Backyard certification programs

In addition to habitat certification, many of these organizations offer guidance about native plants and eco-friendly practices.

Audubon at Home in Northern Virginia

The Northern Virginia branch of the Audubon Society assesses the impact of gardens on amphibians, birds, insects and mammals. Its naturalist “ambassadors” make free home visits to offer gardening advice. To attain certification, homeowners can fill out a survey recording observations of 10 species and send to the local Audubon office. Those whose yards are approved can purchase $35 signs indicating sanctuary status.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Certification

The National Wildlife Federation asks homeowners to certify their yards by filling out an online application. At least three food sources, two types of shelter, two places to raise young and one water source for local critters are required. The process costs $20. Approved homeowners receive a certificate, a one-year NWF membership and the option to buy a yard sign to mark the habitat ($30).

Butterfly Garden Certification

The North American Butterfly Association certifies butterfly gardens through an online application. Homeowners must list three or more native plants that feed caterpillars and at least three native nectar sources for butterflies, plus information on garden maintenance. Certification costs $15; yard signs are $25.

Maryland Bay-Wise Certification

This University of Maryland Extension program was started in 1996 to protect the Chesapeake Bay and has been expanded to measure the environmental sensitivity of home landscapes in the Free State. Homeowners must complete a “yardstick” survey of eco-friendly practices, including controlling storm water and recycling yard waste. A local master gardener trained by Bay-Wise makes a free home visit to certify the property. Certificates are provided for free; a sign costs about $10.

I— Deborah K. Dietsch