Lawns require a lot of care and maintenance, especially on the edges next to the sidewalk. Who hasn’t dealt with dry patches next to the sidewalk? Or had unsightly burn spots where dogs frequently pee on the lawn edge? Or had thatch build up that impedes pop-up sprinklers? Or have weeds constantly popping up along the lawn edge? If you’d love to keep your lawn but are tired of some of these maintenance headaches and are looking for an eco-friendlier option that will conserve water and prevent water pollution, we have the perfect solution for you – buffer strips!
Caption: Unsightly dry patches on a lawn edge (left) and irrigation runoff (right) are common when lawns are placed next to sidewalks or other paved surfaces. Credit: Carrie Jensen
When lawn sprinklers are located next to sidewalks or on steep slopes, water is more likely to run off these surfaces, wasting water and increasing your water bill. Irrigation runoff may carry fertilizers and pesticides from your lawn into storm drains, which flow directly to natural waterways.
Caption: Algae bloom in local drainage in the Reno/Sparks area. Credit: Carrie Jensen
Buffer strips are areas between the lawn and the sidewalk (or any other paved surface) that capture runoff from sprinklers. A buffer area can be as simple as a strip of rock mulch or may contain native and drought-tolerant plants.
Examples of buffer strips that use rock mulch (left) or plants (right) between the lawn and sidewalk. Credit: Carrie Jensen
Buffer strip design parameters are simple. Buffer strips should be 2 to 4 feet wide. They can be filled with many different mulches and plants.
Native and drought-tolerant plants are good choices because they:
Good options include sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), lavender (Lavendula angustifolia), silver mound sage (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’), blanketflower (Gaillardia grandiflora), and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis).
Mature plant heights should not exceed 3 feet to maintain sight lines from driveways and street corners. Mature plant width should not exceed the planting area.
Caption: Examples of planted buffer strips in yards in the Reno/Sparks area. Credit: Carrie Jensen
Once the grass is removed from the buffer strip area, you need to revise your irrigation system. The plants in the buffer strip will require far less water than the remaining lawn, so the irrigation should be broken into two watering zones that reflect the different water needs of the lawn and the buffer strip.
Since each irrigation system is different, it may be best to work with a landscape professional to determine the most efficient retrofit. You can find local Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers to hire on the QWEL website.
Buffer strips are very low maintenance, but there are a few things to consider.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under Award No. 2021-70006-35488. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Integrated Pest Management
Integrated Pest Management program is a long-term management strategy that uses a combination of tactics to reduce pests to tolerable levels with potentially lower costs for the pest manager and minimal effect on the environment.
Jensen, C. and Kratsch, H., 2023, Reducing Lawn with Buffer Strips, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno
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