Best landscaping for a long container to separate street from driveway?

by Janice R.
(Farmington, N. M.)

We are building a planting strip next to a street to separate street from a private circular driveway. Inside dimensions of the strip is 25 feet long, 4 feet wide and 21 inches deep. The strip is built of railroad ties 3 high, hence the 21 inch depth. So the strip is actually a raised container of sorts, just very long and skinny. When finished top soil will be delivered. Drip irrigation pipe is already in place. I am wanting the top soil heaped up a bit at the East end to make a small hill or rise, and then slope gently down to a level with the top railroad ties at the West end. Grass is out as it would be difficult to mow on top of this container. And we live in a western desert climate anyway so waterwise plants are a must. I am wanting evergreen plantings for year around good looks, wintertime interest, and a wee bit of additional screening. The strip is in full, hot sun and located on a broad hilltop, thus very breezy conditions, especially in winter and spring. I am an older lady with some developing arthritis issues so I do not want to frequently climb up and down the container sides. Plus working on an elevated surface invites injuries in case of a backward fall. So I need plants that don’t require lots of fussing. I am looking at the juniper family for spreading, lower growing plants, possibly Tam junipers as I already have 2 of those at the front of the house. Those 2 are at least 25 years old, look good, and hold up well to wind and snow. But junipers is as far as I have gotten and that is just for the lower West end. Not sure what else to plant, either on the slope or on top of the small rise. And perhaps nothing on the slope or rise at all. I have thought of putting down artificial turf and letting the junipers spread out over it at the West end. Artificial turf would be green with no mowing or water required. Or possibly spread out some of what we call Red Dog Shale. It is very coarse, red rock that comes in various sizes, including big boulder sized specimens. It is a very rugged, rough rock, not smooth like river rock and river boulders. No rock would be inclined to stay on the slope, however, so covering the slope is a problem. Possibly a juniper with one or two big boulder-type rocks of Red Dog Shale at the West end might look nice, but what to do with the slope and the top of the rise? Perhaps I need to jettison the idea of a small hill and stay with a flat surface? My altitude is 5300 feet, rainfall between 9 and 10 inches per year, and growing season is 139 days. Typical soil is sandy, alkaline, and thin but the strip will have better soil. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map puts my area at 6b, which is a winter low of minus 5. But we very frequently get low temps of minus 10, which is 6a, not 6b. Hope I have given you enough info to work with.

Janice R.

Dear Janice,

Your arid growing conditions in Arizona are at the opposite end of the spectrum from the temperate growing conditions I work with on the East Coast. I am happy to give you some more plant choices, so you can have variety and interest in this planting area. You will need to find exact varieties of these plants that translate to your area.
Sedum is a succlent perennial. Some are evergreen and they come in a wide range of growth habits from groundcovers to 18-24" uprights. Many varieties of groundcovers are used on green roofs and are extremely heat and drought resistant.These could be a good choice for the slopes.
Junipers also come in many growth habits and look great when grouped together. Don't overlook other varieties to mix with the one you are familiar with. Some have bright gold or variegated foliage that can add some different colors to your planting.
Ask your local nursery about Cypress or Arborvitae varieties that do well in your area. These are also evergreen conifers that do great here in hot and dry areas.
To add some flower color, fill in small pockets in front of the larger evergreens with tough flowering perennials like black-eye susan and daylily. I grow these plants on my river bank with no pampering at all, so choose similar type plants that are good growers for your area.
Thanks for submitting your question. I hope it helps.


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