There is just something rejuvenating about having well-tended foliage around our living spaces. If you’re a Homeowners Association board member or a property manager for an HOA, you probably get questions about plants and other landscaping policies. Residents want to understand what they can and can’t do.

Rules vary widely from association to association, and this can confuse homeowners. If they’ve looked into their HOA’s landscaping or garden policies, they may not understand fully how rules apply to their property- the lot on which their home sits, or the area surrounding condo that are not considered common areas.

Rules are in place for a reason—mostly to keep a community looking its best from home to home. This may cause some disgruntlement if an owner disagrees with a policy. On the flip side, other owners understand the importance of these landscaping policies. In fact, residents can be just as adamant about defending them. No matter how open or restrictive an HOA’s landscaping policies are, it’s important that they are clearly defined, communicated to residents, or easily accessible.

Most policies make sense and benefit the community as a whole. Let’s look at some common policies and why they are in place.

1. Approved plant selections
It’s common for HOA gardening policies to include an approved plant palette. This list spells out the plants that a resident is allowed to plant. It helps keep all garden areas looking consistent. It is undeniable that a community looks better overall if landscape areas complement each other rather than clashing from one home to another home.

This policy also helps avoid invasive species or problematic plants. Bamboo, for example, can quickly spread into other yards and bring landscape values down.

Most homeowners are happy to comply. It is like other HOA regulations like approved paint or shingle colors and designed to keep a community looking its best. It makes sense to include the plants residents place in their yard.

After all, it’s a lot similar to other common HOA regulations like pre-approved lists of exterior paint colors or roof shingle colors. It’s really an extension of those policies to include the plants residents place in their yard.

2. Limitations on lanai furniture or garden sculptures

Most HOAs put limitations on lanai furniture or sculptures. These might fall under “unapproved decorations,” and help with the aesthetic appeal of the property.
While some simple garden sculptures may be allowed in landscaping beds, most HOAs are not going to approve a large sculpture in visible areas. Same goes for lawn or lanai furniture- if it’s visible to neighbors there usually are standards that may include things like condition and amount.

Don’t overlook lawn decorations that retain water such as birdbaths or fountains. These can be a breeding grounds for mosquitoes causing a health risk, and should be regulated.

3. Limits or restrictions on personal gardens

Oftentimes there are HOA gardening policies that limit or prevent individual homeowners from having their own garden. They might be allowed to grow a few plants, or have a potted herb garden, but there are generally restrictions against having a large backyard garden.

Again, aesthetics come into play. Unless impeccably maintained, such gardens aren’t very attractive, and in the off-season, you have a plot of land with nothing growing on it, which can be an eyesore.

Some HOAs are designating an area for a community garden, allowing people to grow their own fruits or vegetables. It often includes irrigation and raised planting beds that can be cared for by the homeowner in that community.

4. Rules on tree removal

HOA gardening policies apply to tree removal, too. A homeowner might decide that they want to remove a tree, but they should have HOA board approval before they start cutting it down. In a condominium complex, a tree could be considered a common element, even if in an area designated as outdoor space for a particular unit. In this case, it is likely the HOA would being involved in the tree removal.

Trees should not be removed without a valid reason. Trees add value to a community, provide shade and oxygen and capture carbon from the atmosphere. Removing them on a whim may not benefit other homeowners. However, diseased or dying trees, those that block a window or that have grown too large, may be approved for removal

5. Fencing approval

Fencing can be a wonderful addition to a resident’s property, but they can also be eyesores if not designed well or installed properly. An HOA may require that homeowners submit a design that should include approved colors or fencing materials. Fencing in a condominium complex is up to the association, not the homeowner.

Have clear landscaping policies

It’s important to have a set of rules in place that are clearly spelled out should questions arise. Make sure policies are up to date and clearly written. Are there issues that have come up in the past that current policies did not cover well? It may be time for the board to review some changes.

Be sure to include any specifications. For example, if residents are allowed to have a garden sculpture but it must be no larger than a certain size, include that information in your handbook.

Make sure that all new residents receive a copy of the guidelines. It always helps to get ahead of common questions and prevent problems down the road.
A good rule of thumb is to communicate clearly and in as many ways as possible. Even if your HOA handbook covers all these topics, residents may not take the time to read all the information they’re given. Posting policies in the owners area of the association website is another option to provide easy access to rules.