Types of Tree Ordinances

Determining the scope of your tree ordinance is one of the first decisions you will make in your development process.  It will guide you in choosing the appropriate components to include.  It will also help to determine where your tree ordinance should be placed within your community’s code.


Public tree ordinances only regulate and protect trees on public property.  However, these ordinances often also address trees on private property that pose a risk to public health, safety and welfare, and state the need for property owners to remove such trees in a timely manner.

Public tree ordinances can provide a framework for how public trees will be managed within a community by clearly stating:

  • Community forest management vision and goals;
  • Purpose and intent of public tree management and the tree ordinance;
  • Value and benefits of public trees and community trees in general;
  • The community’s authority to maintain public health, safety and welfare by planting, pruning, maintaining, and removing public trees;
  • Establishment of tree board, including number of voting members, member categories, ex-officio members and roles and responsibilities of the tree board;
  • Commitment to participating in the Tree City USA program and holding an annual Arbor Day celebration; and,
  • The responsibility of private property owners to mitigate the risk posed by their trees to public health, safety and welfare, through timely removal or risk reduction pruning.

In the City of Vienna, Article VI. – Trees includes regulations for the protection of city trees, specifications for city tree plantings, an official tree species list and establishment of a city tree commission.  It is exclusively a public tree ordinance.


Private tree ordinances regulate trees on private property.  Most typically private tree ordinances regulate trees at the time of development, however others may also regulate tree removal and replacement on developed private property, either residential or commercial.

In the City of Ashburn, Section 54-83. – Review Criteria addresses the rehabilitation of a private lot in the historic district and includes a statement about the importance of maintaining existing old-growth trees, as follows:

A rehabilitation should relate properly to the original components of a building and the surrounding neighborhood. It is important to maintain existing old-growth trees in a rehabilitation within a historic district or historic property.

Because this city code includes regulations that affect private property in the historic district, it would be considered a private tree ordinance.  Their code does not include any public tree management, other than stating that they will maintain trees and shrubs in the cemetery, it would not be considered a public tree ordinance.

In Article V. – Buffers, Landscaping and Vegetation, the City of Lilburn requires compliance with the tree ordinance for any project that requires a land disturbance permit, and their basic tree density requirement is 16 tree density units per acre exclusive of zoning buffers.  The only public property that is addressed is in Sec. 46-37 which prohibits the harm or damage to public property in city parks, including trees and tree limbs.  This tree ordinance is almost exclusively a private tree ordinance.


Comprehensive tree ordinances regulate trees on both public and private property.  They may include the protection of public trees, establishment of a tree board, regulation of trees during the development process, and the permitting of tree removal on developed properties.

The City of Jefferson has a comprehensive tree ordinance, with private and public tree regulations included in Chapter 16.3. – Tree Protection.  Their tree density requirements are set forth in Section 16.3.8 – Tree Retention and Replacement Plan Specifications, and establishes a basic requirement of 20 tree density units per acre in suburban/urban areas and 30 tree density units per acre in exurban/rural areas.  This applies to new developments.

In addition to these requirements for private property, Chapter 16.3 also includes regulations for the management and protection of city trees, and the establishment of the Jefferson Heritage Tree Council.

The City of Montezuma also has a comprehensive tree ordinance with private tree regulations contained in Chapter 98. – Vegetation.  Single- and two-family residential land uses are exempt, however.  The city also establishes a tree board, but not in the vegetation chapter; it is instead established in Division 3. – Tree Board within the article establishing city boards.


As can be seen from the above examples of tree ordinances, tree regulations are found in many areas within city and county codes.  Some are “stand-alone” and located in vegetation or environmental code sections, while others are incorporated into unified development codes and zoning ordinances.  Some include both a stand-alone ordinance as well as other regulatory language in the zoning ordinance where vegetative buffers, street trees and parking lot trees are often addressed.

Common code sections that contain tree ordinances or tree regulatory language are:

  • Vegetation
  • Buffer and Landscaping
  • Environment
  • Zoning Regulations
  • Subdivision Regulations
  • Unified Land Development Code


Click here to further explore the most common components included in Georgia’s public and private tree ordinances.