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Creating a Beautiful Driving Experience

roadside beautification, right-of-way plantingThe roadsides in your area are seen by thousands of people each day. The infamous Atlanta, Georgia “Downtown Connector” hosts over a quarter of a million vehicles per day! The open, planted sections of the roadsides are, for some people, the only large landscapes they ever see. They don’t spend weekends hiking in a state park or tend a garden in their back yard. Instead, they watch television or cruise the Internet. There is an inherent need to connect with the countryside, at least in small ways. For some of us, the roadsides are our last remaining link with nature, whether we sense it or not. The rights of way have become our largest public parks. There is a stewardship responsibility involved with this which should not be abandoned to our public servants. All of us need to remain involved in maintaining a look and experience while driving our shared roads that soothes the soul and enriches lives.

Many groups understand this, and also see an economic benefit from roadside enhancement by creating an attractive and well-maintained welcome at their roadside gateways. The primary focus for creating moving moments of beauty for drivers must be maintenance. It should be the first thought of every designer and the decisive, guiding principle for their project.

Red Maples in Fall Color on the Roadsides

Every ornamental landscape requires care. Transportation agencies don’t have the forces to maintain decorative landscapes on the roadsides. Their civil engineers are single-mindedly centered on the pavement and the shoulder, and many think the roadsides should be grassed, and nothing more. A lot of people want more. They want trees and exciting sweeps of shrubs and wildflowers. If your group wishes to enhance the rights of way, you need to take on the responsibility to sustain and support any new plantings, because your designed landscape will not get the level of maintenance it needs from tax-payer dollars. Pruning, mowing, weeding, and picking up litter are part of the total expenses of your project, so it is a good idea to budget for these costs on a long-term basis.

You can find more information about trees in The Advanced Guide to Roadside Design: How to Create Successful Public Landscape Projects, part of The Advanced Guide series.

Your design can make a big difference in long-term maintenance costs. Here are some tips for improving your project.

• Consolidate plant material into massed beds.

• Avoid the use of fussy, demanding shrubs and perennials.

• Choose drought and sun-tolerant plant species.

• Create landscapes with living mulch ground cover rather than one that requires biannual refreshing of pine straw.

• Keep mulched beds away from drainage swales.

• Provide enough width in turf buffers at the edge of the road to give mowing equipment room without the need to move on and off medians into traffic.

• Choose plant material that is disease-resistant and doesn’t require constant pruning.

• Space plants closely together so they have room to mature, but not so far apart that weeds can take hold in the open spaces.

Cultural practices can reduce maintenance costs, too.

• Avoid stump-pruning Crapemyrtles every year. Instead, allow them to grow into a self-sustaining tree form.

• Use pre-emergent herbicides in turf areas in January and August.

• Remove or treat weeds before they have a chance to go to seed.

One of the most attractive and most self-sustaining design configurations for roadsides is a large grove of trees with an under-planted with a seeded mix of native grasses and wildflowers. If your maintenance budget is limited, go with this concept. It’s not sexy, but it can have a dramatic look if you choose your plant material creatively. A large sweep of Serviceberry trees blooming in the spring, if for just that brief moment, may become a commuter’s fondest moment while driving to work. The sun streaming through the crimson leaves of a grove or Red Maples, for just a couple of weeks each fall, can be a glorious thing to see. A stark winter scene can be punched with the color of a grove of ‘Winter King’ Hawthorn trees against a backdrop of evergreen Red Cedar trees. 

Read more about great roadside design in the eBook The Advanced Guide to Roadside Design; How to Create Successful Public Landscape Projects. Coming soon.

Linear Public Parks