The Colorado Gardener’s Companion:
An Insider’s Guide to Gardening in the Centennial State

By Jodi Torpey

Excerpt from Chapter Two: Colorado’s Growing Challenges 
Planting in the Hellstrip

Every yard has microclimates or little pockets of climactic conditions where it’s either hotter or cooler than other parts of the yard. One microclimate where plants like it hot is the planting area between the sidewalk and the curb. It’s such a devil of a place to landscape it’s called a hellstrip. Weather extremes, water runoff, car exhaust, and foot and paw traffic make for difficult growing conditions.

The typical street strip features a patch of grass, a tree or two, and pop-up sprinklers that make for inefficient watering. Gardeners can make the most of this microclimate by creating a striking landscape that gives new meaning to the term curb appeal. Replacing the turf in the hellstrip with water-wise plants is a big step toward water conservation.

Before tearing up the turf, gardeners should check to see if they need any municipal approvals. For instance, Denver residents living on designated historic parkways need approval from the Denver Parks and Recreation Department before starting any landscaping projects.

For the hellstrip microclimate, select plants with the same or similar needs for soil, moisture, and light conditions. Choose low-growing, drought-tolerant perennials with different bloom times, colors and textures. Add stepping-stones or a path to reduce wear and tear. Native plants that thrive in a tough-love environment are perfect for the hellstrip like the following:

Native plants for sun to part shade:
Prairie zinnia (Zinnia grandiflora)
Pussytoes (Anetennaria rosea)
Poppy mallow (Callirhoe involucrata)
Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata)
Blue mist penstemon (Penstemon virens)

Plants for a textural theme garden (sun to part shade):
Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum)
Lamb’s ears (Stachys byzantina)
Curlicue sage (Artemisia versicolor ‘Seafoam’)
Blue fescue grass (Festuca glauca ‘Boulder Blue’)
Sea urchin blue fescue (Festuca glauca ‘Sea Urchin’)

Ground covers for full sun:
Creeping phlox (Subulata ‘Blue’)
Creeping basket-of-gold (Alyssum montanum ‘Mountain Gold’)
Pink chintz thyme (Thymus praecox ‘Pink Chintz)
Creeping sedum (Sedum spurium ‘Bronze Carpet’)
Starburst ice plant (Delosperma floribundum ‘Starburst’)
Turkish veronica (Veronica liwanensis)
Blue woolly speedwell (Veronica pectinata)

Ground cover for semi-shade to shade:
Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
Variegated big-leaf periwinkle (Vinca major ‘Variegata’)
Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
Variegated bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria ‘Variegatum’)
White Nancy false nettle (Lamium maculatum ‘White Nancy’)

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