Selecting turf, shrubbery, trees and other plant life for use around the home or business involves much more than aesthetics or price points.

Or at least it should be, according to a group of entities promoting environmental sustainability and the efficient use of water.

Tampa Bay Water, six of its 11 member governments, and the Florida-Friendly Landscaping Program created the Tampa Bay Community Water Wise Awards in 2007 to recognize home and business owners who plant native species around their properties and use irrigation systems that minimize water waste.

The awards program recognizes winners in two categories, residential and business, located within the communities of its six member governments — Hillsborough County, Pasco County, Pinellas County, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg and Tampa. Not all government entities have qualified entries that garner an award each year. Winners from this year’s Class of 2020 hail from every jurisdiction except New Port Richey.

Pasco County’s 2020 winners were the Jackson Family from Land O’ Lakes and Heartwood Preserve in Trinity.

The county produced a video showing government officials delivering the Tampa Bay Water Wise Community Awards to this year’s recipients. This year’s awards were custom, mosaic steppingstones. County Commissioner Mike Moore presented to Joel Jackson and Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick presented to Laura Starkey, founder and executive director of Heartwood Preserve, a natural cemetery located off Starkey Boulevard.

“It means a lot but not just for us,” Joel Jackson said in the video of he and his wife’s award-winning yard. “It really means a lot because we’ve been trying for years to encourage others to do the same thing we’ve done here. Native plants are more in-tune with our Florida environment and there’s been a major decline in wildlife here in Florida over the last number of years and it’s frightening.

“By planting native plants, they’re far more supportive of native wildlife, and that’s a very important consideration. It’s something that we can do for wildlife. And at the same time, we make our yard some place we can go and enjoy.”

Starkey said, “We’re so happy to be part of this award and I think it’s a great thing that Pasco County and Tampa Bay Water are doing. It helps provide a fun incentive for people to do more native landscaping and more water-efficient landscaping.”

The Tampa Bay Water Wise Community Awards initiative does not exist on its own, either. Tampa Bay Water Wise was created as a rebate program that incentivizes water conservation. It’s offered by Tampa Bay Water, its member governments and the Southwest Florida Water Management District to help home and business owners save water and money. According to the program’s website, the rebate program aims to save up to 11 million gallons of drinking water per day by 2030, at a quarter of the cost of the least expensive new water supply source.

There are 11 current rebate options for home and business owners, viewable at

For more information on the Tampa Bay Water Wise Community Awards program or to submit a landscape, go to