosystem health 20

You are on your way! To finish earning the 100 points you need for certification, choose 50 points from below. Not interested in certifying? That’s fine—this list can still help you contribute to clean water, healthy soil and resilient ecosystems.

Native Plants

Most songbirds, butterflies and other beneficial wildlife cannot survive on the Eurasian plants that dominate our landscape. Rather, they depend on trees, shrubs and other plants native to NE Illinois.

Each native shrub 2
Each native tree 5
Each additional 10% of the landscape of natives 10
Landscape supports at least 15 species of natives 10
Landscape supports at least 30 species of natives 20


Lawn Care

No watering, expcept if extablishing new lawn 5
Lawn is mowed three inches tall and grass clippings are left in place 5
Mowed with electric, propane or reel mower 10
Lawn takes up less than 50% of the available landscaping 15
Includes no mow or other low-grow grasses 15
Aerated and top-dressed with compost or compost tea in past year 15



Autumn leaves remain, not burned or bagged 10
Composting takes place 10
Shoreline has protective plantings 10
A soil erosion problem has been eliminated 20


Rain Water

In additon to many other practices listed, the following actions specifically improve the quality and quantitie of water leaving the property.

Rain-permeable walkway 5
Each rain garden or bio-swale 10
Other than buildings, less than 10% of property is paved with asphalt, concrete or other impermeable materials 10
Roof downspouts are directed to a garden, flat portion of lawn, cistern or rain barrel 15
Rain-permeable driveway or parking lot 20
Green roof 20



In addition to many other practices listed, the following actions specifically support wildlife.

One or more wildlife houses are properly designed, installed and maintained 5
Pond, creek or other significant water feature exists as integral part of overall plan 5
Brush pile or large dead tree (safe locations only) 5


Children and Family

Property features a tree-friendly tree house, fort or similar structure within a natural setting 10
Created a family-friendly environment that encourages nature observation 15


Invasive Plants

A large patch of invasive species has been controlled 20


Local Food

Vegetable garden or fruit orchard 10
Honeybees or chickens 10
Farmland in crops or other food for people 15



Go to Type your address into Search. When your property appears on the map, click Legend, then Layers, then Aerials. You can now choose from a wide variety of years and other helpful details about your property. For pre-settlement maps, go to  
A pre-settlement vegetation map and 1939 aerial map of the property have been printed 5
Soil, watershed and topography maps of the property have been printed 5


Nature Champion

Landowner has recruited two or more neighbors for Conservation@Home consultations 10
Landowner has mentored one or more others on land stewardship practices 10
Landowner has hosted or is scheduled to host a group tour of the property’s eco-friendly features, or has helped arrange a Conservation@Home presentation


For public properties, signs or handouts explain the property's eco-friendly features 10
A portion of the propery is protected from development through a conservation easeent 20


Let's Talk

We recognize that each property is unique. Tell us about a distinctive practice or feature you feel is noteworthy, or have invested a significant amount of resources into a worthwhile project, pleast let us know. Variable points. Read More

Land Management Practices

These criteria are intended for propertis over an acre. Different sites require different practices, and some - such as burning and changes to hydrology - require permits. For best results and most efficient use of your resources, we recommend consulting a land manager before you begin these types of projects.  
Portion of property has been burned in past 3 years 10
Natural flowing hydrology has been re-established, e.g., drain tile disabled if possible 10
A USDA conservation plan has been created for any farmland on property 10
A portion of the property has been seede to natives and seeding is under management 10
At least 12 native trees have been planted and cared for 10
At least 12 native shrubs have been planted and cared for 10
Property has been enrolled in Illinois Conservation Stewardship Program 10
Manure piles are placed on level ground away from water 10
The three nearest preserved natural areas have been identified and the landowner has visited at least one to note differences and similarities 10
One of the following books serves as regular reference:
  • Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land by Steven Apfelbaum and Alan Haney
  • Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest by Elizabeth Czarapata
  • Plants of the Chicago Region by Floyd Swink and Gerould Wilhelm
  • The Tallgrass Restoration Handbook by Stephen Packard
  • The Vegetation of Wisconsin by John Curtis
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