Q: What are the rules for the plantings that are next to my sidewalk? What about in that area between the sidewalk and the street? I understand that belongs to the city, so do they take care of it?
A: By Colorado Springs City Code, property owners are required to keep their sidewalks clear of obstructions, debris, and dangerous conditions. This means we need to trim shrubs from encroaching over sidewalks. Time to get out the pruners!
The city has set out guidelines for its residents, encouraging them to conserve the natural environment and to conserve water. Beyond that, there are ordinances and codes (shown in parentheses) that set guidelines for public safety, found at www.springsgov.com/Page.asp?NavID=6518.
Weeds – A weed is any plant that grows without cultivation, and is not grown for the purpose of landscaping or food production. We need to keep our yards trimmed to 9”or less (9.6.302).
Noxious weeds – Property owners are required to control plants declared to be undesirable (9.6.314). There are currently five weeds listed: leafy spurge, Canada thistle, and three knapweeds – Russian, spotted, and diffuse knapweed.
General tidiness – Property owners have a responsibility to maintain public rights of way in an appealing manner (4.4.10). The right-of-way generally exists along the curb of all property adjacent to a street. Exact right-of-way measurements should be contained in your deed or can be obtained by calling the City Engineer’s Office.
Trees near the streets need to have their branches trimmed 8’ above sidewalks and 14’ above streets (4.4104). The City encourages us to plant shorter trees under utility lines. Property owners are required to care for and maintain street trees, but the City Forestry department will trim street trees, but property owners are responsible for trimming trees on their own property. The city forestry department has a lot of information about tree care, including “Pruning City Trees” at www.springsgov.com/Page.asp?NavID=381, and “An Urban Tree Care Guide” at www.springsgov.com/Page.asp?NavID=341.
Fire hazards –It is the duty of each property owner to keep fire hazards 55’ away from buildings (9.6.303). The wildfire risk management plan is available at www.springsgov.com/Page.asp?NavID=1225.
Utilities – Landscaping should not interfere with the general function, safety or accessibility of any gas, electric, water, sewer, telephone or drainage facilities (7.4.318).
Signs – Trim shrubs and trees to maintain visibility of signs.
Corner visibility – People who own property on corners of intersections must keep clear a 55’ triangle clear for visibility by vehicles and pedestrians. We are required to mow weeds, clear debris, and keep shrubs and trees cleared between 3’ and 10’ (9.6.304).
The Colorado Springs division of Code Enforcement can be contacted if you see a violation of the City Code. They encourage neighbors to talk with each other before filing a compliant. Code Enforcement can be reached at 444-7891 or online at www.springsgov.com/Page.asp?NavID=304.
Colorado State University Extension recommends delaying pruning because of the drought we’ve been experiencing. However, they do recommend removal, at any time, of plants or parts of plants that are hazards, are broken, dead or rubbing. CSU has a lot of information about pruning shrubs and trees – you can start at www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/columngw/grprune.html.
Contributed by Brook E. Mark, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at 636.8921 or CSUmg2@elpasoco.com (A version of this article appeared in The Gazette on 3/28/09.)