Sidewalk Landscaping Guide: Curbside Easements {Ideas + Tips}

If you live in an urban or suburban neighborhood – which is the case for most San Diego County and Orange County homeowners – you likely have some type of easement that runs along the front of your property near the street. You may not even know that it is an easement, since this is so common that your real estate agent may not have mentioned it when you purchased your home.

There are several types of easements, but for the purpose of this blog post, we are primarily talking about the very front portion of your property where there is probably a sidewalk, and then a small strip of land between the sidewalk and the street.

The sidewalk, which is probably technically on your property, is most likely a right-of-way easement, which allows access to travel across your property. The strip of land that may be between the sidewalk and the curb is often also an easement that may have utility lines above or below the ground to which the city or utility companies may need access.

As for the sidewalk, homeowners are required to keep it free of debris and are not allowed to block access by parking your car across it, placing your garbage cans on it or keeping personal belongings in this space.

However, while you are responsible for that sort of maintenance, if the sidewalk cracks or is in disrepair, these repairs often are the responsibility of the city.

But it is not always that simple.

For example, within the city limits of San Diego, residents in some neighborhoods are responsible for the repair and maintenance of a sidewalk that abuts their property; in other neighborhoods, the sidewalk areas have been essentially deeded to the city, making the city the property owner and responsible for repairs.

If you have to look at a concrete sidewalk every time you pull into your driveway or step outside your home, you may be tempted to replace it with something far more attractive, such as paving stones, but you will need to contact your local government first to determine who owns the property and make sure you have permission to make this sort of change to a possible right-of-way easement on your property.

If you just want to put in a paving stone driveway that will not interfere with the easement or HOA, you should not have a problem.

Sidewalk Landscaping Ideas

Landscaping Tips for Curbside Right-of-Way Easements: What to Consider

Right-of-way easements are usually strips of land that range between three and 10 feet in width that run between the street and residential or commercial properties.

The city, county and utility companies have the right to access this area to maintain, repair, widen or build streets, curbs and sidewalks.

The property owners may or not be responsible for sidewalk maintenance and repairs, but the homeowner is responsible for landscaping and maintenance of the strip of land on their property that lies between the curb or street and the sidewalk. This means a few things:

Firstly, it means that you are responsible for weed abatement, debris removal and maintaining access to this section of land.

It also means that you are responsible for ensuring that the landscaping you choose for this strip of land does not block the view of drivers as they travel down the street in front of your property.

While your homeowners association or neighborhood governing body may have codes that regulate the type of landscaping allowed in your front yard, you are generally able to landscape this area as you see fit – as long as it does not block access, block drivers’ view of the street or cross streets, or create a safety hazard.

You generally cannot fence the area, since this would block access, and you may not want to blow much of your landscaping budget on this strip of land, since your expensive landscaping could be ripped out if a utility company needs to access underground lines at some point in the future.

So with these limitations in mind, you may be wondering how best to landscape the strip of land between the curb and the sidewalk in front of your home.

Plants with Rock Border

Let’s start with seven things to consider before designing your landscaping:

1. Your landscaping could be removed at some point to allow access to underground lines, so do not get too attached to it or spend too much money on it.

2. People parking on the street are likely going to step out of their cars onto the curb, so fragile flowers or ground-cover is probably not a good choice.

3. You are responsible for ongoing maintenance of this area, so choosing low-maintenance landscaping options is likely the best idea.

4. Unless you want to run a drip system or install sprinklers in this area, you may want to consider landscaping options that require little to no water.

5. This area is part of your front yard but is not really protected by your fence or your neighbors’ sense of property ownership rights, so it should visually flow with the rest of your landscaping. But understand that neighborhood kids might pick your flowers or steal your fruit.

6. When it comes to increasing your home’s curb appeal, this area should not be overlooked, particularly since it is the first thing your guests will see as they park their cars in front of your home.

7. Blocking the view of your home from the street is bad for home security, so tall hedges and full trees may not be the best ideas for landscaping along the curb.

Flower Pot

Landscaping Tips for Curbside Right-of-Way Easements

That strip of land between the curb and the sidewalk – which is sometimes called a parking strip or planting strip – may be an awkward area to landscape, but leaving a dirt patch or letting the weeds grow freely is wasting space in your front yard and taking away from your home’s curb appeal.

This is the first area visitors see when arriving at your home or driving by, which makes this small patch of land essential to the overall visual appeal of your property and makes a statement about you to your neighbors and guests.

Cleaning up and landscaping this area shows that you take pride in your home while also showing your neighbors that you take pride in the neighborhood and want to do your part in making it a pleasant place to call home.

Of course, when beautifying this section of your front yard, you do have to keep in mind that car doors, foot traffic and neighborhood pets may impact your parking strip garden, so strong plants or low-maintenance ground-cover should likely be at the top of your list during the design process.

After all, you can pretty much guarantee that neighborhood kids are going to trample your sidewalk landscaping on their way home from the bus stop and that your neighbors’ dogs will use your little garden as a bathroom.

However, this should not stop you from creating an inviting, attractive patch of land that complements your front yard landscaping and welcomes guests to your home.

Here are 15 ways you can improve your home’s curb appeal right at the curb:

1. Plant a fragrance garden.

Walkers and joggers will love passing your home if you plant shrub roses, lavender or other easy-care options near the curb to add color and fragrance to your front yard.

2. Plant a container garden.

If you are concerned that your parking strip landscaping may be ripped up by a utility company, you can always plant a container garden that can be easily moved if someone needs to dig up a gas pipe.

3. Plant native or ornamental grasses.

Fill this street-side garden bed with low-maintenance ornamental grasses or native grasses that will add texture and color without the need for excessive watering and care.

4. Go simple with gravel or mulch.

If you want an incredibly low-maintenance ground-cover option that will provide a simple, clean look, you can always just fill this strip of land with gravel, wood chips, bark or mulch.

These options are easy to maintain and occasionally refresh to keep them looking new.

To make one of these options even lower maintenance, place weed cloth underneath to limit weed growth even more.

5. Plant a cutting garden.

If you love fresh flowers but do not have much room in other areas of your yard for a cutting garden, plant flowers along the curb to ensure you always have flowers ready to cut and bring indoors.

Cut Flowers

6. Install a paving stone border.

If your sidewalk garden is located where people park their cars in the street, install a paving stone border around your planting space will provide people with a place to step out of their cars with out disturbing your flowers or grasses.

7. Choose xeriscaping to save water.

For a low-maintenance, low-water garden near the street, consider xeriscaping with native plants, succulents, salvias or cacti.

8. Plant a vegetable garden.

This option is not going to work for every homeowner, but if you feel comfortable growing vegetables or herbs near the street in front of your home, this is a great way to make this small strip of land a functional part of your front yard.

9. Install artificial grass.

Synthetic turf is the perfect option for planting strips in any neighborhood, particularly in communities where most homes have expansive grass lawns in the front yard with more grass in the area between the sidewalk and curb.

You get to have the look and feel of natural grass without ever having to worry about brown spots from neighborhood dogs visiting frequently or dead spots where people step out of their cars.

Artificial grass is easy to clean if pets use it as a restroom, can stand up to heavy traffic, and does not require mowing, weeding, watering, aerating, edging, fertilizing or any of the other maintenance tasks needed to keep natural grass looking its best.

10. Head to the rock yard.

Another low-maintenance option that requires no water and keeps weeds down is the use of large rocks as a ground-cover.

Rather than using small gravel, opt for rocks that are about the size of your fist to add a different texture to your landscaping and keep your curbside area looking clean and well kept.

You can just use the rocks, or you can add a few strategically placed plants or ornamental grasses to bring color to the space.

11. Make a walkway.

If you would like to plant something pretty along the front of your property but are afraid guests will trample your tulips walking out to their cars, make stepping stones or a paving stone walkway part of your landscape design.

12. Throw in some curves.

Curbs and sidewalks tend to have hard, straight lines of concrete, but you can soften the look by adding curvy lines in your landscaping design for your curbside garden bed.

13. Plant small shrubs or a hedge.

If you do not mind some occasional pruning, planting a short hedge or small shrubs along the sidewalk can increase the privacy of your property without completely blocking the view from the street.

14. Install paving stones.

Hardscape is the way to go if you want an essentially no-maintenance option for the front of your property.

By installing paving stones in the parking strip in front of your home, you can significantly improve the visual appeal of the space, particularly if the pavers match the paving stones used in your driveway or the walkway leading to your door.

15. Install a raised garden bed.

One way to keep people from walking through your curbside garden is to install a raised garden bed made from wood, bricks or rocks.

Be sure that you are not limiting access to the sidewalk and that folks have enough room to open car doors without banging into the sides of your garden beds.

Raised garden beds are a great place to grow ornamental grasses, perennials or a vegetable garden.

Your Turn…

Have you improved your home’s curb appeal with a sidewalk garden?

If so, we would love for you to share your creative landscaping tips in the comments below.

Photo Credits (in order of appearance): morgueFile, kamuelaboy; morgueFile, dee; morgueFile, click; morgueFile, RobbinsSky; morgueFile, EmmiP