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The little strip of planting space between the curb and the sidewalk goes by many names – parking median, parking strip, and even h-e-double-hockey-sticks strip. These bits of land may provide nearby homeowners with extra gardening space for trees, flowers and food. In some locations, cities even sponsor tree plantings, which not only bestow curb appeal but also provide wildlife a habitat. They can also reduce urban heat buildup. Unfortunately, if inappropriate trees are installed, numerous problems may arise as the trees grow. Happily, with a bit of consideration before planting, it’s easy to create a safe, gorgeous, healthy tree planting in just about any median.
Before you decide to begin planting in your parking strip, take the time to review any local regulations. Some communities disallow median plantings. Many others have strict rules about what kind of tree can be planted in parking strips. Depending on the size of your median and location of utilities, like power poles and fire hydrants, you may face other restrictions. And, in many cities, a planting permit is required before you remove or install any median trees. Quite often, the strip is actually owned by the city, but the maintenance of it is the responsibility of the adjacent homeowner. Do your research before you get started, and always be sure to contact utility marking agencies before you dig in.
When it comes to selecting the right tree for you parking median, begin by checking to see if your city or county offers a list of recommended, approved and prohibited trees. These lists will help you avoid choosing a tree that will be rejected during the permitting process or picking one that will need to be removed soon after planting for safety reasons. If recommendation directories aren’t offered, try contacting a local arborist, garden designer or gardening coach to suggest something appropriate. Or, consider these tips for making a good choice on your own:
• How wide is my parking strip? In many locations, planting trees in very narrow strips will create big problems fast. Roots can heave, break and buckle sidewalks as they grow. If maintaining the parking strip is your responsibility and someone is injured because of damage caused by your tree, you may be liable. Plus, large, fast-growing trees like Poplars and Big Leaf Maples will suffer in those tight spots.
• Do I have utilities to consider? If power lines run overhead, be sure to select a tree that will not grow into those lines. Smaller trees like some Japanese Maples and Crabapples can be best choices for low growing canopies. If water, sewer or power lines run underground, remember that roots can wreak havoc here, too. Never select an extra-thirsty tree like willows for these areas.
• To fruit or not to fruit? While parking medians may be a great place to grow some food crops like smaller seasonal veggies, fruiting trees can become a messy, dangerous nuisance. When the fruit falls, it may damage cars parked on the nearby curb or create slipping hazards for passers-by. Plus, fruit attracts birds, which will deposit their fruit-filled poopy messes on parked cars and sidewalks.
• Evergreen or deciduous? While a shady tree helps cool asphalt streets in summer, you may want to maximize sunlight in winter. Choose a tree that offers the best foliage to fit your needs.
• What’s your exposure? Depending on the surrounding landscaping, many parking strip trees are exposed to heavy doses of reflected heat and sunlight bouncing and baking off the nearby street and sidewalk. In many climates, Acer Griseum is a great choice for hot locations in smaller spaces.
• What about water? As with any new planting, trees require consistent watering for at least the first few years. If you live in a location with seasonal droughts, consider holding off on planting until your rainy season returns. Installing at this time will give you a watering insurance policy to get your trees going right away. When the rains begin to diminish, be sure to provide supplemental water by hand watering, automatic irrigating or pick up a tree watering bag or ring at your local nursery. If you choose to use a sprinkler system, avoid spraying water directly on the trunk of the tree. This can damage the tree and lead to rapid decline. With a tree ring or bag, fill the bag as frequently as the manufacturer recommends, and it will provide slow sips over time.
• Will I need to prune? As with trees anywhere in the garden, expect to do some regular pruning to keep your street trees looking good and staying safe for cars and pedestrians. Limbing them up (aka removing lower branches) over time will keep sidewalks clear, canopies overhead, and ensure parked cars don’t get scratched.
• What can I plant underneath my tree? Ideally, select plants that thrive in the same environment as the tree you are installing. Choose plants that grow low enough to guarantee drivers a clear view of traffic. Be prepared to change up your plantings in a few years. If you’re installing a tree into a blazing sun location, the accompanying sun-loving plants may be inappropriate a few years later when the tree matures and shades the garden below it. If you decide that lawn is the right plant for your strip, be sure not to plant it up to the base of the tree trunk. Leave a wide area below the tree cleared to ensure mowers and line trimmers don’t damage it.