Landscaping plays an important aesthetic and environmental role within the City of Boulder. Depending on the characteristics of your development project, you may be required to comply with the city’s Landscaping and Screening Standards and the city’s Design and Construction Standards.
To determine if your project will trigger landscape compliance, please refer to the landscape requirements thresholds found in Section 9-9-12(b) BRC 1981 . If the standards apply to your project, you will need to develop a landscaping plan that will be included in the city's review of your project.
Landscaping Plan Resources
Landscape plans vary widely in detail and complexity. For single family residential applications, it may be necessary to illustrate street trees, but little more. For new commercial or multi-family development, extensive detail is often required. Consult the following list of many of the common elements required in a landscape plan (FAQs below offer additional information on specific requirements):
Landscape requirements table- Must be included on all landscape plans. It provides a quantitative landscape summary of the proposed project per 9-9-12(d)(1)(J) B.R.C. 1981 . A sample version, in both PDF format and as a downloadable spreadsheet , include ALL POSSIBLE requirements, some of which may not represent your specific project.
Sample plans are representative of common landscape scenarios, but are not intended to be all inclusive. Please refer to the requirements of your particular development proposal and the FAQs below.
Site Review- Provides you an opportunity to request modifications to the landscape requirements, based on a set of site review criteria . Any modification must be balanced with the overall quality of the project, and detailed plans and a tree inventory are required. See section 9-2-14(d) B.R.C. 1981 for a list of application requirements.
Other Key Landscaping Materials
Review Design and Construction Standards (DCS) - Approved for use in all landscape plans, be sure to review the standards and illustrations for your project. These materials are not all inclusive and many projects will require additional details specific to your proposal. DCS CAD drawings and DCS PDFs are also available. Commonly used details including Planting , Tree Grate , and Landscape Protection .
Review Tree Protection Requirements (Chapter 3.04 of the DCS) - Common details include Protected Root Zone , Tunneling . Mitigation for public tree removal is determined by the City Forester on a case-by-case basis. If reimbursement is required, the Trunk Formula Method is typically used to calculate the amount. The Trunk Formula Method is used to appraise the value of trees considered too large to be replaced with nursery stock. The value of the appraised tree is based on the cost of the largest available nursery tree and its cost of installation, plus the increase in value due to the larger size of the tree being appraised. The values are then adjusted according to the species of tree, its condition and its location.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Landscape plans vary with the complexity of the project and applicable review process, but typically include: property lines and streets, parking, landscape materials such as walkways and patios, all plant material, a landscape requirements chart, irrigation information, notes, planting details, and trees on adjacent properties within X feet of the property line. See the sample plans provided above and section 9-9-12(d) B.R.C. 1981 of the land use code 9-9-12(d) B.R.C. 1981 for a comprehensive list of requirements.
All new construction, including single family, has some form of landscape requirements. Specific requirements can be found in section 9-9-12 B.R.C. 1981 . Remodels, with or without additions, may also have landscape requirements, based on the value of the permit (see section 9-9-12(b) B.R.C. 1981 for specific value thresholds). If the standards apply to your project, you will need to develop a landscaping plan that will be included in the city's review of your project either at time of building permit submittal or during the Administrative Review or Development Review Process.
Yes, all required planting shall follow the planting schedule specified in Section 10.03(C)(2) of the Design and Construction Standards (DCS), Ch. 10.03(C)(2) which stipulates spring (Mar. 1 – June 1) and fall (Sep. 1 – Oct. 15) as planting seasons. Written permission is required for planting outside of this schedule. Nothing may be planted during freezing or excessively windy, hot, or wet weather or when the ground conditions cannot be properly worked for digging, mixing, raking or grading.
The complexity of the project informs when a landscape architect is needed. Plans for single family development may be included on a standard site plan, illustrating basic requirements such as street trees and landscape setbacks. Property owners, contractors and non-landscape design professionals can often provide the necessary information as part of the building permit plan package. However, landscape plans required for Non-Conforming Use and Site Reviews are complex and are typically prepared by a landscape architect.
A landscape setback is defined in the city code as: a “required setback that is intended to be used exclusively for landscaping purposes.” Note also that landscaping is defined as “materials, including, without limitation, grass, ground cover, shrubs, vines, hedges, or trees, and nonliving natural materials commonly used in landscaped development.” Landscape setbacks are found between the street and structure and can be located in the front or side yard adjacent to a street. Their width varies by zone district and by specific project approvals.
No parking shall be located in any required landscape setback, except in the RR, RE and RL zoning districts up to two cars may be parked in driveways leading to a parking area (see section 9-9-6(d)(1)(A) B.R.C. 1981 ). The driveway may NOT be considered as parking for the purposes of meeting required parking for the principal or accessory units. Driveways are required to be generally perpendicular to the street leading to off street parking.
Xeriscaping (not zeroscaping, a common misnomer) was coined by Denver Water in 1981 and includes seven principals https://bouldercolorado.gov/water/landscape-irrigation-resources-2013 focused on water efficient landscaping. Xeriscaping is not large expanses of rock, cactus or sparse planting. Through appropriate plant selection, soil amendments, mulch, and irrigation a lush landscape can be produced. Xeriscape landscape design meets all city landscape requirements and may be used in any landscape setback or in the right of way. Refer to landscape and irrigation resources on the city’s website .
Rock is not defined as landscaping in the Boulder Revised Code, nor is it considered xeriscaping, a common misconception (refer to FAQ above.) Rock increases the urban heat island effect, increases irrigation needs and decreases or eliminates organic matter from entering the soil due to the use of landscape/weed barrier fabric. Rock may be allowed as a decorative feature, if approved as part of a landscape plan and has limited mulching application per 9-9-12(d)(10) B.R.C. 1981 of the land use code. Any proposal for rock mulch should anticipate the need to increase plant numbers and irrigation and may not be able to meet the full coverage requirements of section 9-9-12(d)(9) of the land use code. Use of rock mulch is at staff’s discretion.
While weed barrier fabric is considered an industry standard by some, the city does not support its use in most applications consistent with xeriscape and irrigation efficiency best practices. The use of fabric increases heat island effect, increases irrigation needs, decreases organic material and other soil amendments from reaching plant roots and does not prevent long term weed management. In some cases poor installation acts as a physical barrier to horizontal plant growth reducing plant coverage. Plastic barriers may not be used in any application.
Please use the automated scheduling system by calling (303)-441-3280. You will need your permit number and the inspection code (2580). Please note landscape inspections have a three-day scheduling window if no specific time or day is requested. Staff will accommodate specific time requests whenever possible.
Landscape inspections can typically be completed without a representative on site. If field changes to an approved landscape plan have occurred that staff is not aware of, please contact an inspector at 303-441-3138 to review the changes prior scheduling the inspection.
Yes, all landscape requirements shall be complete prior to final inspection. If weather does not permit completion, a financial guarantee shall be assessed per 9-9-21, B.R.C. 1981. For any project that requires discretionary review (Site, Non-conforming Use or other), occupancy may also be delayed if a project does not meet all conditions of approval, per section 9-2-5(b), B.R.C. 1981 , regardless of prior issuance of certificate of occupancy.
For more complex projects with detailed landscape plans, a contractor’s estimate is typically provided for incomplete work. For smaller projects or isolated remaining items like tree planting, a standard per item multiplier may be used. Trees are currently assessed at $600 each.
If the permit remains open (no Certificate of Occupancy (CoO) or Letter of Completion (LoC) has been issued), please use the automated scheduling line to schedule the Final Landscape and Site Inspection (See Prior to Final Inspection/ Occupancy FAQ for additional detail). If the permit is closed (CoO or LoC has been issued), please call staff directly to schedule an inspection prior to release (303-441-4416).
Public trees are those found in parks or in the public right of way. Trees in the public right of way may be planted in a planting strip between a curb and sidewalk or behind the sidewalk. Trees behind the sidewalk may appear to be in a front or side yard and may be mistaken for private trees. Alley trees are typically private trees. A useful tool for checking if a tree is public or private is the public tree inventory maintained by the city at: https://boulder.mytreekeeper.com/ . A search by address option is available and will identify all inventoried street trees.
Street trees are required on all public and private streets for all land uses (see section 9-9-13 B.R.C. 1981 ). If existing utility conflicts exist, modifications will be evaluated on a case by case basis within the applicable review process. New development and redevelopment are required to meet current street tree standards, per section 9-9-12(b), B.R.C. 1981 . Street trees are reviewed as part of a required landscape plan.
Refer to section 9-9-12(d)(11), B.R.C. 1981 for minimum sizes at the time of planting and section 9-9-13, B.R.C. 1981 for the size of the tree at maturity. Medium and large maturing trees shall be 2-inch caliper nursery trees. Small or ornamental trees may be 1.5-inch caliper (caliper is the diameter of the trunk measured 12 inches above the ground). Species selection shall be consistent with the approved plan or as approved by city staff.
Small maturing street trees are allowed only when there are conflicts with overhead utility lines or the width of a planting strip restrict growth potential (see section 9-9-13, B.R.C. 1981 ). Large maturing trees are required unless specific restrictions apply.
Tree grates may be used in commercial zones with high pedestrian use and high turn-over on-street parking. Review Ch. 2 of the Design and Construction Standards (DCS), Ch. 3 of the DCS and any applicable guidelines to determine if grates are a supportable streetscape design.
Yes, approval is required from the City Forester (303-441-4406) to help maintain a healthy and diverse urban canopy.
Permission may be requested by contacting the City Forester (303-441-4406) or Development Review staff (303-441-3138 or [email protected] ). If removal is part of a development project, it is helpful to contact staff prior to submitting an application. Please allow up to three weeks for a detailed response, which may include an appraisal of the tree(s)’ value.
Unfortunately, nursery trees do not often match the size of trees removed for development. The city uses the Trunk Formula Method established by the Council of Tree and Landscape Appraisers (CTLA) to determine the value of a tree when a nursery tree cannot match size. The Trunk Formula Method uses species, size, condition (or health) and location of the tree to calculate replacement value. It should be noted that no appraisal is without some level of discretion. The city aims to be as consistent as possible. A third party appraisal completed by a licensed arborist may be submitted for review as part of a request to remove a tree.
It can be very challenging to replace trees, especially large healthy trees. Any healthy tree approved for removal that cannot be replaced by planting a new nursery tree shall require mitigation, consistent with section 6-6-7(c) B.R.C. 1981 . Always contact the city prior to removal of any public tree (303-441-4406).
This is a civil issue between two private property owners. The City Attorney, Planning and Forestry departments do not have any involvement in these disputes. If discussions between neighbors have not led to a resolution, the city recommends contacting the Community Mediation Service at (303-441-4364).
Due to the identification of emerald ash borer (EAB), all Ash trees within the city are at risk of infestation. We anticipate a very high mortality rate for the Ash trees within the city, and need to avoid public safety issues that dead and dying trees can create. Any existing ash on the property shall be monitored for decline and removed and replaced as needed to maintain the original approval. The planning department is proactively requiring Ash Management plans for projects with discretionary approvals to document the locations of private ash trees, ensure property management’s awareness of the EAB issues, identify treatment, coordinate removal and ensure replacement trees will contribute to a diverse urban canopy. For detailed information on EAB, please visit www.EABColorado.com .
All projects with prior approvals are required to maintain the landscaping as approved and/or to meet current city codes for the life of the project per the Development Agreement and Section 9-9-12(d)(2) BRC 1981. These comments are included in many large permits that are part of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) or Site Review to help facilitate communication between city staff, applicants, tenants and property managers to ensure that the property remains compliant with the approvals. This landscape maintenance includes replacement of dead or damaged landscaping, repairing and replacing irrigation systems to ensure all landscaping is irrigated, and providing parking lot landscaping and screening that has not performed well over time.