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Step 1: Plan Before You Plant 


Develop a plan to guide actions towards designing your Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard garden or landscape. 

Why It’s Important

Planning a Schoolyard garden or landscape requires some preliminary thought and preparation. Support from your administrator and grounds crew is key to a successful garden. Align your garden’s purpose and function with the school’s mission and your curriculum. Engage your students in the garden planning process through lessons and activities about the importance of a healthy watershed for communities, and how a Jersey-Friendly garden can help protect it.

Understanding the ecological importance and environmental benefits of a Jersey-Friendly garden will inform your planning decisions. Visit  Step 1: Plant Before You Plant on the Jersey-Friendly Yards website for planning tips, tools, and resources to help you successfully plan and design your Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard garden. 

Find inspiration for your garden by visiting the Jersey-Friendly Yards Success Stories webpage. Explore The Interactive Yard to learn more about designing landscapes.

Standard Actions

1A: Gather support for your Jersey-Friendly garden.

Invite the school community to be a part of your Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard garden project. Be sure to have permission and support from key players, including administrators and grounds crew to help carry out your plans. 

  • Who will be using the garden?
  • Who will take care of the garden during the school year?
  • Who will take care of the garden during the summer? 
  • Do you have a nearby water source, such as a spigot? 
  • How will a Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard garden project support your school’s mission and your curriculum?

1B: Discover the Barnegat Bay watershed and the benefits of a Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard.

Schools are an important component of a healthy community and a healthy Barnegat Bay watershed. Understanding the Barnegat Bay watershed is a great way for teachers and students to build background knowledge about the ecology and natural resources found in our watershed and understand the purpose of a Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard. A Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard helps keep our land and water clean and healthy for drinking, fishing, and swimming. 

Invite the New Jersey Watershed Ambassador for the Barnegat Bay watershed to your classroom to provide a lesson to your students about the importance of a healthy watershed and the benefits of a Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard. You and the Watershed Ambassador will engage your students in these topics: 

  • What is a watershed? 
  • Which watershed do we live in?
  • How do human actions affect our watershed?
  • What is non-point source pollution and how can we prevent it?
  • Why is it important to conserve water?
  • How can we provide habitat needed by wildlife?
  • How does a Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard benefit the health of the watershed?

Email Karen Walzer, kwalzer@ocean.edu, Public Outreach Coordinator of the Barnegat Bay Partnership, for the contact information of the current New Jersey Watershed Ambassador for the Barnegat Bay watershed.  

Resources for Lessons about the Barnegat Bay Watershed 

1C: Sketch a map of your Schoolyard.

Before making any landscaping decisions, get to know your schoolyard. Walk your students around your schoolyard and have them sketch a map of its natural and man-made features including: 

  • Pre-existing buildings, driveways, parking lots or hardscapes, as well as hardscapes you intend to create or add.
  • Pre-existing lawn, trees, shrubs or other plants and vegetation.  
  • Cardinal directions (north, south, east, west).

Display your schoolyard map prominently in the classroom. For the duration of this project, you and your students will continue to update the map with additional information. For your culminating project, you and your students will select an appropriate place in your schoolyard to create your garden, and mark that area on the map.

Resources for Lessons about Creating a Schoolyard Map 

1D: Determine the light conditions in your Schoolyard.

Every plant species has certain light requirements. How much sunlight does your Schoolyard receive throughout the day? Knowing the light conditions in different areas of your Schoolyard will guide decisions about your garden location and selection of plants. 

Plants require either full sun, partial shade, or full shade. Have your students determine the amount of sunlight in different areas of your Schoolyard, and add this information to your Schoolyard Map.

  • Full sun: areas that receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. 
  • Partial shade: areas that receive 3-6 hours of direct sunlight a day. 
  • Shade: areas that receive less than 3 hours of direct sunlight a day, or filtered sunlight.

On your map, draw the pathway of the sun across the Schoolyard landscape, and note the different areas of sun exposure (full sun, partial shade, shade).

Resources for Lessons about Tracking and Mapping Light and Shadows

Ready to Submit Step 1?  

Upload the Required Documentation to Your Custom Link.

When you enrolled, you received a custom link from us for your action item uploads.

What to Submit for Step 1 

  • Documentation showing support from administrators and key players (1A).
  • Documentation showing a visit from a New Jersey Watershed Ambassador who provided a lesson about the importance of a watershed and the benefits of a Jersey-Friendly Schoolyard (1B). 
  • A student/class sketch or annotated map of your schoolyard, showing its natural and man-made features (1C), how light travels across the schoolyard (1D), and different areas of sun exposure (1D).


Sustainable Jersey – Outdoor Classroom Completion of this Sustainable Jersey for Schools Action can substitute for Step 1: Plan Before You Plant, Actions 1A-1D.

Submit your Sustainable Jersey – Outdoor Classroom paperwork in lieu of requirements for Actions 1A-1D.  

Standard Actions for Creek School Certification