Homeowners everywhere are starting to recognize the environmental benefits of replacing lush lawns with overgrown grass and native plantings.
An ecological shift is happening, requiring transitioning away from perfectly manicured lawns. Instead, we need more diverse, native spaces. Both homeowners and landscaping professionals must adapt and challenge their traditional practices and cultural standards.
For many homeowners, replacing a traditional, just-mowed lawn with one that is more environmentally friendly can be challenging to negotiate. Homeowner Associations (HOAs) often have strict landscaping and lawn maintenance regulations that make it difficult for people looking to go wilder or more natural in their yards.
From HOA rules mandating certain grass types to prohibiting some native plants, striking the right balance between an aesthetically pleasing and HOA-compliant garden and an abundant wildlife habitat is tricky. And when these guidelines are not followed, homeowners can face hefty fines or other punishments. But with thoughtful planning, creativity, and a willingness to be proactive, it’s possible to create a vibrant backyard oasis that passes the HOA test.
While HOAs provide homeowners with many benefits, such as security and collective upkeep of community spaces, they also come with regulations regarding how people must manage their lawns. Some of those regulations can be highly restrictive.
More than 70 million people in the US live in HOA-governed communities, and there are around 355,000 HOAs nationwide. HOAs are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to homeownership nationwide.
What’s the problem with lawns?
Lawns rely heavily on fossil fuels, meaning keeping up with grass cutting and other maintenance produces greenhouse gas emissions contributing to climate change.
Maintaining a perfect-looking lawn is more complex than it looks. The idea of the perfect, manicured green carpet can come with a hefty environmental cost.
Lawns are also biodiversity deserts that don’t help insects or plant life to flourish and can be detrimental to wildlife if chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are all used for upkeep. These chemicals often lead to the contamination of nearby waterways.
Despite serious worries about the ecological impact of having a lawn, its social importance remains integral to many people’s lives. Fortunately, eco-friendly practices are becoming increasingly popular, and a shift towards more sustainable landscaping is on the rise.
The problem of HOAs
Homeowner associations are often asked to approve plants and landscaping that homeowners want to install on their property. The problem is that many HOAs aren’t keen on replacing classic green lawns with native plants or wilder grass. They want that uniformity, often citing both aesthetic appeal and property prices.
The problem is that many reasons why HOAs have these tight stipulations about our green spaces are based on outdated opinions or simply because those in charge aren’t ready to listen.
Tackling problematic HOAs
Are you a homeowner? Have you ever felt like your HOA was overstepping its bounds? Do you have ideas about how to make things different but don’t know where to start? If taking action against your restrictive HOA sounds daunting, don’t worry! With the proper knowledge and approach, challenging your HOA can be a fun and informative experience that empowers you and other community members.
Step one: Research
Following the local HOA’s landscaping rules and regulations is important to maintaining your property. These common restrictive covenants (CC&Rs) are likely to include restrictions on the kinds of plants you can use in your front and backyard, and specific instructions regarding lawn care.
Knowing this in advance allows you to plan accordingly so that your living space looks exactly as you envisioned it without running afoul of your HOA’s rules. Researching these regulations before making any changes or additions to your landscape can make a world of difference in keeping everyone happy. The problem begins when you discover you’re not allowed to do what you want.
Step two: More research
If you’re facing lawn and garden restrictions that limit what you can do, it’s time to dig in a little deeper and prepare a compelling case for your HOA. Researching the benefits of native plants will help you understand why they are far superior to traditional lawns. Native plants have many advantages, from their drought tolerance, which saves water and money for your HOA and homeowners, to their low maintenance requirements.
Plus, local ecosystems benefit from native plantings. Certain insects, birds, amphibians, and other animals depend on them for survival. As a result, you can let your HOA know that installing native plants enriches local ecology and increases curb appeal for the entire community.
Step three: Start communicating
Contacting your HOA board is an important next step in creating a native plant garden or a wilder lawn. Reaching out early can save you time and energy in the long run, so clearly express your need for either an exemption to the restrictive rules or a complete modification of their existing landscaping rules.
It’s also essential to have a bit of knowledge about any available resources and an understanding of how native plants will benefit the community. Putting thought into your request shows that you’re committed and confident in what you’re asking for, increasing the chances of approval from the HOA board.
Step four: Get legal
If you find yourself in a situation where your HOA is unresponsive or unwilling to accommodate your request for a garden or lawn that doesn’t meet their standards, you have a few options available to you. You can try internal mediation procedures or hire a lawyer and take legal action.
Remember that every HOA is different, so it’s important to know your options before taking any steps. However, it’s essential to keep in mind that HOAs are legal entities, so they can be sued.
Step five: Involve the community
Forming a group with other homeowners interested in replacing their lawns and landscaping with native plants is an excellent way to make a powerful statement. If you can find enough willing participants, you might be able to convince your HOA to modify its rules regarding the types of plants that can be used for landscaping.
This would enable you and your neighbors to work together to transform your common outdoor spaces into havens that attract birds, bees, and butterflies while maintaining a pleasing aesthetic that is both sustainable and beneficial to your local ecosystem. Becoming involved in your community can have far-reaching positive benefits for you and for generations to come.
People are fighting back against HOAs
Janet Crouch showed tremendous tenacity by fighting her HOA for 15 years over a pollinator garden in her front yard. Although she reached an agreement with the HOA in 2020, the case gained national media attention, ultimately creating long-term positive change. Thanks to her determination, Maryland passed a law that permitting low-impact landscaping, promoting initiatives like native vegetative establishment and rain gardens in HOA-governed communities.
And if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Don Ireland exemplifies how a single person can bring about real change. He decided to become a member of the HOA board of directors at Cherry Creek 3 condominiums in Denver, Colorado. He set about reforming the water bills for the condo’s 251 units by installing water-saving toilets.
But he didn’t stop there. He was further able to convince the board to replace dated landscaping with native plants that require less water, create less waste, and are pollinator friendly. Through Ireland’s initiatives, forty trees were also planted for added benefit and beauty. These changes brought both cost savings and an improved sense of community, all thanks to Ireland’s dedication and commitment to reform.
Take the fight to HOAs
If we spread awareness about the importance of native plants and the damage caused by excessive lawn care practices, we can positively impact our environment. So don’t wait. Start today by learning more about native plant species and informing your family, friends, and local government officials about their importance. Together we can make a brighter future for our planet!
About Garden for Wildlife
Garden for Wildlife is a non-profit organization operating for more than 50 years to educate and empower people to create thriving habitats for wildlife, such as birds, bees, butterflies, and other species. The organization has introduced millions of people to the urgent need to plant differently and to help declining species of wildlife in America. It has helped Americans of all backgrounds to create over 14 million square feet of wildlife-supporting gardens across the US.
Garden for Wildlife helps people across North America to make a difference in their cities, towns, and neighborhoods while deepening their connections to the natural world. One of the ways that Garden for Wildlife helps people create wildlife habitats is by offering native plant collections that you can add to gardens. These plant collections are available in 36 states and come with free shipping.