Turn weedy, boring curb strip into low maintenance flower bed

Last Updated: 
February 29, 2008

CORVALLIS - If you have a home in an older neighborhood, you probably have a strip of land between the street curb and the sidewalk. Does this strip have anything other than grass and weeds growing in it?

It might be a great place to develop a low-maintenance, low-water perennial flower garden this spring, suggested Barb Fick, home horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

First, rid the area of the current vegetation, which is no small or quick task. Use elbow grease, by grubbing and digging out all plants, stumps etc. Or pile an inch-thick layer of newspaper on the ground and cover it with five to eight inches of compost, mulch or sandy loam soil. The newspaper kills the grass and snuffs out weeds over a three- to five-month period. If you started in July, you could plant your curb strip garden by mid-fall.

Use the sun and heat to kill curb strip vegetation if you "solarize" the area with clear plastic sheeting during the sunny summer months. Usually about two months of warm, sunny weather will kill any unwanted vegetation below plastic sheeting placed flat over an area. It is best first to till under the soil, and then put down the plastic during months with the most powerful sun – June through August.

Or kill existing plants by applying a broad spectrum glyphosate herbicide, once unwanted plants have begun to grow in the spring. Wait for the air temperature to be above 60 degrees. Repeat applications may be necessary for some plants.

Whatever method you use to get rid of grass and unwanted weeds, it is best to repeat the process several times throughout a growing season to rid the soil of its "seed bank."

While you wait for your curb strip vegetation to die back, browse through seed and perennial catalogs and search local nurseries for drought resistant bulbs, perennials and small flowering shrubs. Find out if there are any height restrictions for vegetation along the curb in your community and choose your plants accordingly.

The most important factor for a low maintenance, low water garden is your choice of plants. They must be summer drought tolerant. Plants with origins in the Mediterranean, South Africa, central Asia and the American West will do well in dry Oregon summers. To have color through the growing season, choose plants with a broad array of colors, shapes, heights and bloom times.

If your soil is poorly drained (e.g. clay), add generous amounts of organic matter and consider making raised beds. Drought-tolerant plants do best in well-drained soil.

Here are some suggestions for plants to grow in a curb strip:

Dwarf shrubs provide structure and texture, anchoring other plants that die back during the colder months. Silvery Artemesias (sagebrush), four-o'clocks, lavenders, dusty miller, tansy (Tanacetum), salvias, catmints, Ceanothus, western redbud, Amur maple, strawberry tree, smoke tree and rock rose are good candidates.

Spring bulbs such as crocus, narcissus, anenomes and species tulips provide hints of spring color.

Tough annuals such as California poppies, Clarkias, Shirley poppies and sweet Alyssum provide bright patches of color. These often self-sow.

Drought resistant summer perennials including Penstemons, Linum (flax), Gaillardia (blanket flowers), Coreopsis (black-eyed Susans), hardy Salvias, California fuschia, evening primroses, coneflowers, globe thistle, yarrows, Jupiter's beard and Russian sage bloom year after year.

Drought tolerant bunch grasses such as red and Idaho fescue, Muhlenbergia and needle and thread grass provide structural interest.

Author: Carol Savonen
Source: Barb Fick