Make the Most of Your Yard Work

See tips and guidelines for protecting the environment and your utilities system.

Monday, March 14, 2022
It's looking like spring around town. Make sure to follow the town's tips and guidelines for protecting the environment and your water and sewer system.

As the weather warms and you start working in your yards and garden beds again, keep in mind some services, guidelines and tips for protecting the environment and your utility infrastructure!

“By adopting more environmentally friendly best practices for lawns and gardens, you will help create much needed habitat and food sources for native pollinators and wildlife, which in turn helps to build a healthier ecosystem for all,” said Hillsborough Public Space and Sustainability Manager Stephanie Trueblood.

Removal of yard debris

Use these tips for handling fallen leaves, last year’s garden plants, grass clippings and other yard debris.

  • Before cutting back last year’s garden plants, wait until temperatures are over 50 degrees for at least a week to help overwintering pollinators. Hillsborough is a Bee City USA.
  • Consider composting or mulching leaves to allow nutrients to be recycled back into the soil, which is environmentally better for soil enrichment than processed fertilizer. See the document Managing Fallen Leaves. Also see the Hillsborough Tree Board video Leave the Leaves.
  • Keep lawn clippings and yard debris out of storm drains, which can adversely affect aquatic ecosystems and our drinking water supply. This includes stormwater ditches. Did you know it is illegal to purposefully allow lawn clippings and other yard waste to reach the town’s stormwater system? This includes stormwater ditches as well as allowing yard waste to reach streets and sidewalks where it can be washed into the stormwater system. See the document Lawn Care for Water Quality.
  • When mowing, make sure to avoid your sewer cleanout pipe. These capped pipes that protrude from the ground allow easy access to sewer lines for repairs. However, broken pipes can allow stormwater to infiltrate the sewer system, leading to higher costs due to additional water that must be treated at the Wastewater Treatment Plant. If your sewer cleanout pipe is broken, call the Water/Sewer Facility at 919-296-9652 or 919-296-9654 and leave a message.

Before digging

Use these tips to avoid costly utility repairs or replacement of plantings and yard structures.

  • Before digging, call 811 to have underground utility lines located and marked for free. See the North Carolina 811 website for more information. Note that you will need the location services of a private company to mark private water and sewer service lines. The town can only locate water and sewer lines from its mains to the water meter and sewer cleanout pipe that are located on a property.
  • Ensure you know where you are planting or placing any structures like fences, sheds or garden beds. Some properties contain utility easements or water and sewer features in road rights of way. See the Maintenance Responsibilities document for water and sewer easements, which includes the amount of clearance needed around fire hydrants, manholes, water meters and other utilities devices. The town will not replace and plantings or structures that impede access or maintenance to utilities infrastructure.
  • Consider the potential growth and reach of plant roots. Tree roots can bore into older water and sewer pipes.

Selection of plants

Use these tips to conserve water, reduce stormwater flow, protect the environment, and help pollinators and other wildlife.

  • Do not plant invasive species, like English ivy, which kills trees. See the Tree Board video English Ivy Removal.
  • Consider adding native plants in your yard, which will help reduce watering needs, reduce the need for chemicals, and provide food resources for wildlife. See the Bee City USA page for plant recommendations, and see the video Add Native Plants to Your Yard.
  • Consider a managed natural landscape on your property to provide habitat for pollinators and other wildlife and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing mowing. See the ordinance for guidelines, which include the area must be mowed once a year and cannot be in rights of way. The ordinance and other resources are in the Managed Natural Landscapes section of the Environmental Initiatives page.
  • Consider planting a rain garden to slow the flow of stormwater. See the video Rain Gardens and information on the Stormwater and Environmental Education page.
  • Consider adding edible plants into your landscape. See the video Create an Edible Landscape.


If you have a spray irrigation system, check it for leaks and make sure you have a rain or moisture sensor, which is required by the town.

Make sure to follow the town’s irrigation rules, which apply at all times for any irrigation with a hose sprinkler or in-ground sprinkler:

  • Limit your outdoor water use to 1 inch or three days per week.
  • Water only before 9 a.m. or after 8 p.m.
  • Even-numbered properties may use sprinklers on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • Odd-numbered properties may use them on Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Additional restrictions may be added during drought conditions. See the spray irrigation requirements flyer and the Lawn Irrigation Systems document.

Use of fertilizers and weed control

Consider using grass clippings as a natural nontoxic fertilizer, or add native plants to your yard, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers. To reduce weeds, use mulch in flower beds and landscape areas. See the Lawn Care for Water Quality document and the video Add Native Plants to Your Yard.

If you do use chemicals in your yard:

  • Get your soil tested to know exactly what fertilizer you need.
  • Sweep up any fertilizer that falls on hard (impervious) surfaces, such as driveways and sidewalks.
  • Use fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides sparingly, if at all.
  • If the forecast calls for rain, do not apply fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. If it rains, these products will wash into waterways before they have a chance to work.

Bee swarms

April and May are prime swarm season for honeybees. If you spot a swarm, immediately contact a local beekeeper or the Orange County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension to help protect these bees, which are responsible for a third of the food we eat. See the document Swarm Season: Help Honeybees Find a New Home.