From parking strip to planting strip

5 things to know before planting between the sidewalk and the street

Have you ever wondered what to do with the strip of earth between the sidewalk and the street?  It's often called the parking strip, but I prefer to call it the planting strip!  This space can easily be turned into a beautiful garden that welcomes you home, creates a diverse habitat for the birds and bees, and may even be a highly productive vegetable garden.

In Portland*, the planting strip is the public right-of-way but is managed by the adjacent property owner.  Because of this, there are a few things to know before digging into your gardening project.

1 - Trees.  All trees in the planting strip need to be permitted by the City.  There are many good reasons for this.  Have you ever seen a sidewalk that has been raised and broken from tree roots, a tree blocking the view of a stop sign, or trees growing into high voltage power lines?  With the right tree for your space, you can avoid these and other common problems.  Obtain a permit through Urban Forestry or join your next Friends of Trees neighborhood planting event.

2 - Shrubs.  Safety is the main consideration.  Consider the full size of the shrub and the location before planting.  It is wise to allow sufficient space from an intersection, avoid blocking views of driveways, and plan for the mature size of the shrub so it doesn't grow into the street or the sidewalk. 

3 - Planter Boxes.  Size and spacing are key.  A permit is not required for planter boxes in the right-of-way, but there are regulations on the size and placement of the boxes.  These guidelines vary depending on the width of the planting strip, summarized below.  Complete City guidelines are outlined here (pdf), starting on page 26.

All boxes (any strip size)

  • 18" high or less
  • when within 25' of intersection, plants and soil must be less than 30" high
  • 5' or more from any utility
  • not within the drip line of any street tree

Strips 4' wide or narrower

  • can span the entire width from curb to sidewalk
  • not longer than 4'
  • 10' between adjacent planter boxes

Strips greater than 4'

  • at least 2' from the curb face
  • at least 1' from the sidewalk
  • not longer than 10'
  • 4' between adjacent planter boxes

4 - Annuals and Perennials.  The more the merrier.  These are a great option because they are easily moved for underground utility work, typically don't get too tall, and offer tons of beauty and habitat for city dwellers.  Be mindful of your plant placement so that the mature plants do not overcrowd the sidewalk or hang into the street.

5 - Veggies.  Is it safe to eat food grown in the planting strip?  This is a great question to consider before sowing your seeds.  Learn about the history of the site, test your soil, and consider the amount of traffic on your street.  If you decide to plant veggies, raised beds filled with organic soil and compost are a great option since most veggies have fairly shallow root systems and won't reach the existing soil.  You might still want to avoid planting root crops and greens in the planting strip since they tend to take up more lead than other veggies.  Remember to wash your veggies before eating! 

Now that you know some guidelines for gardening in the planting strip, it's time for the fun part - planning your garden!  Before you fill your shopping cart, take some time to observe your site: consider the amount of light the garden receives, distance from your water source, and the type of soil.  Remember to select plants that will offer interest in each season and tolerate the growing conditions in your space.

*Gardeners outside of Portland, check with your city about any gardening restrictions in your planting strips.

What will you grow in your planting strip?  What planting strips have caught your eye and why?