10 Things to Consider When Hellstrip Gardening
No matter what you call it—hellstrip, boulevard, tree park or verge—the area of land between the sidewalk and the street can be a great spot for a garden. Whether the area gets a lot of sun or is shaded, has trees or is very narrow, there are things you can do to bring it to life. But before you get started, here are some things to consider.
Check Local Ordinances
Before you start planting, check local ordinances. In many areas, the hellstrip may be city property and, if that’s the case, there will likely be rules about what you can and cannot do to that patch of land—including how tall plants can be. Ordinances may also be in place if you are part of a homeowner’s association.
Know Your Soil
When it comes to hellstrip gardening, it helps to know your soil. Soil in these areas is notorious for being poor, whether from road salt buildup or poor drainage. “You will have to start digging to determine the soil characteristics—note if the soil is well drained (sandy or gravelly soil) or clay and heavily compacted,” according to Ecological Landscape Alliance. “Soil compaction is the biggest problem in urban areas and it can be remedied with a simple digging fork. Once planted, you can create a site that will overcome this urban ailment, as plant roots are key to maintaining healthy soil structure.”
Consider your hellstrip garden’s water needs. Some plants need more water than others, so think about how you will get them the water they need, whether watering through an irrigation system, sprinkler or by hand. Will your garden hose reach far enough?
In addition, if the land slopes, you may need to take measures to ensure runoff doesn’t wash away all your plants and hard work.
Consider Car and Foot Traffic
Since hellstrips run alongside the street where people may park, consider the height of your plants. Taller plants may be overwhelming to those getting out of cars or walking by on the sidewalk. You may also want to include a mini path from the street to the sidewalk so people can get through the area without walking on plants. See our favorite red flowers here.
Be Prepared for Pets
You can keep pets from doing their business in your hellstrip garden by planting low barrier shrubs or prickly plants. You can also include garden edging, such as a low metal garden fence that will discourage those passing by from stepping in your garden area.
Choose the Right Plants
“When selecting the plants to grow in a hellstrip, they need to obviously be able to face numerous stressors, but they also need to be attractive and colorful to create a warm welcome,” according to Total Landscape Care, a company that works to distribute information on landscaping news, business strategies and equipment. The company notes that vines should be avoided when hellstrip gardening, as they will need constant trimming. “Strive to use inexpensive or easily replaced plants as the city can still end up coming in and needing to do work in that area.”
The Tree Challenge
If you already have a tree in your hellstrip, consider planting flowers or perennials plants around it. Depending on your city’s ordinance, you may also be able to plant a low-growing tree in your hellstrip, as long as it stays below overhead utility lines. Next, check out some of our favorite purple flowers that’ll make your garden pop.
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If you have a shady yard but sunny hellstrip, this may be the place to grow some vegetables. Try tomatoes, peppers or hearty greens such as kale and Swiss chard. Just remember that vegetables often need a more nutrient-rich soil than native plants, so be sure you amend your soil. Washington State University Extension notes you can further ensure the safety of what you’re eating by washing any fruit and vegetables you harvest from your hellstrip. Also, do not consume produce that has come in contact with bird or pet feces.
Plant in Layers
When hellstrip gardening, think layers. Using a mix of plants in various colors and heights will help create depth. Try using low-growing plants along the edge, closest to the street and sidewalk, with taller plants in the middle.
Win the Weed Battle
Just like your vegetable garden or backyard flower beds, hellstrip gardening also requires you to fight off weeds. Try placing your plants close together to encourage them to spread and naturally fight weeds. You can also use mulch or pea gravel around plants to discourage weed growth.