Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
March, 2012
Regional Report

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This sidewalk median is awash in spring color.

Banish Boring Sidewalk Medians

Let's rethink that narrow strip of typically shabby looking grass between the street and sidewalk. It is a prime water waster in the desert because it is almost impossible to position sprinklers to hit such a narrow target without overspray. We've all seen water rushing down the street from sprinklers spewing off at bad angles. (In my neighborhood, decades of overspray contributed to lots of cracks and ever-increasing road damage that seldom gets repaired because there's no budget for it. So, the cracks get bigger.) Because the grass isn't watered effectively, it seldom thrives or looks even marginally healthy. Where's the curb appeal with that?

Another issue is sun exposure. No turf species in the desert thrives in shade. A median may have been in full sun when the neighborhood was first built. However, when tree canopies spread and cast shade over the median, the grass will never be thick and lush. In such cases, the median seems to be more dirt than grass. When lawn looks bad, the immediate reaction is to fertilize it. And water some more. It doesn't help in this situation, and the excess nitrogen fertilizer is washed away to pollute water supplies.

Medians aren't much fun to play or sit on. Unless you are a dog. Basically, that narrow strip of grass is used by dogs for you know what. Instead of the constant maintenance, water, and fertilizer required for grass, consider turning that useless strip into a quilt of color that provides true "curb appeal" for your home.

Eclectic blends of drought-tolerant wildflowers, perennials, groundcovers, cacti, and succulents can provide year around color, shapes, and textures. Once established, they don't need much water. Refreshing compost mulch each year provides the nutrients they need. The most labor will be in removing the turf beforehand. Bermuda grass has a tenacious root system and it will rear its ugly head to compete with young plants if not eradicated.

Of course, if you live in an HOA development, you need to check out any restrictions. You might be stuck with that grass median. If you live in a friendly neighborhood flanked by plant lovers with interesting landscapes, maybe you can turn it into a group effort. I've been seeing more and more medians turned into gardens of beauty. Owners tell me that their efforts have had the unintended result of helping them meet neighbors, who invariably stop to enjoy the flowers, chat, and ask for planting advice!

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