Making an Entrance: Sidewalk Landscaping Tips

Don't walk on the wild side! Learn how to deal with the neglected sidewalk "hellstrip" in your landscaping scheme.

Your Typical Hellstrip

Your Typical Hellstrip

The most neglected part of many homeowners' yards is this isolated patch of turf.

The most neglected part of many homeowners' yards is this isolated patch of turf.

What's the main trouble area in your front yard? For most homeowners, it's the area around the mailbox or that lonely strip of grass that is separated from the main yard by a sidewalk or driveway. Often referred to as the "hellstrip," it comes with its own set of problems and is not usually a top landscaping priority for most people. But landscape designer Jenny Peterson and gardener Rebecca Sweet have some excellent suggestions for how to improve this area with minimum maintenance. 

The first thing you should do is check with your neighborhood homeowners association (HOA) and see if there are any restrictions regarding this area of your yard. If so, your options for upgrading it may be limited but still preferable to its current state. 

The hellstrip area takes more abuse than any other area of the lawn because it is usually closest to the street where the temperatures are more extreme. In the hot summer weather, the heat from asphalt streets and concrete walkways can have an adverse affect on whatever is growing there. If you live in colder climates, this area is often subjected to heavy snow and rock salt by snowplows performing winter road maintenance. 

Even when the weather is mild, the hellstrip area is vulnerable to constant pedestrian traffic and dogs. With this in mind, make sure whatever you plant in this space is extremely hardy and drought resistant. 

Here are some helpful tips from Peterson and Sweet on how to solve or minimize hellstrip problems:

  • Amend and improve the soil in the strip for new plantings. Add gravel or pumice for better drainage. 
  • Create a pathway from the street to the sidewalk using an attractive combination of flagstone and concrete. This provides easy access to visitors who park on the street.
  • Avoid using shrubs which could scratch vehicles or harm pedestrians such as yuccas. 
  • Use low-growing, soft plants such as wildflowers, succulents, flowering perennials or small ornamental grasses and don't overcrowd the area.
  • Consider constructing several raised beds with edible gardens for this area.
  • If you don't want to deal with grass or plants at all, redesign your strip with a combination of river rocks, small boulders and granite along with flat footpaths to provide easy access for visitors. Ivy is also a simple, low-maintenance alternative to grass.
  • Keep in mind that anything you do to your hellstrip to improve it should blend in with the rest of your yard and not detract from the overall curb appeal. 
  • Take a look at how your neighbors and other homeowners in the neighborhood have addressed this problem and draw inspiration from the most creative and successful examples. 

See some creative solutions to landscaping where the sidewalk ends:

Sidewalk Landscaping Ideas

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First Impressions Are Important

Landscaper Bobbie Schwartz created a memorable entrance to this Ohio home by turning what some have called a "hellstrip" area into drought tolerant gardens separated by a permeable path from the street to the front walkway. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bobbie's Green Thumb

Mix It Up

Instead of landscaping one long strip that runs along the front of your house, why not redesign it as separate segments like this innovative configuration in a California suburb? Landscaper Bobbie Schwartz transformed the strip into individual garden plots integrating the existing trees with ornamental plants and grasses while providing easy street access with pavers for visitors. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Bobbie's Green Thumb

Sidewalk Sampler

If there are no major HOA restrictions on landscaping your street strip, why not be creative? This design features a colorful, eye-pleasing mixture of river rocks, mulch and ornamental grasses and plants for maximum curb appeal. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Rebecca Sweet

Mailbox Inspiration

The mailbox area is usually the most neglected part of the yard but it could be your opportunity to create some landscaping magic. Consider this bright, welcoming array of purple flowering plants, light green ground covers and flat stonework to bring color to your sidewalk.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Rebecca Sweet

The Dry Creek Look

If you don't want to deal with grass or prefer zero maintenance for your sidewalk strip, you might want to consider an attractive alternative like this natural landscape of river rocks, stones and pebbles.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Rebecca Sweet, gossipinthegarden.com

For Mediterranean Climates

If you live in a temperature zone similar to that of southern California or the Mediterranean, you can get creative in your sidewalk space with a mixture of flowers, edible plants and ornamental grasses that look beautiful year round.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Rebecca Sweet, gossipinthegarden.com

Succulent Synergy

How to deal with a hellstrip in a desert landscape? Fill it with a variety of drought-tolerant succulents like this colorful arrangement by J. Peterson Garden Design.

Photo By: Image courtesy of J Peterson Garden Design

Curbside Green Space

A simple combination of rocks, flowering plants, ornamental grasses and mulch can turn your sidewalk area from bland to beautiful. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of J Peterson Garden Design, www.jpetersongardendesign.com

Separation Notice

Add color accents to your hellstrip area with a showstopper like a lush bed of 'Mystic Spires Blue' sage as seen in this Austin, Texas neighborhood project from landscaper Mark Biechler.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Pearson Landscaping

Border Guards

Some homeowners prefer a privacy wall around their house and front yard but are open to creative possibilities for their strip along the street. Mark Biechler of Pearson Landscape Services seized the opportunity to create a varied and unique border mixing ornamental shrubs, bottle brush trees, hollies and other drought tolerant specimens. 

Photo By: Image courtesy of Pearson Landscape

A Breed Apart

Plants with foliage that can prick or scratch people, animals and cars are usually not a good choice for hellstrip areas unless you want to be known as the neighbor misanthrope. The 'Sapphire Skies' yucca, however, is hardy, deer-resistant, hummingbird-friendly, soft to the touch and worthless as a weapon.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Pearson Landscape, www.pearsonlandscape.com

The Future Looks Rosy

'Knock Out' roses are becoming increasingly popular with gardeners because they are so hardy, drought-tolerant and disease resistant. They bloom throughout the spring, summer and early fall and make ideal eye candy for the much maligned and neglected hellstrip.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Pearson Landscape, www.pearsonlandscape.com

A Lighter Shade of Purple

A once neglected strip of lawn becomes a garden area that pops with color and interesting texture. Stealing the show is purple fountain grass which stands out boldly against a mixed base of mulch and pink granite gravel.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Pearson Landscape, www.pearsonlandscape.com

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