Organic Gardening

Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.

Add to My MSN

Home Garden Laws: Weeding in the Nude and Other No-Nos

8/18/2010 4:33:44 PM

Tags: gardening laws, gardening regulations, home gardening, front yard gardening

Home gardeners and urban homesteaders are constantly battling against outdated or limiting legislation. Even in a progressive community such as Boulder, Colo., nudity in the garden is no longer allowed under a new home garden law. Many cities and neighborhoods have garden laws, ordinances or other regulations that may limit where your garden is placed, how it is designed, what structures you can put up and even what attire you are allowed to wear while weeding your tomato patch. 

front yard gardenAlso referred to as “local weed laws,” these ordinances are meant to keep negligent homeowners’ yards and lawns from becoming a hot bed of mosquitoes, rats or potential fires. These same laws have been employed to prevent homeowners from planting anything besides the most common grass species. Natural landscapers, home gardeners and urban farmers have been struggling against these laws since the beginning of their suburban applications.

Natural landscaping, or the use of native plants and low-maintenance caretaking techniques to support the local ecosystem and encourage biodiversity, is a natural enemy of the bright green monoculture lawn now accepted as the ideal. (To learn more, check out Make Your Lawn Naturally Beautiful). About 5 years ago, Laurie Otto’s yard — planted to ferns and flowers – was deemed illegal and weedy by local authorities and cut down. Determined to put up a fight, now the head of Wild Ones — Natural Landscapers, Inc., Mrs. Otto has helped to educate and advocate about the importance of natural landscaping.

Home gardeners can also get caught in violation of their local weed laws. City ordinances commonly stipulate that vegetable gardens shall not be planted in the front lawn. Also, laws often require any plant growth to be maintained below a certain height, such as 5 inches. While vegetable garden plants are usually exempted, this does not include any wild or native plant species — for example, wild onions — you may wish to keep around. Laws limiting the days and amount a homeowners can water their property can also affect how well garden plants will fare through drier months.

Basic Rules to Check Into

Most of the basic rules you need to check into before you start digging are monitored on a city level. These generally include laws or guidelines about lawn length limitations, height and type of fences, specifics of water usage, rights to plant in the planting strips (also known as hell strips) and regulations on compost piles and practices. Garden-related structures, including tool sheds, can also be subject to local zoning and building codes. Some garden-related legislation, however, is created at the federal and state levels, including laws on invasive and noxious weeds and rules regarding what pesticides are allowed or prohibited, as well as specifics on their proper application. 

Progressive Garden Laws

Unfortunately, the home gardener and his or her neighbors — backed by city ordinances — may not always see eye to eye. In some cases, such as that of Tara Kolla in Los Angeles, complaints from neighbors about home gardens can result in a citation from zoning officials. In several communities and cities across the states, home gardeners and proponents of urban agriculture have seen — and actively been involved in — positive changes in their local policies. Many cities, including Seattle and Kansas City, have created Food Policy Councils which have encouraged the growth of urban gardens and localized sustainable food systems by advocating for changes to local zoning and planning ordinances. 

What About You?

Has a city ordinance or federal law ever kept you from a garden expansion project, turning your home garden into an urban farm, or otherwise affected your gardening endeavors? We look forward to finding your answers in the comments section below, and be sure to follow the links to read about how Seattle and Kansas City successfully changed their local ordinances for ideas about how to respond.

Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or .

Photo by iStockPhoto/Joe Klune 

Related Content

Earth Gauge Tip of the Week: Be Penny-Wise and Water Smart

Tips on how to conserve water in the fall with weather-based irrigation controllers.

Continuing Fight for the Right to Grow Food: Orlando's War on Gardens

In a war on gardens, the City of Orlando has taken issue with the rows of beans, greens, and other v...

Consensus Still Lacking in Chicago on Proposed Urban Agriculture Zoning Changes

Urban Agriculture activists and advocates work to change the zoning laws in Chicago to be more frien...

How Bad Is Monsanto?

Corporations continue to purchase interests in seed industries, and Monsanto — the 800-lb. gorilla i...

Content Tools

Post a comment below.


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 66% Off the Cover Price

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Lighten the Strain on the Earth and Your Budget

MOTHER EARTH NEWS is the guide to living — as one reader stated — “with little money and abundant happiness.” Every issue is an invaluable guide to leading a more sustainable life, covering ideas from fighting rising energy costs and protecting the environment to avoiding unnecessary spending on processed food. You’ll find tips for slashing heating bills; growing fresh, natural produce at home; and more. MOTHER EARTH NEWS helps you cut costs without sacrificing modern luxuries.

At MOTHER EARTH NEWS, we are dedicated to conserving our planet’s natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. That’s why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.00 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.00 for 6 issues.