Palo Alto Landscaping Requirements

December 6, 2023 ● Lawn Care

If you plan to upgrade your yard in Palo Alto, there’s more to consider than just plants and patios. The city has clear rules on what you can and can’t do with your outdoor space. Why? Because they care about keeping Palo Alto looking great and safe for everyone. Before you start, get to know these landscape design guidelines. Let’s dive in and ensure your next project is a win-win for you and the city.

Key Takeaways

  • In the city of Palo Alto, it’s a must to use automatic watering systems, and it’s wise to choose plants like the California poppy that thrive in drier conditions. Perfect for water use in landscape projects!
  • Dumping chemicals or other harmful stuff into sewers is a no-go, and invasive plants like the Scotch broom are off-limits.
  • You can have utility elements like electric boxes in your yard, but ensure they don’t hinder where trees are planted and are kept mostly hidden.
  • Fire safety is crucial for homeowners. Ensure areas around buildings are free from plants like tall grasses that catch fire easily, and remember to set up ways to use rainwater effectively, such as rain barrels.


Palo Alto’s landscaping goes beyond beautification. With a strong focus on the environment and stormwater purity, the city’s regulations shape its unique outdoor spaces. Explore the specifics in the municipal code sections to learn more.

Landscape Water Management

  • Automatic watering systems are a must for multi-family, commercial, and industrial zones. Collaborate with a good landscape architect to ensure you follow lawful water quality guidelines.
  • Keep backflow preventers out of visually open spaces like the front yard, ideally in the rear or side yards. Place them close to the main buildings if they need to be in the front.
  • Channel rainwater into gardens using tools like splash blocks or pop-up emitters, not directly into storm drains. This helps filter and soak up rain from roofs. Combined with a good irrigation system, you’ve got a solid water conservation system in place!


  • Opt for plant materials like the California poppy or blue wild rye, which are native plants and resist drought (drought-resistant grass is also a great consideration). Limit exotic plants to areas directly around buildings.
  • Maintain a lively garden: ensure plants are vibrant and free from diseases. Regularly clear out weeds, dead leaves, and trash from planting areas.
  • If you notice brown or wilting plants, replace them promptly. Remember, the city’s planning director can set guidelines on replacements, so always be proactive.


While Palo Alto celebrates varied gardens and green spaces, some no-nos exist to keep the city beautiful, save water, and keep things safe. As a property owner, here’s your shortlist of what to sidestep.

Landscape Water Management

In Palo Alto, what goes down the drain has a significant impact. Keeping the city’s sewer system in top shape requires attention:

  • Ensure wastes sent into the sewers don’t endanger public health, jeopardize city personnel, or damage the infrastructure. This means avoiding pollutants like toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and excess oil or grease. Before discarding anything, it’s wise to consider its impact on the water supply!


Palo Alto takes plant choices seriously. While a diverse garden might sound appealing, there are some plants you’ll want to avoid:

  • Skip invasive plant species as they are not on the city’s guest list. Think twice before planting aggressive spreaders like pampas grass or English ivy. If these or others have already sneaked into your garden, expect to show them the exit, especially when drafting your landscape plans.


While Palo Alto stands firm on many of its landscaping rules, they do throw a bone here and there:

  • Got underground utilities or equipment like transformer cabinets and fiber optic trenches? Normally, they’d be a no-go in landscaped areas. However, you might be in luck if they don’t mess with your tree-planting plans and can play a good hide-and-seek game (staying out of public view). 

Business owners take note: this could be a game-changer if you’ve got utilities front and center on your property.

Fire Code

Palo Alto takes no chances when it comes to fire risks. As you plot out your green spaces, remember these crucial safety guidelines:

  • Your property should be a fortress against flames. This means clearing brush, flammable vegetation, and other combustible materials within 30 square feet of buildings or structures. 
  • If your lot has unique features like steep slopes, the buffer might need to extend up to 100 feet—especially if the local fire chief flags it.

Waste Reduction

If there’s one thing Palo Alto is passionate about, it’s turning the tide against wasteful stormwater habits. When dreaming up your next project, fold in these earth-smart strategies to ensure the rain goes where it should:

  • Think permeable. Less concrete means more chances for the ground to absorb that precious rainfall. So, consider alternatives to traditional roads, driveways, and parking lots. Could gravel or permeable paving work in some areas?
  • Embrace stormwater superstars like bioretention planters and cisterns. They don’t just look good; they work overtime, slowing the hustle and bustle of rushing storm runoff. By holding back some of that water, you ease the strain on storm drains.

Embracing Palo Alto’s landscaping regulations is about more than just adhering to rules. It’s a commitment to cultivating spaces that uplift and beautify our surroundings. If you find the specifics challenging, consider consulting a lawn care expert. Professional expertise ensures your outdoor ventures both thrive and remain compliant with the rules.