This article refers to the narrow strip of lawn area about 4’ wide that runs between the sidewalk and curbside in many neighborhoods. First of all, this is public easement territory, but homeowners are expected to maintain it. To try to keep St. Augustine, or other problematic turf grasses green and looking well along this public walkway requires watering and fertilizing. There is no watering system (automated or manual) that can water this narrow strip without wasteful runoff into the gutter and eventually into our creeks and lakes. Add to this pesticides and chemical fertilizers applied to maintain a good looking lawn area in this narrow strip which runs off along with the wasted water and pollutes our natural waterways.
A good example of the problem is depicted in the following picture which shows an automatic sprinkler system in the sidewalk strip, but note the waste in water through runoff. The owner was compliant with water restriction rules, watering on the correct days at the correct times, but the impact is obvious.
There is an easy solution to this that provides attractive curb appeal and avoids environmental contamination and waste of limited water resources. It’s xeriscaping the nuisance strip, tearing out the turf grass and replacing it with 100 percent self sufficient plantings which can sustain themselves in any weather condition without supplemental watering, pesticides, or fertilizers. In place of lawn, packed decomposed granite, gravel, or hardwood mulch can keep weeds at bay. What a win-win situation!
If your homeowners association or authority doesn’t allow this, it’s time to hammer hard for change. Avery Ranch in NW Austin recently did just this – adopted a set of guidelines which permit approval of xeriscaping not only the nuisance strip area but for front yards as well. This doesn’t mean you can plant a “wildscape” or anything , anywhere, but is team effort between homeowners and the homeowners association to help keep Austin green and continue to get more environmentally friendly. The benefits to the homeowner is significant in cost savings, less maintenance, and living within the constraints of and respecting our central Texas environment.
Common sense should prevail when designing a curbside (often referred to as “nuisance strip”) landscape. Avoid dangerous plants with thorns, spines, or toxicity, choose only plants that are 2 feet or less for visual safety, only use hardscape elements (e.g. rocks, driftwood or other decor), that are less than 1ft tall, use only plants that are native or adaptive to the local environment, and avoid sprawling or rapidly growing plants to reduce maintenance. Choose plants that will provide year-round curb appeal (e.g. mix evergreen with perennials that go dormant in winter). Know your soil conditions (drainage and composition) along the strip as well and choose plants that are adaptable to them. Your “strip” landscaping should be compatible with your front yard landscape as well. Remember, what you create, you must maintain. Also there are City of Austin regulations to ensure public safety that need to be complied with regarding public access areas such as sidewalks.
Some suggested plants to consider which are evergreen, full sun, low water requirements, deer resistant, include: Sanolina (green and silver varieties), Pink skullcap, Hesperaloe (red yucca), Mexican feather grass, Bulbine, Blackfoot daisy, Calylophus, Creeping Rosemary, Bush or Creeping Germander, Rock Penstemon, and evergreen sages (e.g. cherry sage). Certain soft leafed Yuccas may be used as well such as Yucca filamentosa. You start with evergreens and winter condition appeal, then expand into perennials which dieback or are dormant in winter but can be planted among evergreens to add to summer color. Be imaginative and seek out additional plants that meet the requirements. For example, you can use a super dwarf crepe myrtle “ that never gets more than 2’ tall) as a foundation plant. It is deciduous so a supporting cast of evergreen plants are needed for winter appeal. There are many dwarf varieties of plants being introduced every year that might be suitable for this specific area of landscaping.
Beautifying the strip between the sidewalk and curbside benefits both the homeowner and your neighbors who will stroll down the sidewalk and have something much more beautiful than a carpet of grass and weeds to look at – in addition to setting an example of how we can be more environmentally responsible for the little pieces of turf we control.
Who knows what the initial designers of our neighborhoods with thinking when creating these nuisance strips, but we need to rethink and consider correcting that lack of environmental forsight. We all can so something to our own piece of turf to make it environmentally better. If you agree, it’s time to get digging!