Photo by Melody

Successful Hellstrip Planting

By Susanne Talbert (art_n_gardenApril 13, 2009

If you’ve already given up on growing something nice in the area between the sidewalk and curb, take a second look.

Gardening picture

What is a hellstrip? 

Hellstrip is a rather evocative word for the area between the street and sidewalk or driveway that is nearly impossible to keep verdant.  Plants in a hellstrip, also known as a parking strip garden and boulevard garden, can suffer from drought, excess heat, root competition, salinity from road salting, and car exhaust.  A hellstrip is really not a friendly place for plants.  People will often struggle for years to keep grass alive; but if you don't want landscaping rocks, what can you do? 

Happy Soil

For starters, you need to amend the soil.  Soil full of organic material will better retain water and nutrients for plants in that desolate location.  You could till in compost, make a raised bed, topdress with amendments, or build a lasagna bed.  You'll also want to remove weeds and grass from the area to give new roots a fighting chance.  If you have street trees planted in the hellstrip, a raised bed is advised.

Once the soil is amenable, you must pick out the right plants.  You should look for plants that are drought tolerant or xeric, which can usually survive just about anything.  Check out this list for some suggestions:

Plants for your Boulevard Garden 

These plants are extremely tough and can thrive through drought, excessive heat, salinity, and just about any other abuse your hellstrip can throw at them.

Cinquefoil Potentilla nepalensisImage
Bluebeard 'Dark Knight'Caryopteris x clandonensisImage 
Manzanita Arctostaphylos uva-ursiImage
Sand Cherry - 'Pawnee Buttes' Prunus pumila var. besseyiImage
Prairie ConeflowerRatibida pinnataImage
Russian Sage Perovskia atriplicifolia Image
 Red YuccaHesperaloe parviflorashe Image
Silver Buffaloberry Shepherdia argentea Image
Snow in summer Cerastium tomentosumImage
Ice plantDelosperma nubigenumImage
Hummingbird Trumpet  Zauschneria californicaImage 
California poppyEschscholzia californicaImage
  Trailing Lantana 'Trailing Lavender'   Lantana montevidensis Image
Pineleaf PenstemonPenstemon pinifoliusImage
Blue FescueFestuca trachyphylla Image
Sea hollyEryngium planumImage
'Tanager' Gazania Gazania krebsianaImage
Apache PlumeFallugia paradoxaImage
Lead Plant Amorpha canescens  Image
Creeping Rosemary 'Prostratus'Rosmarinus officinalis Image
Mojave sageSalvia pachyphylla Image
Cotoneaster 'Little Gem'Cotoneaster adpressus Image
Yarrow 'Paprika'Achillea Image


As you put in drought-tolerant plants, make sure that you mulch to help the soil maintain adequate moisture.  Most of the suggested plants will survive with little to no extra water, but moisture preservation with mulch will surely help.  You can use commercial mulch or make your own using pine needles, straw or rocks.  Be sure not to mulch too closely to the crown of your plants to prevent rotting.  Remember that most drought-tolerant plants like well draining soil and do not need to have wet feet. 

Before you dig

Some municipalities have restrictions on what homeowners can do with their hellstrip.  Often the land is actually city-owned and therefore city-governed.  Most places will allow you to landscape, but have strict regulations on plant height for safety reasons.   Make sure you have underground utilities marked and consult city ordinances before you dig. 

When you begin to successfully use the formerly wasted space of the hellstrip, you can transform your landscape with welcoming curb appeal.  Plant the right plants the first time and they (and you) won't languish in the tough conditions any longer.  You really can have a colorful and thriving hellstrip planting.


Photo credits:   
Tanager Gazania - Alicewho Manzanita - Grasmussen Bluebeard - KMAC Russian Sage - Secludedgardens 
Pineleaf Penstemon - AltagardenerHummingbird Trumpet - GrowinRosemary - KnotimpairedCinquefoil - Sneirish
Apache Plume - AngeleMojave Sage - HappenstanceCA Poppy - Mustangman826Silver Buffaloberry - Trilian15
Yarrow 'Paprika' - ColliwobblesBlue Fescue - Hczone6Sand Cherry - Plant Select.orgSnow in Summer - Weezingreens
Prairie Coneflower - CreekwalkerIce Plant - JamesCoLead Plant - Garbanzito

Thumbnail of house - morguefile, gracey

Sea Holly - GabrielleTrailing Lantana - JoeswifeContoneaster - Ron_rothmanRed Yucca - WynnAnderson/Chihuahuan Desert Garden
Sidewalk with Cannas - morguefile photojock   

  About Susanne Talbert  
Susanne TalbertI garden in beautiful Colorado Springs, half a mile from Garden of the Gods. Since we bought our first house two years ago, I have been busy revamping my 1/4 acre of ignored decomposed granite. My garden passions include water gardening, vines, super-hardy perennials, and native xerics. By day, I am a high school ceramics teacher as well as a ceramicist and painter.

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