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Can I Grow Vegetables In My Backyard? (Is It Legal?)

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Recently I’ve been hearing that in some cities, municipalities, and neighborhoods there are restrictions on what a person can do with their own property as it relates to gardening. What would I do if I couldn’t have the garden I wanted? So, in an effort to find out whether there are any restrictions on what I can do in the area I have just moved to, I’ve done a little research and have found the answer to the question.

In most areas, you can grow vegetables in your backyard. However, in certain areas or communities, there may be limitations as to what that garden can look like. Since restrictions vary wildly, you will want to research whether there are any laws or restrictions on the type of garden you are allowed to grow.

Restrictions could be state, county, city, or community mandates, and they could restrict the part of your yard where you can locate a garden, what you can plant, and/or whether you can utilize garden structures.

The following paragraphs will discuss various types of restrictions on home gardens, some based on laws that were passed all the way back in the 1700s, and which were never repealed and are just not relevant in today’s world.

Common Laws Restricting Home Lawn and Garden Use:

Anne James Vegetable Garden
One of my humble vegetable gardens

Here is a list of the most common restrictions placed by governing entities on home gardens:

  1. Border Structures- In some areas, there are restrictions on the use of fences and hedges, especially in front yards. There are also restrictions on the height of those fences and hedges.
  2. Lawn Restrictions- For some, I thought this is worth mentioning. Some areas forbid allowing grass to grow above a certain height.
  3. Watering- Particularly in areas where water is scarce, there are often restrictions on when watering of a lawn or garden can be done, and in some areas watering is often even prohibited. There are also some areas where it is prohibited to allow your yard or garden to turn brown because of a lack of watering.
  4. Plant Size- There are often restrictions on the height of plants, ornamental or edible, that can be grown inside your yard.
  5. Structures- Many areas restrict the use of greenhouses and other structures that serve as greenhouses. And in some of the areas that allow these structures, there is a limit as to the size of the structures that can be used.

The original basis for the laws restricting growing vegetables in the front yard were passed with the intention of preventing unsightly vegetable gardens from being planted in a more visible area of the yard. To me, there is nothing more beautiful than a vegetable garden, but they can be quite unsightly after the plants have finished producing and are dead or dying.

I agree that a garden left unattended can become an unsightly mess, but that can be true of a flower garden as well. So, my advice for anyone who grows either flower gardens or vegetable gardens is to be diligent in maintaining your garden spots to avoid complaints from neighbors about an unsightly garden which could lead local leaders to decide that they must pass restrictions against this type of neglect.

Plants Being Watered in a Greenhouse
Greenhouses are commonly restricted

Examples of Laws Banning or Restricting Growing Vegetables in Home Gardens In Various States:

California

The governor of California, by passing the “California Homegrown Food Act,” protects the rights of citizens to grow food for themselves and their families no matter what their housing situation may be. This law allows growing food for personal use in either front or back yard gardens. 

The law also contains provisions that allow local governments to restrict “individual plant growing structure or ‘plant material’ heights and ‘the presence of dead plant material’ in front yards, while protecting the rights of the individual citizens to grow their own food in any part of their yard.

Florida

Until recently, there was a law on the books in the State of Florida that homeowners could not grow vegetables in their front yards because they were deemed unsightly. They could, however, legally grow vegetables in their backyards.

On July 1, 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill 82 which prohibits local governments from banning vegetable gardens on any part of residential property, giving residents of Florida the right to grow their own food, not only in their backyards, but in their front yards as well. 

Illinois

Illinois is another state that has recently passed a Vegetable Garden Protection Act that allows its citizens to grow food on their own property and prohibits local governments from passing legislation to prevent this practice.

Virginia

In the state of Virginia, if you are the owner of a single-family residence, you will not be required like business owners and the owners of apartment buildings and other multi-family facilities to submit a formal landscape plan for review before landscaping or gardening. However, you do have to follow certain minimum standards for a front yard garden which include:

  1. The garden area cannot be larger than 100 square feet in size,
  2. The garden cannot be closer than 15 feet from the front lot line or street line, and
  3. Composting is not permitted in the front yard.

Except for these restrictions, Virginia home gardeners can plant their gardens as they wish, with the exception of some local restrictions as to the height of garden structures.

City and Homeowners Association Restrictions

You may be asking at this point, but what about my state or area? What I found during my research is that many states do not have any laws that govern home gardens. If they do have any restrictions, they are for the most part some or all of the restrictions listed above. In most cases, the laws restricting home gardens are more likely to be put into place by cities and by neighborhood homeowners’ associations. And, I’ve found that most restrictions are on front yard gardens and garden structures. 

So, my advice to you before you plant a garden in your front yard is to do a little research on the restrictions your community or homeowners’ association may have on home gardens. A good resource for information on gardening in your area is your local USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) County Agent or Ag Center. They will be able to share information about all the local ordinances in your area and can give you any tips you may need on the best plants for your area and any special gardening practices relative to your particular growing zone

What Is a Fruit or Vegetable Garden?

Mother and daughter working in a vegetable garden

A fruit or vegetable garden is also known by some as a kitchen garden. This name dates back to times when people with acreage farmed and raised their cash crops in multi-acre fields. But, they often planted a small garden in which to raise fruits and vegetables for the family’s consumption. Because that small garden was usually located near the house, it was called the kitchen garden.

According to my mother, my grandmother always took pride in being able to go out to her kitchen garden and gather something for a meal any day of the year. I suppose as a tribute to a grandmother I never knew, I try to do the same and keep some things growing all year round.

Can I Grow Vegetables If I Don’t Have A Yard?

Even if you don’t have a yard, there are still some vegetables and other edible plants that you can grow in pots and other containers. Container gardening has become quite popular in recent years.

If you live in an apartment and have a small patio or balcony, those two places provide an opportunity to grow quite a few vegetables and herbs in pots. If you don’t have a patio or balcony, you can still grow vegetables and herbs in pots either by a window or windows that provide sufficient sunlight. 

But, if your windows do not provide enough sunlight, there are grow lights that do a fantastic job of providing light for your container garden, and there are even grow light bulbs that fit right into any ordinary lamp that will serve the same purpose as a grow light.

Plants That Grow Well In Pots And Other Containers

Here is a list of vegetables and other edible plants that grow well in pots and containers:

  • Tomatoes grow well in containers, provided the containers are large enough to accommodate enough soil to provide nourishment for the plant and to allow proper root growth. In fact, cherry tomatoes and other small varieties adapt especially well to pots and other large containers.
  • Peppers are also a good choice for container gardens, bell peppers, banana peppers, and hot peppers.
  • Lettuce and other salad greens.
  • Greens, including kale, mustard, spinach, and turnips.
  • Green onions, also called scallions.
  • Herbs, which can be kept right in the kitchen where they are handy for you to just trim a few leaves whenever your recipe calls for fresh herbs.

Here are some tips for growing tomatoes in pots that will work for any of the vegetables mentioned above.

Tips for growing tomatoes in pots:

Tomatoes in containers on a garden terrace
  1. Select plants that are suited for growing in pots. Bonney Plants recommends determinate tomato varieties because they grow better in pots than do indeterminate varieties. Determinate plants grow to their full size and then produce tomatoes at the end of the branches, while Indeterminate plants continue to grow while bearing fruit throughout the plant.
  2. Containers should be at least 5 gallons in size, preferably up to 20 gallons in size.
  3. Make sure the pots have proper drainage. 
  4. Use good potting soil.
  5. Use a slow-release fertilizer before planting and then add a water-soluble fertilizer as plants grow. Be sure to follow package directions for using fertilizers. Tomatoes require a fertilizer that is high in potassium and low in nitrogen.
  6. Place pots in an area where they can have 6-8 hours of sun daily. If full sun conditions are not possible, consider using a grow light. Here are a couple of options: This is the grow light that I use and it works very well. And, I have tried these grow light bulbs used with a regular lamp or light fixture and they work quite well.
  7. Allow plenty of space between plants for light and airflow.

Final Thoughts

I’ve been a gardener all my life. My parents were gardeners, and working in the garden with them gave me the introduction I needed to spark a love of growing things that are still with me today. I started gardening on my own after I left home, and wished that I had paid more attention to what my parents were trying to teach me so long ago. Wherever I am, I have to plant something, even if my garden is very small due to limited space or limited time to invest in a garden.

We know that farming is one of man’s oldest professions, but during the past fifty to 60 years, many families have gotten away from farming for various reasons, many of those reasons being work-related, and have always depended on getting their food from various sources like supermarkets, grocery stores, and farmer’s markets rather than growing their own. 

There has been, however, a resurgence of interest in growing our own food in recent years, particularly since the beginning of the pandemic, and we have seen a marked increase in people who are interested in home gardening. Plus, the recent issues with shipping which have limited the amount of all goods, not just food, that are available in the supermarkets and grocery stores have added to the growing concern that people will not be able to feed their families. There is also the issue that arose during the pandemic of lost jobs and a reduction in the resources of many homes that lead to the inability to feed their families, or at least to feed them well.

These issues along with rising prices have increased the interest of many families in growing as much of their own food as they can. This is paired with the growing interest in feeding our families healthier foods that are free of dangerous pesticides.

If you are among the folks interested in trying your hand at home gardening, just be sure you check for any restrictions on home gardening practices in your state, county, city, and especially your community homeowner’s association to make sure you are not breaking any laws along the way. I hope you enjoy gardening as much as I do. There is satisfaction in knowing that at least part of the food you are preparing for your family was grown in your own backyard!

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss Garden Vegetables Planting and Harvest Times (With Charts).

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