The choice of plant species, their arrangement and management varies between and within tropical homegardens in the same community. Relationships between agroecological and socioeconomic characteristics of 20 homegardens were examined at Masaya, Nicaragua. Variables analyzed were micro-zonation (area allocation to specific uses and management), plant use and diversity, occupation, labor investment, and product, benefit and income generation. Data was collected through surveys, participatory mapping, plant inventories, direct observation and interviews. Ten different micro-zones and nine plant uses were identified. Fruit trees, shaded coffee and ornamentals were the most important zones. Plant diversity was high, with a sample total of 324 species. Homegardens were an important occupation, with average labor investments of 32.6 h family−1 week−1. Families obtained at least 40 different plant products from homegardens, as well as the benefit of space for working and socializing. Six homegarden types were identified using a cluster analysis based on biophysical variables. Types reflected the relationship between income generation and the number and types of zones and plant species present. Labor inputs were high considering the small size of the homegardens (average size 3,240 m2), although no clear relationships between labor investment and plant and zone type or number were observed. Homegarden management strategies of plant selection and zonation were affected both by family choices and external forces. Although dependence on homegardens may vary according to specific conditions at a given time, they seem to be a consistent, flexible resource used to meet a diversity of needs. The methodological approach used in this paper may be appropriate for the study of other traditional agroecosystems since it includes both biophysical and socioeconomic variables, essential for understanding these complex systems.