In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
July, 2009
Regional Report

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"Naturescape" this otherwise unattractive and high-maintenance roadside strip with a combination of low-growing annuals and perennials.

Transforming a Sidewalk Strip into a Functional Garden

Over the past 28 years of hosting the Gardening with an Altitude radio show, I've frequently been asked how to deal with that narrow strip between the sidewalk and the street. This area is usually planted with turf grass and is generally a "pain in the grass" to maintain.

Trying to water this strip usually leads to water running down the street which is both a waste and an aggravation to neighbors and people passing by.

Without irrigation, it quickly turns into dried-up lawn and gets invaded with a variety of unattractive weeds, including bindweed, Canada thistle, creeping spurge, and dandelions. Weeds are often the only plants that can endure the reflected heat from concrete and asphalt.

Luckily, with the right plan and plant selections, you can create a more colorful and drought-enduring garden area using a technique I like to refer to as a "naturescaping."

Getting Started
Converting from lawn to other plants is relatively easy. The site doesn't require a lot of soil preparation since you can easily eliminate the existing vegetation by cutting out all the turf with a sod cutter or recruiting the help of friends. Dig the deep-rooted weeds with a spading fork or shovel and collect all root fragments.

Once the area has been thoroughly cleaned up, it's time to prepare the soil by adding a couple of inches of compost. Rototill or double dig the organic compost into the ground to a depth of 6 inches or more. Just be careful if there are large shade trees growing in the strip and avoid rototilling their root system. It may require some patience and care, but the end result will protect the roots of trees and shrubs from root damage which can stress these plants in the heat of summer.

Plant Selection
You still have some time to prepare a plan and set out transplants of perennials for summer bloom if you intend to see this project through this year. Following are some good plant choices for summer and fall bloom in your own "naturescape:" Penstemon species including 'Praire Fire', 'Scarlet Bugler', and 'Husker Red;' blue flax (Linum perenne); purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea); butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa); white-tufted evening primrose and Mexican (pink) evening primrose (Oenothera spp); Turkish veronica (Veronica liwanensis); purple ice plant (Delosperma cooperi); Indian blanket (Gaillardia aristata); Rocky Mountain zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora); Aster species; wormwood (Artemisia spp); and many of the succulent sedum ground covers.

These are just a few plant considerations. There are so many others and you must decide what you like and what suits your garden style. Consider the exposure, sun versus shade, watering needs, and time you want to dedicate to maintaining this garden area when making your plant list.

Be creative and choose plants that not only include in their attributes pretty flowers, but also those that add interesting and colorful foliage for textural interest.


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