What to Do When Neighbors Complain About Native Plants | Almanac.com

What to Do When Neighbors Complain About Native Plants

Urban gardening with a wildflower meadow in the own garden, insect and wildlife animal protection

A meadow garden stands out among neighbors with traditional lawns.

Photo Credit
Miriam Doerr Martin Frommherz/ Shutterstock

Have You Had a Visit from the Weed Police?

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As more people add pollinator-friendly plants, they might hear criticism about the look of their “messy” yards. Here’s how to handle crabby neighbors, HOAs, and town officials while adhering to ordinances and laws.

You might get a visit from the “plant police.” The fault-finders often don’t realize that those “weeds” are actually native plants that require less water and pampering than traditional lawns and exotic species do while providing habitat for birds, bees, and butterflies. Check out our favorite plants that attract butterflies.

Monarch butterfly on milkweed plant in the Native Plant Garden
Passersby might think milkweed does not belong in your garden, but this monarch would disagree.
Photo: Barbara Smits/Shutterstock

If the haters do show up, don’t freak out and mow everything down. Are they giving you a citation or just a warning? Is there a law, or do you have a negative neighbor complaining to officials instead of talking with you?  Politely ask to see what law you are supposed to have broken. Does that ordinance actually define what a weed is? This is a teachable moment for you to educate them and the complainers about your native plants. 

They are not weeds! Like most perennials, native plants have periods of time during the season when they are not in blossom and may look shabby to an outsider. This also may be the time in their life cycle when they are most attractive to the wildlife you are trying to support, like in the fall when flowers have gone to seed, offering food for migrating birds. Learn about some of our favorite native plants and flowers.

Immature goldfinch feeding in the Native Plant Garden
You don’t want to deadhead your native plants if winter residents, like chickadees and goldfinches, can make use of the seeds.
Photo: Barbara Smits/Shutterstock 

Many of us now leave stalks standing all winter and into spring to give the insects that overwinter in the hollow stems a chance to emerge once the weather warms. Invite officials and the neighbors over for a tour and explain how native plantings can benefit not only homeowners but the entire community. 

If there is a law, how old is it? Can it be updated to include native plantings? You might find stiff opposition to this idea, but if you offer some suggestions and volunteer to work with officials on this, it might help them see these plants’ value to the community. The native plant advocacy group Wild Ones has a sample of a native plant ordinance on their website that you can download and use as a model to create your own.

Colorful summer garden in bright colors
How could someone object to this beautiful garden full of native plants?
Photo: Boykov/Shutterstock

Some ordinances only mention the height of the plants in your lawn. This is a hard one to fight, and you may have to throw a fence around your wildflower meadow to make it look more like a garden to passersby. Mowing a strip near the sidewalk can appease some officials. 

There are a number of different certifications available to identify your garden as certified wildlife area.

Putting up a sign that designates your yard as a certified wildlife area may help too. There is a certification process for many different types of plantings, including pollinator habitats, butterfly gardens, wildlife sanctuaries, and monarch waystations. Some are state-sponsored, and others are national. Find out which certification best describes your eco-friendly landscape.

If you are cited, and your case is not dismissed, you may have to appear in court. Be sure to know the law you are accused of breaking and what the citation says. For some advice, you can contact Wild Ones. They have a team of lawyers who can offer ways to handle the situation so you can come to a resolution that works for everyone.

Don’t feel like you are in this alone. Call your cooperative extension, local experts, master gardeners, and other native plant lovers for support. There is power in numbers, so band together and make yourselves heard!

Have you ever had an encounter with the “Weed Police?” Tell us all about it!

About The Author

Robin Sweetser

Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. Read More from Robin Sweetser

2023 Gardening Club