Becca replaces grass and vinca with habitat in a palette of pink and purple

Becca had long been concerned about climate change and biodiversity loss, different sides of the same coin. She decided to take action to protect nature, by planting native plants and removing invasive vinca and liriope from in front of her house.

The resulting beautiful garden was a perk.

Becca’s Right-of-Way (ROW) garden

In 2020, Becca set out to replace the grass between the sidewalk and curb in front of her house with native plants suited for full sun, dry conditions, and mediocre soil fertility.

Grass Removal and Planting
To get rid of the grass, Becca covered the ROW with heavy cardboard and newspapers, then cut holes where she would put in plants. Neighbors donated rudbeckia (black-eyed susans) and New England asters, which she planted with a little bit of Leafgro around each. Finally, the entire area was covered with an inexpensive mulch from a big box store.

Thanks to the initial cardboard and mulch combination, weeds have never been an issue.

During the first year, Becca watered the plants every other day for the first two weeks, then heavily watered once a week, and every day when the temperature was over 90 degrees. By the third year, she only watered on 90 degree days and during droughts.

Becca could not be more pleased.  She has rudbeckia in mid-summer and New England asters in the fall.  She leaves the dried plants and leaves overwinter to provide habitat. The growing plants cover the ROW with green in spring.

The photos shows the New England asters in bloom in September 2021 and the rudbeckia coming into bloom, July 2022.

Lessons Learned

1. Use cardboard and mulch to remove grass. It is a super effective method that prevents grass from re-emerging.

2. Water until the plants are established. Thereafter, watering is necessary only in drought.

3. Develop your native plant social network. (Join FONTT!) Get native plant gifts from others and share your overabundance.

Next Steps
Becca is looking for shade plants that will do well under the city-planted Japanese maple at the far end of the ROW. So far, she has planted a border of common blue violets with Appalachian sedge in the middle.

Becca’s front yard garden

After the great success with the ROW transformation, Becca decided to tackle her sun to part-shade front yard. In spring 2023, she replaced invasive vinca and liriope, which had dominated the area for 25 years, with native flowers and shrubs.  Within days, she saw a variety of bee species feasting on nectar in her yard.

The vinca roots were pulled out by hand and knife, and the liriope removed by shovel.

Next, Becca had a heavy layer of mulch put down, all of which came from Takoma Park’s free mulch pile carried in 5 gallon buckets in the trunk of a car.

Becca planted the newly cleared and mulched area with a mix of mostly native flowers and shrubs in a palette of purple, lavender, pink and white. She used both shade plants and sun plants.

Lessons Learned

1. Use City of Takoma Park mulch. Becca found that the City of Takoma Park mulch, collected from the Public Works office for free, was better than buying mulch.

2. If you want Maryland native plants, check the species names before approving plant purchase. Becca relied on a professional gardener to purchase the plants from those that a nursery had placed in a native plant section. Some of these plants were not native or had been so heavily hybridized (including with non-natives) as to lose their species.

This photo shows the shady north side of the front yard after installation.

Next Steps
Becca still has a few spaces to fill in with native plants that will provide winter interest. She may also add a third serviceberry, a small native tree.

Native Plant List

New England asters: Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

Rudbeckia (black-eyed susans): Rudbeckia fulgida
(Note that the common name of R. fulgida is orange coneflower, although people in this area often call it black-eyed susan. Rudbeckia hirta is the true black-eyed susan and Maryland state flower.)

Front Yard
Appalachian sedge: Carex appalachia
Bowman’s root: Gillenia trifoliata
Blue flag iris: Iris versicolor
Blue false indigo: Baptisia australis
Common blue violet: Viola sororia
Larkspur, dwarf: Delphinium tricorne
Larkspur, tall: Delphinium exaltatum
Mountain laurel: Kalmia latifolia
Mountain mint: Pycnanthemum muticum
Hairy beardtongue: Penstemon hirsutus
Serviceberry: Amelanchier arborea
Sweet pepperbush: Clethra alnifolia
Sweetspire: Itea viriginica
Tickseed: Coreopsis tripteris
Yarrow: Achillea millefolium