Hellstrip gardens, sidewalk gardens, inferno strip gardens, and parking strip gardens are different names for that difficult patch of grass that lies in the no man’s land between the sidewalk and the roadway in front of your home. These spaces are typically barren places that can impact your home’s curb appeal, and they often attract trash and pet waste. But hellstrip gardens can be a valuable addition to your landscape, and when they’re properly maintained, they can be an asset instead of an eyesore!
Sometimes, hellstrip gardens are owned and maintained by the city, so homeowners can’t do much about them. But depending on local ordinances, you may be able to plant trees, flowers, and even vegetables in hellstrip spaces, adding color to your home and elevating the look of your street.
If you’ve ever wanted to give that barren patch of lawn a makeover, this guide can help! Below, we’ll walk you through the most important steps you’ll need to follow to create your own hellstrip garden. We’ll also give you some plant recommendations and present a few design options too, which we hope will inspire you to get planting!
- Why plant a hellstrip garden?
- 10 tips for hellstrip gardening
- 1. Understand local ordinances
- 2. Examine your soil
- 3. Choose the right plants
- 4. Consider foot traffic
- 5. Get ready for pets
- 6. Keep watering in mind
- 7. Tackle weeds
- 8. Plan for the season
- 9. Plant in layers
- 10. Work around existing features
- 5 ideas for hellstrip gardens
- 1. Xeriscape garden
- 2. Native plant garden
- 3. Vegetable garden
- 4. Rain garden
- 5. Raised bed garden
- Frequently asked questions
Why plant a hellstrip garden?
Because hellstrip gardens are so prominent, they can affect your home’s curb appeal. Transforming hellstrip spaces into a luxuriously planted miniature garden is one good way to improve the look of your home and make it more welcoming to visitors as well. But there are other reasons why you may want to grow a hellstrip garden.
Most hellstrip spaces are planted with grass, which can be a hassle to mow, especially during the heat of the summer. Salt from roadways may also impact the health of your grass, leaving you with patchy grass and an unappealing lawn. Growing plants in hellstrip spaces can actually reduce your yard maintenance, and some salt-tolerant plants may grow quite well, even if your soil has a high salt content.
Hellstrip gardens can also expand your active gardening space, allowing you to grow even more plants! If you love growing vegetables, you may be able to grow edible plants in your hellstrip space, or you can keep ornamentals there instead.
Of course, planting flowers is also beneficial to pollinators and wildlife. With pollinator populations on the decline, converting empty hellstrip gardens into a pollinator oasis is a great way to combat habitat fragmentation and provide food and shelter to bees and other pollinators.
10 tips for hellstrip gardening
Growing a hellstrip garden isn’t difficult, but like any garden, it will take a little bit of work. Below you’ll find tips on the right plants to grow in hellstrip gardens as well as suggestions on how to overcome damage from foot traffic and pets and help your garden thrive even in the face of urban stressors.
1. Understand local ordinances
Before you start planting anything, it’s essential that you check with our local ordinances to make sure that you can grow a hellstrip garden in the first place. While the care of hellstrip gardens is usually the responsibility of homeowners, these areas are sometimes considered to be public property, and they may be owned by the city or impacted by HOA rules. So, to avoid issues in the future, double-check that hellstrip gardening is allowed in your location.
Beyond that, there may be specific rules about what plants are allowed in hellstrips and which ones are prohibited. One common rule you may encounter is that hellstrip plants may need to be under a certain height (such as 4’ tall). This is because taller plants may make it difficult for drivers to see, so you’ll definitely want to follow any established rules before picking up a shovel.
2. Examine your soil
After you’ve determined that you can grow a hellstrip garden, the next thing you’ll want to do is to consider the unique aspects of your growing location. Beyond the growing zone and temperature, think about how much sun your hellstrip garden will receive throughout the day. It’s also a good idea to investigate the soil in your area to give you a better idea of what plants you can grow.
If you’d like to give your plants an advantage, you may want to have your soil tested by your local cooperative extension office or test your soil at home with a home testing kit. While this is useful for any garden, it can be particularly beneficial for hellstrip gardens as these areas are often exposed to greater environmental stressors, such as pet urine and road salt.
Many of these issues can be remedied with soil amendments. Compost, in particular, can do a lot to improve soil structure and nutrient content.
Additionally, hellstrip spaces often have compact soil due to heavy foot traffic. While compost can help remedy this, you can also loosen the soil with a garden spade or fork. Just be sure to call 811 before digging to check that there aren’t any buried utility lines in the area.
3. Choose the right plants
Sidewalk gardens can be difficult to grow plants in because these areas are exposed to a lot more stressors than the average garden space. Not only are these gardens vulnerable to salt damage, foot traffic, and pet activity, but they are also often located in full sun, and they can be far away from a water source. So when you’re choosing plants to grow in a sidewalk space, you’ll need to keep these factors in mind.
Often, the best plants for hellstrip gardens are inexpensive, native perennials, as these plants tend to be low maintenance and they are already adapted to your growing zone. If those plants are also drought and salt tolerant, that’s even better! Small, inexpensive annuals are also good choices for hellstrip spaces, although they may need to be watered more often.
To keep maintenance low, look for plants that can get by with rainfall alone and choose plants that have a compact growth habit. Since one of the biggest challenges of hellstrip gardening is how narrow these spaces can be, you will want to stay away from plants that spread vigorously. It’s also a good idea to look for heat-tolerant plants as the pavement around hellstrips can reflect light back at the plants and cause soil to dry out more quickly.
Vining plants, in particular, should be avoided in hellstrip gardens as they often need frequent pruning. It’s also best to choose plants without prickly stems or thorns, which can catch on the pant legs of pedestrians when they’re stepping in and out of their cars. To avoid blocking out lines of sight, plants should also be under 3’ tall, while trees may need to have their limbs pruned up to 7’ in height.
Depending on the aesthetic you’re going for, you can opt for colorful, flowering plants or ornamental grasses and groundcovers. Evergreen shrubs can also be a good choice because they will provide year-round color even after flowers fade.
Most importantly, choose plants based on the light, water availability, and soil of your hellstrip garden, and avoid growing plants that have very different growing needs. Some of the best and most resilient plants to grow in hellstrip gardens include:
- Ornamental grasses
- Sea holly
- Creeping thyme
- Cranesbill geranium
- Butterfly weed
- Sundial lupine
- Wild strawberry
- Black-eyed Susan
4. Consider foot traffic
Because of their proximity to sidewalks and roadways, hellstrip gardens are likely to be walked on from time to time, which can result in plant damage. While this is unavoidable, there are a few steps you can take to mitigate the harm to your plants.
First, choose plants that are relatively inexpensive so that, if any damage does occur, it won’t hurt your pocketbook! Beyond that, sow plants thickly together, which can discourage pedestrians from trampling in your garden. If you have a larger hellstrip space, consider installing a mini gravel walkway or area of mulch in one section of your garden to give pedestrians a safe place to walk, which will encourage them to avoid your plants.
5. Get ready for pets
Beyond foot traffic, pet visits are also inevitable in hellstrip gardens, but there are certain ways to handle this too.
Some plants are naturally more resistant to pet urine than others. These plants include:
- Mexican sage
- Creeping thyme
- Bear’s breeches
- Japanese holly
- Japanese snowball bush
Water can also dilute dog urine and reduce its impact on plants. So, if your hose can reach your hellstrip space, you may want to water your plants by hand, especially if you know dogs have been visiting your garden space often. You can also install a small, ornamental fence around your garden bed to discourage foot traffic and pets, but make sure it doesn’t disrupt movement along the sidewalk.
6. Keep watering in mind
Since they are often located far away from water sources, watering hellstrip gardens can be a bit tricky. One way to work around this is to only grow drought-tolerant species that won’t need to be watered as often. Plants like sedum, yarrow, and coneflowers can often grow well with rain water and may not need any supplemental watering.
You can also install a thick, 1 to 3” layer of mulch around your plants, which will lock in soil moisture levels and reduce how often you’ll need to bring out your watering can. Wood chips and bark mulch are the best choices for hellstrip gardens as the weight of these materials makes it less likely that they’ll be disturbed by foot traffic or wind.
7. Tackle weeds
Like any garden, hellstrip spaces can be vulnerable to weeds. But if you don’t want to weed these spaces by hand, you can add mulch to your garden to prevent weeds from sprouting in the first place.
Another way to prevent weeds is to sow plants thickly together, which will block the light from reaching weed seeds in the soil. Low-growing groundcovers, like sweet woodruff and creeping thyme, are also ideal for suppressing weeds, and they will also reward you with darling flowers when they bloom!
8. Plan for the season
If you’re growing a hellstrip garden for curb appeal, you’ll want to consider the entire growing season when choosing what plants you’d like to keep. After all, spring-blooming flowers, like tulips, will put on a spectacular show early in the season, but they will fade by summer and leave you with an empty garden!
To keep the color going in your hellstrip garden all year round, grow plants that bloom in spring, summer, and fall. If you group these plants around evergreen shrubs or winter interest specimen plants, like ninebark, you can add color to the winter landscape as well.
9. Plant in layers
While adding any plant will help to beautify a hellstrip space, if you want to create a more cohesive garden look, try planting in layers. Add a single, larger foundation plant or tree in the center of your hellstrip garden, and then place smaller perennials around it for a more complex design. Low-growing annuals and groundcovers, like sedum, can be grown in front of taller perennials to add even more color and texture.
Growing plants in groups of at least 3 plants can help flowers stand out better in the landscape and make your garden look even more intentional. Although sowing clusters of plants may not be possible if you have a very small garden space, the more plants you can fit in your garden, the more it will draw the eye.
Plants with cooler colors, like pale pink and purple, also tend to make garden spaces feel bigger, while loud colors, like red, can make them feel more compact. You may also want to try out flowers with different textures and shapes to create a more intricate planting arrangement.
10. Work around existing features
If your hellstrip garden already has a tree growing in it, you can often slip smaller, shade-loving perennials and annuals around the base of the tree to spice up your garden. Just be careful with the tree’s roots, and don’t dig so deeply that you’ll damage them. If the roots are very close to the soil surface, you may want to grow plants with shallow root systems to avoid having to dig very much.
Hellstrip spaces may also include utility boxes, utility poles, and fire hydrants. While it can be tempting to cover these items up with tall plants, this may violate city ordinances. To avoid this, contact the business that’s responsible for the item (such as your local fire department) and check to make sure there aren’t any restrictions about planting around it.
5 ideas for hellstrip gardens
Depending on where you live, you can get quite creative with hellstrip garden designs and include an assortment of plants that can coordinate with your home’s color and the rest of your landscape. But if you’re looking for ideas on how to plant a hellstrip garden, these 5 garden designs are particularly popular, especially in urban environments.
1. Xeriscape garden
Xeriscaping is a landscape or garden design process that seeks to reduce the amount of supplemental water you’ll need to provide to your plants. You can create a xeriscape hellstrip garden by including drought-tolerant plants, like sedum and other succulents, in your planting arrangement. Seek out plant specimens with low to no additional watering needs to keep your garden maintenance to a minimum.
Beyond plant selection, you can also improve the drought tolerance of gardens by enhancing the soil structure with added compost. Topping off the soil with a thick layer of mulch can also slow down soil evaporation rates and limit how much extra water gardens will need.
2. Native plant garden
Native plants offer the most benefits to pollinators, so if you’re growing a hellstrip garden for bees and other wildlife, you’ll want to include at least a few native flowering plants. What plants are native to your location will depend on where you live, but plants like bee balm, coneflowers, black-eyed Susan, and milkweed are common choices.
If you want to expand your hellstrip garden beyond native plants, you can also sow pollinator-friendly annuals like flowering dill, zinnias, and sunflowers. These plants are irresistible to a wide range of beneficial insects and can help combat habitat fragmentation in cities.
3. Vegetable garden
Hellstrip gardens can also be a good location for a small vegetable patch. Just be sure to wash your produce well when you bring it indoors. Also, if pets do their business in your garden, it’s not wise or safe to grow edible plants there.
4. Rain garden
When it rains a lot, runoff can be an issue, particularly in urban environments that are heavily paved and don’t have a lot of exposed soil to absorb rainwater. Growing a rain garden with water-loving plants can help you redirect excess water where you want it, and it can also make soggy hellstrip spaces much more useful!
5. Raised bed garden
If your hellstrip space is large enough and you’ve gotten the okay to build from your city, you may also be able to install raised beds in your hellstrip space. The beauty of using raised beds in this environment is that they will help to delineate your space and make the area look even more aesthetically pleasing. Plus, raised beds can protect your plants from foot traffic and pet activity too!
Frequently asked questions
Sidewalk gardens are also called hellstrips because they are difficult to grow in. These areas are subjected to a lot of stress, including increased foot traffic, pet activity, minimal access to water, and reflected heat from the sidewalk. While these factors can make these gardens a bit of a challenge to grow, if you choose the right plants, you can significantly cut down on the amount of care your garden will need.
Before you start planting your hellstrip space, you’ll need to remove any existing weeds and assess the quality of your soil. Hellstrip spaces are often quite compacted due to foot traffic, but you can improve the soil structure with a garden spade or gardening fork. After that, consider mixing some compost into the soil to improve drainage and boost the nutrient levels in the area as well.
While landscape fabric is often spread across flower beds, it can cause issues when it begins to degrade. Often, landscape fabric is made from plastic, which can break down over time and leave strings of plastic in your soil that are a real mess to deal with. If you’re starting a new hellstrip garden in a weedy spot, try suppressing weeds with cardboard instead of landscape fabric, as the cardboard will naturally break down into the soil over time.
Layering cardboard or moistened newspaper across new beds can keep weeds from sprouting, especially if you top it off with a thick, 1 to 3” layer of mulch. Wood and bark mulches are ideal for ornamental beds since they are weighty enough that they are rarely dislodged by heavy winds. You can also keep weeds from sprouting by practicing no-till methods whenever possible and by planting your garden thickly so that there’s no room for weeds to creep in.
The best border plants for your garden will depend on where you live, how much sun and water your garden receives, and other factors. Low-growing plants are the best choices for borders, and if they have interesting textures or colors, that’s even better. Some of the top border plant picks for hellstrip gardens include creeping thyme, ornamental grasses, and coral bells.
Garden layering often begins with choosing a foundation plant or two that will form the structure of your garden arrangement. Large perennial plants or shrubs make ideal foundation plants, which can then be surrounded by low-growing perennials and annuals. At the border of your garden, choose very low-lying plants and flowers to create a multi-layered garden design that draws the eye in.
Hellstrips have been long neglected in urban and suburban environments, and they are often barren places that are only covered with grass or a few shaggy-looking plants. But if you want to make your home look more inviting and improve your curb appeal too, you may want to grow a hellstrip garden and take your plant growing to the next level!
Hellstrip gardens range in size from small planting squares that can support just a few annuals to larger beds that can hold trees, shrubs, and taller perennials. But while these spaces can pose certain challenges for gardeners, they can expand your growing space and inspire you to get creative. Plus, if you slip a few native plants into your hellstrip garden, you’ll help pollinators too!
We hope you enjoyed this introduction to hellstrip gardening! But if you’d like more ideas for your sidewalk garden, check out this guide on the top trees and shrubs to grow in small spaces.