Park strip, hell strip, road verge, parkway, utility zone, curb strip, etc. While the area between the sidewalk and road goes by many names, everyone can agree on one thing – they’re challenging when it comes to landscaping. These often neglected areas are the true “no man’s land” of the landscape. They’re technically not the homeowner’s property, yet the homeowner is still required to maintain them; all while keeping in mind the city could dig up, rip up, or place something there at any time. On top of this, park strips are often heavily abused and subjected to automobile traffic, pet waste, heavy amounts of salt from snow removal, and extreme heat emanating from the street and sidewalk. But even with all these things going against it, your park strip can still be a masterpiece of beauty and function.
What Not to Do
First, let’s talk about what not to do with your parking strip. First, don’t ignore it. Parking strips are like first impressions. You might have a really neat landscape further into your property, but if the first thing people see is a weed-infested mess they might not notice anything else. Next, don’t plant anything that will get too tall. Consider the mature size of the plants you select. Many cities have ordinances and codes on how tall your park strip plantings can be. Be very careful about planting trees in these areas. Roots will often become constrained and could wreak havoc on sidewalks.
Overhead powerlines are also a concern for trees in park strips. Also, don’t plant anything that requires a lot of maintenance. While traditional turfgrass might seem like a good idea for parking strips, it’s often difficult to irrigate regularly and efficiently without wasting water, not to mention the need of regular mowing. Finally, don’t plant anything that will scratch vehicles parked along the road, and don’t install or plant anything that you couldn’t bear to lose should the city decide to dig a new utility line or plop a bus stop there.
What to Do
The best thing to do with a parking strip would be to merge form and function into a beautiful, low-maintenance showpiece that acts as an extension of your own front yard. It should be inviting to sidewalk pedestrians; providing a brief look and feel of what the rest of your landscape might contain. It should turn heads of passing motorists without looking eccentric or out-of-place. And don’t forget about the ecosystem either. A well designed park strip should provide something for everyone, including pollinators. For these reasons, I recommend planting low-growing wildflowers and native grasses.
There are many reasons wildflowers and native grasses are perfect for park strips. Here are just a few:
- Many are low-growing and won’t cause visual obstruction
- Perennial and self-seeding annuals will return year after year
- Won’t scratch vehicles parked along curb
- Very drought-tolerant and water-wise once established
- Dozens of species to choose from and endless combinations of colors and textures
- Provides habitat and food sources for pollinators
- Minimal maintenance requirements
- Economical, easily established from seed
- Can be easily removed and replanted if needed
- Tolerates poor soil conditions
- Chokes out weeds if grown dense enough
How to Do It
Establishing wildflowers and native grasses from seed isn’t complicated. First, prepare the park strip by removing all existing vegetation. Existing vegetation can be removed manually by hand pulling, hoeing or tilling. If this isn’t possible, a broad-spectrum herbicide containing glyphosate can be applied to the area. Wait at least three days after applying glyphosate before planting seed. Next, till or rake to loosen the soil for planting, then sow the seed directly on top of the soil. DO NOT bury the seeds as this is one of the most common reasons for wildflower seeding failure. Small areas can be sown by hand, but for larger areas a seed spreader is more efficient. When seeding extremely small wildflower seeds, you can blend the seeds with sand for a more even distribution. A ratio of three parts sand to one part seed is recommended. Lightly compress the seeds into the soil by walking on them or using a board. A roller can be used for larger areas.