Fresh herbs. Tomatoes right off the vine. Sun-sweetened strawberries. Having your own garden can be one of the best things about summer. But what if you don’t have a back yard to garden in? What if you live in an apartment? Or your yard is too shady? Never fear – there are lots of options.

Gardeners around our city already make use of whatever patch of soil they can find. Anyone passing through Madison’s residential neighborhoods will notice the diversity and frequent creativity in what homeowners and renters plant around their homes, often extending to publicly owned street-side terraces. To promote more gardening opportunities, whether it be for food production, pollinator habitat, or beautification, the City of Madison has changed its policies to make it easier to grow a range of plants in residential areas. Plantings of many types are allowed in yards and on street terraces.

Yet many people are not sure what they are allowed to plant where, and sometimes neighbors have differing opinions. To guide Madison residents in what is and is not allowed in yards and terraces – and to reflect the growing interest in planting native plants, and edible and pollinator-friendly species – city agencies and the Madison Food Policy Council have collaborated in creating a new guide which is available online and in hard copy at public locations citywide.

So, you ask, where and what can I plant? Essentially, you can plant anything you want in either your yard or the terrace adjacent to your property, with a few basic limitations:

  • You can’t plant any noxious weeds.
  • You have to keep plantings within some height limits for safety’s sake.
  • You can’t plant trees or bushes on the terrace.
  • If you want to plant large areas of native grasses, you may need a permit.

The details are spelled out in the guide and city policies. The guide, and more information, is available at

If your yard and/or terrace is not enough space for you, see if there’s a community garden nearby – is a great place to start. Or maybe you’d like to plant fruit trees or bushes on public land? The City’s new edible landscapes permit allows you to do just that – see There are already little “food forests” popping up in our parks, thanks to ambitious gardeners around the city.

One of our goals as your Food Policy Council is to increase your opportunities to grow food if you want to. Hopefully, making it clearer what you can plant in your yard and on your terrace will encourage more people to garden, and allowing some plantings on public land will increase the availability of home-grown fruits and nuts. Happy planting!

For more information, please contact George Reistad, Madison Food Policy Director, at 608-266-4611 or