A New Year's Suggestion: Replace Your Parkway!


Since 2014 is upon us, I thought I might offer a suggestion for the New Year that could save you money, improve your property's "curb appeal" and help bend the curve of Southern California's water usage downwards by just a tad, and given our ever vanishing water supply … every tad does count!

It involves taking a look at one of the most obvious but most overlooked pieces of property on every block—that strip of land that lies between the street and the walkway, known as the "Parkway."

The parkway and walkway together make up the sidewalk, which is part of the public right-of-way. But that doesn't mean it's the city's responsibility for it's maintenance. The adjacent property owner is responsible for maintaining all of the parkway except the street trees, which are maintained by the city: responsible (we hope) for their planting, trimming and removal


Parkways are important to individual property owner and the city as a whole for the following reasons:

  • Parkways enhance the visual quality of the city.
  • Parkways improve the curb appeal of your home, potentially increasing its value.
  • Parkways provide soil volume that street trees need to grow into healthy, mature trees that provide shade, consume carbon and provide other environmental and health benefits
  • Parkways help collect storm water and irrigation runoff and return it to the groundwater table.
  • Parkways provide a buffer between pedestrians on the walkway and cars in the street.


Parkways can be designed in a variety of ways, depending on the individual property owner's design objectives and commitment to maintenance.  However, all parkways should require relatively little supplemental water, little mowing and little fertilizing to reduce their carbon footprint.

In particular, conventional grass parkways that require high levels of supplemental water and regular mowing and fertilizing should be avoided.  Southern California property owners are encouraged to covert their conventional grass parkways and front yards into drought-tolerant, sustainable landscapes.


What follows is a guide for parkway redesign, taken from West Hollywood's Parkway Design Guide.

All parkways should be:

  • As wide as possible up to 8' wide, given minimum walkways widths of 4' in residential zones and 5' in commercial zones.
  • At the same elevation as the curb and walkway within 6" of them, for example, soil 2" below edge of curb and walkway elevations and covered with 2" of mulch, so the surface elevations of the walkway or curb and adjacent parkway are the same.
  • At least 75% unpaved and either:
    • slightly sloping a few inches to the center to collect storm and irrigation water if the plant materials in the parkway are not walkable or
    • at the same finished elevation as the walkway if the plant materials in the parkway are walkable.
  • Irrigated in a manner that results in no overspray onto the walkway or street, e.g., buried in-line drip, and consistent with the State Model Landscape Ordinance (9-10-09).
  • At least 50% covered with plant materials, which
    • do not require mowing more frequently than once every few months,
    • are drought tolerant and can survive with irrigation only occasionally from November - March, once a week April - June, and twice a week July – October,
    • do not exceed a height of 2' within 5' of a driveway/curb cut and, excluding trees, 4' elsewhere,
    • do not have thorns or sharp edges adjacent to any walkway or curb, and 5) are located at least 4 feet from any tree trunk.
  • Where unpaved, covered with a permeable natural material, e.g., mulch, stabilized decomposed granite, gravel, or stones, which prevent erosion and dust.

For parkways adjacent to curbside parking, if the parkway planting is not walkable, a means of access from the curb to the walkway should be provided. It may vary with the adjacent use and street characteristics, for example:

  • On heavily trafficked streets (major and minor arterials), an 18" wide paved, walkable strip along the back of the curb that is at the same finished elevation as the curb should be provided.
  • Where there are striped curbside parking spaces, a path across the parkway should be provided every two cars between two marked spaces.
  • Adjacent to single-family homes and low-density multi-family housing (2 to 4 units/5,000 SF lot), stepping stones or a walkway across the parkway should be provided every 50 feet.

Where there is no curbside parking and the parkway is not walkable, a path or stepping-stones shall be provided every 50 feet.

Plants with thorns should not be planted adjacent to any walkway where someone might come in contact with the thorns.

PARKWAY PLANTING GUIDE: to download a PDF of the referenced tables below, photographs of the plants, and examples of parkway plantings, please click: Parkway Planting Guide.


Type 1 – Low-Maintenance, Walkable Plants

If you want a parkway that requires minimal design and maintenance, install walkable plants. Table 1 lists some examples. Most of the grasses listed do not require mow­ing. Sedge, Buffalo and Grama Grass can be mowed a few time a year to maintain a lawn-like appearance.

Type 2 – Low-Growing, Low-Maintenance Plants

If you want a parkway that requires a little more design and the addition of a walkway or stepping stones, but still requires minimal maintenance, plant low-growing grasses and/or groundcover. There are many choices; Table 2 lists some of them. Your parkway might be meadow-like in appearance with a mix of grasses and perennials, including some from Table 1 and some from Table 2.

Type 3 – Complement Your Front Yard

If you want a parkway that is an extension of your sustainable, non-lawn front garden, use low- to medium-height grasses, shrubs and perennials. There are many plant choices with this parkway type.

Table 3 lists some reliable drought-tolerant natives that are taller - but still less than 3 feet tall - that can be mixed in with plants in Table 2.

Note: there are many other plants that are suitable for parkways, which you can find in the on-line resources.


Preparing Your Parkway Soil

The most important thing you can do to ensure your park­way's success is to prepare the soil. Soil preparation saves you money in the long run because it reduces the need to replace plants, lowers water use and reduces fertilizer applications.

  • Remove all existing turf - let it die and dig it out.
  • Remove enough soil to create the swale described on page 2 and then remove 2-3" more.
  • Till the parkway soil to depth of one foot.
  • Amend it with compost.

Watering Your Drought-Tolerant Parkway

Too much water can kill drought-tolerant plants. So, don't over-water, especially in clay soil. The best approach is to water only when the soil is dry at a depth of 3" to 4". Or, turn on your in-line drip irrigation three times a week (45 minutes each time) to establish your parkway (first 3 months); then, once it is established, once a week from October through March and twice a week from April through September.

On-Line Resources

Use these resources to for plant selection, recommended spacing, and detailed descriptions of these plants and others:

Give The Gift That Will Keep On Giving!

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