What to do when the HOA requires a landscape makeover

When newlyweds Cheryl and Dan Kaplan finally found their first house, a bargain short-sale in a Wesley Chapel, Fla., subdivision, their biggest dilemma was the pretty but out-of-control flowering jasmine.

flowering white jasmine blossom with eight, pointed petals, daisy shape and red buds. a vining shrub with glossy green oval leaves in wesley chapel, florida

Such nice flowers — and loads of them! — but the viney shrubs had gone wild. Should they stay or should they go?

overgrown jasmine shrubs in front of a house. Lots of green foliage, tiny white blossoms, nearly covering two round-topped windows in front of a home in Wesley Chapel, Florida. Part of the trunk and dangling brown frond of a queen palm visibleBefore Cheryl and Dan bought their home in the Bridgewater subdivision north of Tampa, the Homeowners Association warned them that they’d have a limited amount of time to make improvements. The house had been neglected for some time and, though it wasn’t in terrible condition, it didn’t look good. The couple would have to renovate the landscaping, paint the house and make some repairs, all within about 45 days. I wrote about their experience in a June story in the Tampa Bay Times.

But that was only part of the story, and I recently heard from another new Bridgewater homeowner who faced the same challenge. Their experiences may help you!

The Kaplans’ biggest challenge was the plants. Cheryl wanted her own garden, in part to honor her dad, who’d died in a car accident just a few months earlier. He loved gardening, but he’d been a Chicago gardener. And the limited knowledge he’d passed along to Cheryl didn’t translate easily to the crazy world of Florida gardening.

fuchsia colored azalea blossom. five petals with deep pink stakes. close-up with glossy green oval shaped pointed leavesCheryl decided she really wanted azaleas. Heck, it was February and they were blooming! Personally, I’m not a fan of azaleas unless you have a huge yard loaded with oak trees, which drop acid-rich leaves and give these shrubs the conditions they like. Traditional azaleas bloom only in spring, and they’re kind of boring the rest of the year. They also like plenty of water.

But I’d read about Encore Azaleas, which bloom a few times a year. I told Cheryl about them and ┬áthat’s what she went for. Hers were already blooming when I shot the photo above a few weeks after she planted them.

Cheryl dithered over whether to keep those jasmines — which I was never able to definitively identify — and trim them, relocate them, or just take them out. When she, Dan and her mother-in-law finally waded in to cut them back, they found such a mess, they opted for the last option.

They got rid of the jasmine, and had an arborist trim the queen palm and Laurel oaks. They planted the Encore Azaleas, crimson pentas, Gerbera daisies, Apostles iris and Mexican heather — all Florida-friendly plants.

This is their house before all their work.house with overgrown laurel oak dominating front yard, overgrown potocarpus by the garage, driveway and mailbox

And this is after!


gray and white stucco house with new (small) shrubs in mulched, outlined bedsAfter the column about Cheryl and Dan ran in the Times, I heard from Dan Stidwell, who’d bought his first home in the same subdivision a few months earlier. He and his wife, Lisa, ran into the sam problems Cheryl and Dan had — a deadline, a shortage of money, and the need to do a lot of hard labor themselves.

They weren’t happy.

The results, though were beautiful. Here’s the before and after.

cheryl neighborIt can be frustrating for new homeowners to learn they have yet a new bunch of hurdles to jump through when dealing with an HOA. On the one hand, remember, a well-run HOA will protect your property value by establishing and enforcing rules.

On the other hand, know that a fairly new Florida law requires every government body — be it an HOA or a city or county — must allow for you to replace your turf with Florida-freindly and native plants.

Many HOAs have relaxed their rules since the law took effect. Yes, you still have to submit your landscape design for approval. But if it’s rejected over and over again, as if the HOA is trying to circumvent the law, you now have the government on your side.

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