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  • ljmarkson

Native Plants as Edging Plants

Updated: May 17, 2023

In the spring I’m often outside adding, moving, editing, and potting up plants until it’s so dark outside that I can’t see my hands. I’m also making sure there are basic pathways when the weather heats up, the yard takes on a life of its own, and I become a visiting observer until the weather cools down again in late fall. In my fantasy world I share the naturescaping projects I’m working on every day, but in the real world there's a huge lag between what I do and when I share it from March through May. Below is a little insight into one of the new projects I recently checked off my list.

By the time my yard looks like this in June, I will be enjoying the life in this beautiful ecosystem, and making notes for things I may need to change for the following year.

Not an inch of my .2 acre, semi-urban, rewilded yard is spared from my goal of adding habitat value. Two years ago I planted a 20-foot narrow strip with native plants along my driveway next to a row of mature bushes in my neighbor’s yard. Easy care and attractive native edging options included blue-eyed grass (Syrinchium angustifolium), lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrate), broomsedge bluestem (Andropogon virginicus), river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), and native fleabane (erigeron). The river oats, and blue-eyed grass did particularly well in this narrow space and offered a natural transition to the other side of my driveway.

Blue-eyed grass is an easy care, well behaved, edging plant. You can kind of see the driveway this clump is growing next to. .

I let a pop-up woodland lettuce (Lactuca floridana) grow and it was about 4 feet tall when neighbor’s yard crew mistakenly weed whacked it (they apologized). The stem is hollow so I left it up all year for any insects that might find it useful for nesting.

When the mow and blow crew whacked this lettuce down to a few feet it tried to rally with some strange new growth but didn't make it - I left it anyway since the sturdy stem was hollow.

I decided to let self-seeding native jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) grow along the rest of the driveway last year and even thought the hummingbirds and other pollinators loved it, the border was too thin for jewelweed and the plants flopped onto the driveway as they grew. I love the idea of adding extra habitat on the driveway, but it wasn’t ideal.

I love jewelweed but my experiment to let it grow along my driveway was only appreciated by pollinators like this small, pollen laden bumblebee! This year I'll keep the jewelweed in the areas where it is more contained to please family members who need room to get in and out of cars.

Last week I pulled up hundreds of jewelweed seedlings and added another 80 feet of native plants along the rest of the driveway. My emphasis was on sedges and grasses to profile how great they can be for borders instead of invasive liriope or any of the non-native ornamental grasses or sedges often used as edging plants.

The more rewilded my yard becomes the more I appreciate the landscape and habitat value of native grasses and sedges. Clockwise from top left - bottlebrush grass, river oats, shallow sedge, and broomsedge bluestem

The driveway slopes down and floods a bit at the bottom, so in addition to the river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), broomsedge bluestem (Andropogon virginicus), and blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestrinum) I planted in this section a couple years ago, I added more plants known to be good for rain gardens because they don’t mind occasional flooding. New plants include deertongue (Dichanthelium clandestinum), soft rush (juncus effusus), and an unidentified sedge a friend gave me when I admired it in her yard.

Pollinators love bluemist flower and it mingled well with neighboring sedges and grasses at the edges of my driveway where runoff water is an issue.

I also sprinkled in some low care flowering native plants that appreciate runoff including spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana), Chipola River tickseed (Coreopsis integrifolia), American germander (Teucrium canadense), and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana). I realize these are all assertive natives but the plants in this strip will be going under mature bushes if they to spread much once the border fills in. I think in addition to adding biodiversity to an underused area, the view for my family will be as fantastic as the small edging section I did last year.

Clockwise from top right spiderwort, Chipola river tickseed, obedient plant, and American germander

Other native habitat plants I added to the section where it's drier include wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), native violets (viola sororia), Southern shield fern (Christella normalis), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), and bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix). There’s even a redbud seedling (Cercis canadensis) a friend gave me that my neighbor was okay with me planting in a shrub clearing in the border. Hopefully over time it will meld together the aesthetic of our two yards just a tiny bit.

Clockwise from top left - Southern shield fern, native violets, self-heal, bottlebrush grass, purple coneflower, wild strawberry. (I'm not sure why I didn't do this for the graphic!)

For this project I thinned out and transplanted plants already growing in my yard. The plants I chose are common native plants that can be found at local native plant nurseries, seasonal plant sales, plant rescues, or plant swaps. If you have a friend who landscapes their yard with native plants they may be willing to give you some of these assertive passalong native plants. I often have some of these in my giveaway box next to my little nature center kiosk.

Most months I have a handful of native plants I've potted up from my yard to share with anyone in the neighborhood, including many I just planted along my driveway. Not surprisingly, in my lawncentric neighborhood, their value is not as appreciated as they hopefully will in the future when native plants become more normalized in the landscape.

I am looking forward to seeing how the new planting develops. In the fall I’ll try to share what worked and what didn’t.

These are snapshots of some of the plants i planted along the edge of the driveway. Can't wait to see how they do! (From top left Southern shield fern, wild strawberry, fleabane, native violets, lyre leaf sage, river oats, American germander, purple coneflower and spiderwort in the middle)

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mamanildi
Sep 17, 2023

Very nice, and very helpful, essay, and lovely photos. Thank you!

Marta in Ann Arbor

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