Residential Landscaping Requirements

Landscaping standards and requirements are designed to mitigate the effects of urbanization on the environment and to provide for an aesthetically pleasing urban setting. Landscaping is required as part of the construction of new residential units. Landscaping is defined as any combination of trees, ground cover, shrubs, vines, flowers and turf. Landscaping may also include rock and stone.

The California State Department of Water Resources requires cities and counties to enforce a Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) or a local ordinance that is at least as effective as the model in terms of achieving water savings. The City of Santa Rosa has adopted a local Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (WELO) that complies with the state requirements.

All new landscaping required under a building permit process shall be designed and installed in accordance with the requirements set forth in WELO. The following describes the specific landscaping requirements that apply to all properties rebuilding due to a wildfire.

GlassFire Thumbnail_Landscaping

Minimum Landscaped Area

Properties rebuilding will be required to landscape a significant portion of the front setback. The property’s front setback extends from the back of the sidewalk to the face of the main structure. The planter strip adjacent to the curb and the small landscaping strip that typically exists adjacent to a driveway will be considered optional.  

Rear- and side-yard landscaping is optional as well. If the front setback landscaping was not impacted by the fire, the property may meet the minimum requirements without further supplementing the landscaping. Photographs of the existing landscaping may be submitted for review.

Diagram showing street and sidewalk easements for a landscaped area.

Landscape & Irrigation Plan

Plans showing the design and layout of the landscaping and the irrigation system must be submitted prior to the first sheetrock inspection. Property owners may elect to utilize the following two options to meet the submittal requirements:

  1. Option 1: Custom Design
  2. Option 2: Template Drawings

Option 1: Custon Design

Property owners may elect to utilize the services of a landscape architect or designer to submit a custom landscape design. The plan will be reviewed to ensure compliance with WELO. Designs proposing less than 2,500 square feet may follow the Prescriptive Approach outlined in Appendix D of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance.

The following items listed under the City’s current WELO will not be required if the design meets the square footage criterion:

  • Installation of an irrigation sub-meter
  • Water audit provided by an independent Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor
  • Soils analysis


The installation of all landscaping components is typically required prior to finalization of the building permit. Properties proposing custom landscape designs exceeding 2,500 square feet are governed by the City’s more stringent requirements under the WELO. Landscaping proposals of this nature must be installed and inspected by a Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor prior to occupancy of the unit.

Property owners electing to utilize the design templates provided by the Sonoma Marin Saving Water Partnership or owners proposing a custom design involving 2,500 square feet or less of landscaped area may elect to defer the landscaping. The deferral program will allow the majority of the landscape components to be installed at a time not to exceed 2 years from the date of final occupancy. 

Properties electing to utilize the deferral program must install the following components prior to occupancy:

  • Pipe chases under all new or replaced hardscape
  • Soil amendments and mulch per landscape plans
  • Tree plantings per landscape plan

Pipe chases are being required to ease the installation of the irrigation system that will meet the WELO requirements in the future. 

The soil amendments will improve soil health and assist with weed abatement issues during the 2-year deferral, and the tree plantings will soften the visual aspects of the structure and provide an aesthetic value to the neighborhood.  

All other components associated with the landscape design shall be completed within the 2-year window.


An inspection will be performed by the building inspector prior to occupancy. The inspection will determine if the installation was performed in a fashion consistent with the plans.

If the property owner elects to take advantage of the deferral program, a certificate of completion must be submitted prior to the termination of the 2-year period.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I modify the template plans provided by the Sonoma Marin Saving Water Partnership to include the installation of turf?

No. The inclusion of turf into these template drawings changes many aspects of the simplified process that the Free Design Templates use to meet compliance. You can submit a landscape plan through the normal process either taking advantage of the MWELO Appendix D Prescriptive Approach where 75% of the landscaped area must be low-water use, or you can use the full WELO process with the assistance of a licensed professional to ensure that your landscape will meet the requirements. 

How many trees do I need to plant?  Will I be required to replace all the trees that existed on my property prior to the fire?

If you are utilizing the template drawings, the tree counts shown on the plan will meet the tree density requirements. You will not be required to replace all trees removed due to the fire. If a custom landscape design is proposed, tree counts should attempt to achieve the densities addressed in the City’s Zoning Code. Accommodations will be made for sites that cannot achieve the densities and each custom design will be reviewed with site specific constraints in mind.

Visit the page on zoning requirements.

Can I design my own landscaping?

Property owners can modify the free design templates for submission. This exercise does not require a landscape architect or designer. Resources will be provided throughout the rebuilding process to ensure that property owners are able to understand the methods needed to scale and modify the templates for a specific site. If a custom landscape design is desired, the plan must be designed by a landscape architect or designer. The design criteria for this option is addressed in the current Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance.

Visit to see specific submittal requirements.