by Lynne Patenaude, with input from WPP members and City staff

PRINTABLE BROCHURE (PDF) created by Lesley Mather of @jeledesign

You can now plant right up to the curb in front of your house! In 2023 the City of Ottawa’s Use and Care of Roads By-law 2003-498 was updated to permit residents to plant on the land that abuts your property, adjacent to the street. This land, known as the right of way (ROW) or boulevard, is owned by the City but cared for by the resident (see Section 5A in the bylaw for details and the summary on the website).

This ROW space between the sidewalk and the road is planted with Lance-leaved Coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan, Butterfly Weed, Beebalm, and Swamp Milkweed. Photo by Laura Vargas.

How deep is the ROW?

Check how deep the City’s ROW is by entering your address on the City’s GeoOttawa map. The ROW may be the first 2-3 m from the curb, which in older areas may be most of the front yard.

What do you need to know?

The City now allows you to install “soft landscaping,” which means plant-based material, on ROWs in residential neighbourhoods. You are not allowed to use bricks, pavers, rocks, stones, concrete, tiles, or wood (including raised beds).

To prevent damage to tree roots and maintain access to infrastructure, the City has set the following limits or “set-backs.” This means you can’t plant directly beside these objects and must maintain a minimum distance, as highlighted in the following table.

Item Planting distance*
Municipal tree 1 m
Catch basin & manhole 1.5 m
Fire hydrant 1.5 m from side and back, 3 m from front
Hydro transformer box* 1.5 m from side and back, 3 m from front
Other infrastructure (e.g. light standard, hydro pole) 1 m
Bus stops* 5–25 m

*Please refer to the City’s summary page for details. Diagrams from City’s website.

Why plant in the ROW?

Our cities need more green spaces that add beauty and biodiversity. Planting within the ROW can create connected corridors of habitat for pollinators and make our ecosystem more resilient. Replacing turf-grass with plants can help minimize flooding, restore groundwater, provide cooler areas for walking, and help our planet stay cool.

What can you plant?

“Soft landscaping” includes flowers, grasses, shrubs and plant-based mulch. Plants must be one m or less in height, and 75 cm or less in height in the visibility triangle at a street corner.

We encourage you to use plants that are locally native because they will best support the butterflies, bees, and birds that evolved with these plants. Ornamental plants that are not invasive are also permitted.

Which plants are not allowed?

Residents may not plant trees in the ROW. If you would like a tree (there are many reasons you should), please contact the City’s Trees in Trust program.

At present, the City does not allow plants for consumption, such as vegetables and herbs. This will be reviewed in 2024.

The bylaw lists some specific invasive plants that are not permitted in the ROW, as well as other regulated noxious weeds and invasive plants. This includes many plants that may still be sold at nurseries:

Invasive ground covers

  • Creeping Jenny
  • English ivy
  • Goutweed
  • Periwinkle
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Leafy Spurge
  • Japanese Spurge (Pachysandra)
  • Spearmint
  • Yellow Archangel

 Invasive shrubs and grasses

  • Non-native honeysuckle shrubs
  • Burning Bush
  • Wintercreeper
  • Japanese &   Common Barberry
  • Multiflora roses
  • Miscanthus grass

The by-law also restricts other invasive plants and weeds. Some that may be commonly found in and near gardens: 

  • Dame’s Rocket
  • Ditch Lily aka Orange Daylily
  • Garlic Mustard
  • Dog-strangling Vine
  • Buckthorns (European, Glossy)
  • Knotweeds (Japanese, Bohemian, Giant)
  • Giant Hogweed
  • Wild Parsnip
  • Invasive Phragmites
  • Ragweed
  • Poison Ivy
  • Wild Chervil
  • Knapweeds
  • Thistles (Canada, Bull)
  • Coltsfoot
  • Spurge (Cypress, leafy)

How to get started

  • Contact Ontario One Call to locate underground wires and infrastructure so you know where to dig.
  • Use hand tools only. No machinery is permitted.

Suggestions for native plants that meet the height restriction are found below, listed by bloom time, from spring to fall. To best help our pollinators, try to choose flowers so you have blooms in all three seasons.

Native flowers and grasses that are drought and salt tolerant, and so work well close to the road

  • Prairie Smoke
  • Lance-leaved Coreopsis
  • Butterfly Milkweed
  • Hoary Vervain
  • Nodding Onion
  • Spotted Beebalm
  • Pearly Everlasting
  • Black-eyed Susan
  • Virginia Mountain Mint
  • Upland White Goldenrod
  • Sky Blue Aster
  • Heath Aster
  • Grey Goldenrod
  • Sideoats Grama (grass)
  • Little Bluestem (grass)

 Native flowers/grasses for sun or part-shade

  • Golden Alexander
  • Red Columbine
  • Downy Wood Mint
  • Wild Bergamot
  • Anise Hyssop
  • Great Blue Lobelia
  • June Grass
  • Prairie Dropseed (grass)

Native plants for shade

  • Bowman’s Root
  • Wild Strawberry
  • Hairy Wood Mint
  • White Snakeroot
  • Large-leaved Aster
  • Calico Aster
  • Heart-leaved Aster
  • Blue-stemmed Goldenrod
  • Zigzag Goldenrod
  • Bottlebrush Grass

 Native shrubs

  • Northern Bush Honeysuckle
  • New Jersey Tea
  • Fragrant Sumac
  • Pot of Gold/Kalm’s St. John’s Wort
  • Leadplant
  • Shrubby Cinquefoil

Find native plants and seeds

Local nurseries that specialize in native plants:

Other nurseries like Trinkets & Thyme, Stoneridge Gardens, Ritchie Feed & Seed, Connaught Nursery and Peter Knippel are carrying more native plants every year.  The Ottawa Wildflower Seed Library gives away free seeds and seedlings of many of these species, donated by local gardeners.

For more information

This is a plain-language summary drafted by Wild Pollinator Partners. Please consult Bylaw 2003-498 for the full legal text and the City’s official summary.

Revised: March 2024

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