Give careful thought and planning to what you plant by the street

Story and Photos by Susan Jasan

As a garden spills over the curb, there seems to be a sort of magic that draws the viewer toward the landscape. The lushness of Lantana exploding in full sun with colorful blooms and butterflies dancing all around screams of summer or a shady area with layers of coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) in various colors softening the edge of your property.

Select low-growing sedges and ornamental shrubbery for a curbside planting. Here sedges, Cotoneaster, and a dwarf barberry (Berberis spp., cvs.) make an interesting combination of colors and textures.

Whatever your plan for your curbside, in addition to beautiful blooms, you should also keep some important safety guidelines in mind. Keep the sight lines clear for both vehicular and pedestrian safety. Plants should not be taller than 18 inches if they’re along a curb to ensure drivers have an unobstructed view.

Though shown as a border planting along this sidewalk, layering low growing to medium height plants can be particularly effective.
Coleus, marigolds (Tagetes spp.), and Impatiens are just annuals in this sidewalk planting.

You can use tall plants, just as long at the canopy is at least 60 inches tall at its lowest point. It might be that you want to add an ornamental tree as an accent. As long as plants are shorter than 18 inches and/or taller than 60” inches, both pedestrians and drivers can easily see each other. Check local codes and covenants too, as in some cases plantings may be prohibited along a curbside. 

A mass of tulips (Tulipa spp.) can make a strong statement in early spring. Remember to plant densely for maximum impact.

When planting along an edge where there will be pedestrian traffic or visitors entering and exiting vehicles, remember to leave 18-24 inches from the concrete edge for foot traffic. There’s nothing more disheartening than to have your treasured plantings crushed underfoot. Install a “buffer planting” that provides adequate space for pedestrians.

Sedges (Carex spp.) and impatiens make a pleasing combination along any edge.

When the space between a sidewalk and a curb is very narrow, this presents particular challenges. Adequate water becomes critical for any plants in these narrow spaces. Heat and drought are particularly problematic as the concrete surfaces heat up and “cook” the roots. Some plants that seem to survive in these areas include Liriope, mondo grass (Ophiopogon spp.), low growing Sedum and succulents. Or simply leave this narrow strip as turf. It’s a tough area. The ideal solution is installing a greenspace that is a minimum of 3 feet wide between any curb and sidewalk: only then you can truly provide enough soil, water, and nutrients for your plantings.

A mass of lantana makes a great showing along this curbside.

One trick critical to a successful curbside planting is to dig down about 18 inches along the curb edge and remove the compacted soil that was been created during the construction of the curb and street. Be careful not to disturb the compacted area that supports the curb itself, otherwise it could settle. By adding the extra soil and/or soil amendments along to the curb edge, you provide a foundation for the plants’ roots. Just as described above, the concrete curb can heat up, or can become bitterly cold, depending on the season, and those extremes in temperatures can radiate into the roots of your plantings.

Joseph’s coat (Alternanthera ficoidea), polka dot plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya), Begonia, and coleus make for a wide sweeping edge along this walkway. It would be effective along a curb, provided the tall plantings did not block views for any vehicular traffic.

It is also a good idea to make sure your address is clearly marked on the curb if it is not prominently displayed on your home. Etching the address onto a large boulder is one way to integrate function into design. Again, check local codes and covenants, as these often define what is required in regards to how an address must be displayed.

Landscape lighting can add significant “curb” appeal to any site.

Though it’s not necessarily a curbside feature, night lighting is an important part of curbside appeal. As you consider plants for the curbside area, avoiding large shrubs and ornamental grasses is wise. Use these elsewhere in the landscape where you can fully enjoy their form. Avoid the temptation to plant that “small” ornamental grass from the nursery along your curbside, you’ll eventually find it overgrown and blocking views.

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