Monday, August 1, 2011

Designing a Curb Strip Planting in Lieu of Lawn

When my husband and I first moved into our house in 2007, it took him an hour-and-a-half to mow the lawn. This is fairly typical for many country lawns, but it seemed rather ridiculous for a town lot. It was mostly due to all of the steep hills around our yard, which made it impossible for me to mow it at all. Bit by bit we have killed off the turf on the hills and planted with them ground covers instead.

Besides getting rid of the lawn to shorten its maintenance time, another goal has been to give our property the feeling that it extends all the way to the street. It does go to the street. But lawn does not make a passerby feel connected to the rest of the garden. A turfed curb feels like a public, rather unwelcoming area. (The democratic lawn is not my design goal.)
The hill by the backyard fence in April of this year.
By removing the lawn and replacing it with low-maintenance ground covers on both sides, suddenly you get the feeling that you are entering someones garden, though you are just passing by on the sidewalk. 

Choosing a curb strip plant
The most important thing is your choice of curb strip plant. It needs to be tough, able to take some foot traffic, spread quickly, like your sun/shade requirements and coordinate with your garden in some way (by repeated use of the exact same plant or at least the same color).
Curb with lawn still intact.
Some choices I tossed around for this area were hardy ivy, Pachysandra and Sedum 'Acre'. In the end the Sedum won. It is just hard to beat in my situation. It grows like crazy, covers the ground quickly in the spring, flowers yellow in June, is already a part of other garden plantings, and has such a nice wavy form when filling out a large area. It is the main ground cover in another part of our curb plantings, the Front Woodland.
Sedum 'Acre'
Killing the lawn
The best/most natural way to do it is with a lasagna layering of leaf litter, cardboard, mulch, the kitchen sink (ok, not that) - whatever you have that will rot down and smother the grass.

Other ways are stripping the sod by machine or hand (with a shovel). Or using Roundup to kill the grass, as a last resort.

In this situation, the curb a very narrow area and is slanted down hill. Since I was concerned about water washing away organic material, I opted for using the last two methods in combination. First, I made shovel holes in the sod and flipped it over on the grass next to it. This resulted in a polka-dotted lawn effect. 
Polka-dotted grass.
Then I used Round-up on the remaining visible grass. To make it most effective, be sure to spray it on a hot day (at least 70 degrees) and when it is not going to rain for a couple of days. That should do it.

Once the turf is dead, start your planting. The sooner you can out-compete with the weeds, the better. Sedum 'Acre' is amazingly easy to plant. Grab a handful from somewhere else in the garden and slap some dirt on top of it. I used the planting "holes" in the turf to make sure that the Sedum in this area would not just wash down the hill onto the street. Then I scattered a cosmetic amount of mulch around just to make it look a little better for this season. In an area with less slope, it would be a great idea to mulch deeply to help the plant starts.

Curb planting in May 2011 after planting.
Establishing a Curb Planting
Much like any other part of the garden. Be sure that it has water when needed, and that it is not out competed by weeds that you do not want.

This first year is crucial for making sure that this planting gets a good start. The Sedum 'Acre' only needs a sprinkle of water for each clump (less than most plants) and only when it has been hot for a couple of days without rain. I have done two thorough weedings at this point, and expect that I will do one or two more this year.

The curb planting is already making this part of our sidewalk feel more like an experience. We have added it to our evening garden walk!

You might like to read about our curb planting in the Front Woodland.


  1. Anyone who kills lawn is a friend of mine. I've longed to do what you've done--gorgeous. But I know I may be moving in a year. I guess my 1,500 feet in the back will have to do (please don't sod it over!).

  2. Pretty! I bet passersby slow down a bit and feel a tingle of excitement when they walk by your planting.

  3. I think sedum is one of the best ground covers. I have it in several areas of my garden. In many areas, it behaves as the mulch for the plantings. Your curb strip looks beautiful. You made the right choice!

  4. Great post! I love the way this part of your garden looks now.

  5. Wonderful idea! And I love your choices of plants!

  6. I wish more people would ditch the lawn for a more sustainable option!


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