What to Plant Along Sidewalks and Edges of Borders?

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Readers, this post is a nakedly self-serving attempt to get free garden design advice. To wit: what are good plants along high-traffic and high-visibility borders?

Above, to line the border at my co-op’s business office, I first used Liriope spicata, even knowing it would soon march like Sherman across all the other perennials and maybe threaten the shrubs, too. The non-thuggish L. muscari would have been better, but the spicata is what I had plenty of for free.

This year I found better uses for the Liriope and replaced it with two types of Sedum, both plants I have plenty of.

Above is S. sarmentosum, which will fill in, I’m guessing, within a year.

The other Sedum I’m trying is S. takesimense, my favorite groundcover for sun. The photo above was taken in my garden, where it’s completely filled in and keeps out weeds like a champ. It’s a bit taller, at 5-6 inches.

I’ve found that groundcover sedums neither bully neighboring plants nor flop over where they don’t belong.

But are they tough enough to recover from the occasional careless pedestrian? (As a city head of horticulture once told me, if plants CAN be stepped on or driven over, they will be. He uses a lot of boulders.)

And stepping back, do places like this even need groundcovers, or are generous amounts of mulch the answer? Whatever – it has to look good enough all year and be easy to maintain.

A much bigger groundcover question the co-op is asking is what to plant along our sidewalks. The rules (correctly) require that plants be kept off the sidewalks but also (correctly) require that soil in our yards be covered.

My first thought is Liriope, seen above near my house. While it flops over a bit, I’ll come to its defense because it stops run-off and erosion, feels fine against the ankles of passersby (unlike the juniper behind it) and flops over no more than 3-4 inches.

As opposed to the unfortunate hostas and daylilies on the right, which only cover the ground part-year and are too tall for along sidewalks.

Readers, any suggestions? I’m still learning as a landscaper for public spaces, with their special challenges. (As I write this, nothing has been destroyed YET by pedestrians but I’m steeling myself for the worst.)

21 COMMENTS

  1. Some suggestions that have worked for me in public spaces as well as private clients homes; Rubus calcynoides for great walkability. Mt. Vernon Laurel has been excellent, though a bit pricy it’s worth it every time. Underplant with the succulents like ‘Dragon’s Blood’ sedum and it’s a pretty combo that’s also tough. Sedum ‘Angelina’ mixed with ‘Blue Spruce’ and ‘Dragon’s Blood’ is a gorgeous combo too!

      • I’m in 7 – 8 zone and the rubus stays green… beware though as it grows quickly and it takes over everything… it will trail out over a walkway quickly

  2. Geranium x cantabrigense ‘Biokovo’ or ‘St. Ola’ are great edgers. They’re evergreen (foliage reddens attractively in winter), spread but not rampantly (‘St. Ola’ much more rapidly than ‘Biokovo’ in my experience), and have an attractive flowering in mid-late May.

  3. I’ve really enjoyed following this blog since I found it. Hi Kathy Jentz and Susan, Sharon from Hyattsville & DC Tropics relocated to The Very Deep South :). And creating a brand new garden on 1 acre of gravel filled red clay At My Age! Ah well. For shade or partial, I have copied my Mamma and planted a small-leafed, dark colored ajuga reptans (can’t remember if its chocolate chip or burgundy glow?) interplanted with a fine leafed sedge that she insists is a type of mondo grass but I think is more likely a carex like var. appalachica massively along the new beds, she used it originally along the sides of stone steps. Its tough, spreads well, evergreen where you are, and can take a fair amount of sun, just not 6+ hours midday July (which doesn’t kill it, though.) Dogs tramp all through it, its reasonably tough enough. I also love & am using creeping jenny for more direct sun areas, though it is less able to withstand foot traffic. Best of luck!

  4. Try thinking of plants that cover the ground, rather than just “ground covers plants.” There are many soft sub shrubs to consider along the edge of a bed. Consider plants like Abelia ‘Belladonna’ or Abelia ‘Radiance.’ You will get variegated evergreen coverage, with flowers during the summer. Bulbs can be planted beneath the edges of the shrub, which will be welcome spring surprises. Planted the correct distance from your bed edge, they fill in quickly, and full grown the most they may ever need is gentle shaping. Another low grower is spreading yew. There are many to consider. Generous amounts of mulch is not an answer that will delight passersby, and that is your goal.

  5. Sedum which bloom early and stay low and colorful are nice. I have yellow and pink blooming ones. Also great are perennial geraniums in pink and purple.

  6. In addition to the concerns you and your co-op raise about plants along the sidewalk, here’s another consideration: dogs. I made the mistake of planting hostas along the sidewalk which every neighborhood dog, including my own, love to pee on. The leaves turn brown and ugly. There are some grasses that are more resistant to urine than others. Just another thing to think about. Of course if you don’t have dogs around, then you don’t need to worry!

  7. I like moss phlox for sunny areas, and they’re too short to flop onto a sidewalk. Some of the smaller Carex species might work well. I use wild strawberry for a groundcover for our front garden, but it does like to send runners out over the sidewalk and needs to be trimmed back occasionally

  8. I use several varieties of creeping thyme. They don’t need to be irrigated and form a dense mat, but they do need to be weeded even when established.

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