From the Forum – Rules for Planting on the Grassy area between sidewalk and street?


Grassy area between sidewalk and street:

“What am I allowed to plant, or not plant, in the grassy area in front of my house between the sidewalk and street. In the summer it is more like a weed-filled-crab grassy area. I would like remove the grass and plant anything that is low maintenance.”

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18 Comment

  • See the Public Realm Design Manual at this link at DDOT:

    See Tree Box Beautification (3.6.4). Very specific rules about what you can plant without a permit, how close it can be to anything like an alley or tree. Also what the borders can be. You can’t raise the level of the tree box (except with mulch) and you can’t plant vegetables.

    • See pages 44 through 47 of that 81-page PDF.

      • Copy-pasted:
        Ground covers or paving in tree box areas provide seasonal color and serve as a buffer between people and cars. Ground cover plantings provide functional and aesthetic benefits; however, maintenance is extremely important. Plantings, other than trees in the streetscape, may include turf, ground covers, or shrubs. In commercial streetscapes with a large area between the sidewalk and the street or low pedestrian volume, a tree lawn of grass may be most appropriate. This area helps soften the street environment along the street edge.
        Tree box areas must be at least 8 feet wide to accommodate irrigation systems and to provide adequate room for healthy tree root systems. Turf shall be provided where the average width of the tree lawn is 8 feet or more. Tree lawns should be planted with sod or low ground covers (below 6 inches in mature height) in residential areas and in commercial areas where pedestrian traffic does not warrant hardscape. Very narrow tree lawns or those in high traffic areas may be paved with a permeable pattern of brick, flagstone or concrete pavers, and/or colored or scored concrete. All tree lawn areas designated by the District as high commercial areas shall be hardscaped (DEM-47.4.5)
        Tree boxes are unpaved areas between the curb and the paved sidewalk that are intended for planting trees. For the first two to three years after a tree is planted, DDOT prefers using mulch only in the area at the base of the tree. Tree box beautification that conforms to the standards below and is performed by the adjacent property owner or tenant does not require a public space permit (DCMR 24-109.3).
        The beautification of a tree box area shall:
        • Be contained within the tree box area and not extend over the curb or the sidewalk (DEM-47.5.2);
        • Maintain a clear distance of 3 feet from a crosswalk or paved bus stop landing, 6 feet from an entrance to an alley or street corner, and 4 feet from a parking meter or fire hydrant (DCMR 24-109.7 and 24-109.8);
        • Maintain at least 6 feet separation from adjacent beautified areas (DCMR 24-109.7 and 24-109.8);
        • Include plants that have a shallow root system and that grow less than 1 8 inches in height (DCMR 24-109.11 and DEM-47.5.2); and,
        • Be planted a minimum of 2 feet from the root flare (crown) of the street tree in order to protect feeder and anchor roots from damage.

  • I believe you can plant anything as long as you don’t interfere with the tree (if there is one in the box). If there is too much planted, they may skip you on their annual tree plantings.

  • I think this is one of those areas that’s better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. Especially if the area is already run down. Just make sure you take care of whatever you plant.

  • You can pretty much plant what you want – DC regs say the plants should be shallow rooted and 18″ or less (although I see lots of plantings that are taller than that). Casey Trees has a link to the detailed regs (or you can look up tree space beautification dc).
    If you want a tree planted, you can make a request via 311

  • I haven’t had any luck getting anything perennial to grow in my treebox. I think the combination of the salt, the crap from the road, and the people stepping on things after they park their cars has just been too much. Mine side of the road is really shady, too. If anyone has any specific species suggestions to try I’d appreciate it.

    My best year was the year I planted dracaena, but that obviously didn’t hang around, and it’s expensive to do every year. Of course, the perennials that don’t overwinter aren’t any cheaper, but I keep hoping I can get something to establish.

  • Plant what you want; the city certainly isn’t going to help. But you’ll need something sturdy because of the low quality of the soil, high clay content, salt, traffic, etc. We planted at our prior place at 11th and P NW and generally replaced the clay with soil from Home Depot where we wanted to plant.

    One final gripe is that the city routinely sucked up our mulch when they came through to dispose of leaves in the fall. No wonder the soil is in such poor shape. The trees suck up the nutrients from the soil, and the nutrients are sucked up by municipal workers with vacuum mulchers every year. Great system.

  • the best thing to plant is liriope because it can withstand anything, will spread and fill in the tree box, and is attractive. I mix in a few hosta in the middle. If it gets stepped on or beaten down, it will grow back.

    • I was just coming here to recommend liriope (I prefer the variegated version with the “white” stripe running down the middle of the green leaf)! It’s evergreen (although you can/should cut the brown blades in early spring), grows in sun, grows in shade: basically you can’t kill it. Also a great groundcover for a hill to hold dirt. Innocuous little purple flower in the summer. AND the best part is you can just keep dividing older plants to get new ones!

    • Black Mondo Grass is also a pretty variant, and mixed with green or variegated liriope makes for a pretty contrast.

  • Look at – Creeping Jenny/Golden moneywort can not be killed and grows fast.

    • Though you better remove/replace the existing soil first. They won’t take in the existing sandy/clay/salty crud that’s next to our DC roads. Would be hard to get them to really take. Liriope/monkey grass/hostas are probably a better bet.

  • Am I the only one who reads this question as not being about tree boxes, but that grass strip that separates the curb from the main part of the sidewalk on some streets? If so, I don’t think the rules quoted here apply. Have no idea what rules do apply, though. I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to mow the area in front of your house, but we don’t have them on my street.

    • Same thing – they’re sometimes called “hell strips” or “tree lawns” meaning any grassy space between sidewalk and curb. Not all streets have them – I think you’re lucky if you do.

    • As AE said, it’s the same thing. “Tree boxes” or “tree lawns” don’t actually have to have a tree in them.

  • Don’t know what you can plant, but I know this treebox in the picture! Great treebox and the owner takes great pride in it. Well done!

  • I don’t mind as long as it doesn’t interfere with street parking. I have a huge problem with the cast iron fencing some people use to line their plants and flower boxes. Esp the ones with the spikes. A few years ago I was taking something heavy out of my car, tripped on the fencing, and started to go down. The whole time I was trying to regain balance I kept thinking how injred I would be if I fell starting back on one of the spiked, iron flowerbed liners. Please people, don’t use those in the grassy area btw the sidewalk and the street. Some of us need to park on the street and these is obstructive and maybe even dangerous. I am shocked its not illegal.

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