If a plant could nudge behavior...
April 6, 2016 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I live on a corner. I need to plant something to border the corner that says, "please respect that this is my yard, not public property." I would like it to be reasonably attractive and low maintenance.

Before I moved in, the corner had been seen as public property by the neighborhood, and is still seen as such. I don't want to put up a sign reminding people to pick up after their dogs or not congregate and throw trash. I want to gently cue them to either move on or pick up.

Context: lots of sun, poor quality, dry soil. Zone 6b.

- The solution needs to be pretty self-sufficient; I'm not going out there to go water daily.
- I'd like something that had presence year-round (not hostas)
- I'd also like to avoid anything poisonous (to either dogs or people).
- I don't want anything too tall (as it will interfere with safety of cars at the corner) or a fence.

Thank you for any suggestions.
posted by papergirl to Home & Garden (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Succulents? You can put a bunch of them in a small area and they're very low-maintenance.
posted by xingcat at 11:13 AM on April 6, 2016

If there's a sidewalk, you could put a border of something (eg decorative grasses) all along the edge of it, basically to draw the visual "property line" and connect that area to your house.
posted by aimedwander at 11:15 AM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Perhaps Creeping Juniper (Junipers horizontals) ground cover at the border? It is extremely tolerant of neglect, an evergreen, thrives on full sun and poor soil, non-poisonous, and only gets about 12 inches tall. New growth is kind of spiky, so it discourages foot traffic (although it does poorly if people actually insist on walking on it).
posted by RichardP at 11:18 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

RichardP beat me to it, but I was going to suggest a juniper groundcover with a hardscaped element that makes it look more or less intentionally placed and not like a weed to trample over.
posted by xyzzy at 11:23 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

What about a two-stage approach, first with a (cheap) fence, to get people to learn that the property is private, and thus not to be tread upon (even by neighborhood dogs), followed by the Creeping Juniper, Succulents, or other things. The fence would get people into the habit, and then hopefully the new yard would remind people that it is private property without the fence.

My first thought (before seeing "no fence" above) was a rock wall. Low, strong reminder that it is private property, and pleasant to look at. Behind it, you could do what you please.
posted by China Grover at 11:26 AM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Some sort of euonymus, perhaps? I think you definitely want some sort of smallish shrub that has "presence" year round. For low maintenance, what do you see your municipality/township plant in hell strips or borders? Those are typically hardy, low - maintenance plants.
posted by stowaway at 11:31 AM on April 6, 2016

What about one of those low decorative garden borders that look like tiny tiny fences that you just stick into the ground like this. They should be small enough that it wouldn't block the view.
posted by ilovewinter at 11:32 AM on April 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

I tried using very spiky agaves to this end, once. A dog somehow managed to poop directly in the middle of one. Keep in mind that animals don't care: they'll stomp all over the small succulents you put down, so it has to be something that they'll understand as a wall.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:47 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Waist height open fencing like split rail fencing with some grasses behind it? Often I see people just do the corner without running it anywhere else on the property. It just defines the corner boundary.
posted by cecic at 11:49 AM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Like others I'd go the cheap fence with plants option.

Surrounded by a low wire tiny garden fence. That's an amazon link you can get them way cheaper at somewhere like Walmart, which I'd suggest you do as depending on the neighbourhood they can get stolen. It is low and easy to see through so won't put cars in danger.

Also I'd suggest rose bushes, depending on your zone. Get the oldfashioned tough as nails briar type that grow into hedges. They need no special treatment, just roughly prune them back when they get too high, you may need to water a bit at first as they get established, but any plant will need that. Thorns will keep dogs & kids out & deter thieves and they will look pretty.
posted by wwax at 11:54 AM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

A traditional solution would be something like a dwarf crimson barberry. Doesn't keep its leaves all year long but does keep its thorns, and they're beautiful plants. Thorns are long and scratchy enough to deter animals, but won't hurt a human much unless they run full tilt into the bush (do keep it trimmed off the sidewalk though.) Might have to water them every once in a while but certainly not every day.
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:55 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Anything with thorns.
posted by scratch at 11:56 AM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have a pedestrian alley (with a bus stop!) that separates us from one neighbor, making us essentially a corner property. We have a hedge along the alley, but sadly there's about 3 feet between the end of the hedge and our house (there are tall (3-4 feet tall) grasses there instead of bushy 5' tall plants. We get occaisional people who will cut acrosss our front yard through this point.

We're eventually going to replace the hedge with a different set of plants and when we do it will go all the way to our house. Possibly even having some thorned plant closest to the house to get the people who somehow might not notice a change in grass to hedge. If four foot tall grass won't stop people, something low to the ground on a corner lot won't stop people. You need a physical barrier to make it more work for them to not use your property than to walk the extra 15-20 steps.

Lots of dog people don't care if their dog tramples/fertilizes someone's garden, but dogs tend to not try to walk through hedges. And people will try and prevent the dogs that will so the leashes don't get tangled. In short, again, you need a hedge or fence.

There's still tonnes of trash which needs to be cleaned up along the hedge, but that's been about an order of magnitude since we got the transportation company to put a garbage can at the bus stop. I don't think there's really anything you can do.

TLDR: fence or dense hedge; anything else won't work. You need a bouncer; not requests of respect and nudges.
posted by nobeagle at 12:02 PM on April 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

A hedge of holly. It's pretty, and low maintenance (you can trim it once a year) and it creates a dense, thick lush hedge. It also hurts if you try to walk through it, which is important ;) It requires pretty much zero maintenance; our soil is junky and it's full sun all day and the holly thrives and looks great. It's an evergreen so looks good all year round. Every few years we add something called Holly Tone to it - a small bag of feed/fertilizer you can get at any home improvement store or nursery. Like, every 5 years. So...it's green, it's pointy, it's pretty, it's low maintenance and has a nice scruffy wild look unless you razor it straight across the top once a year.

We too live on a corner and we built a low rock wall with a ledge. And where the wall ends we have a nice bank of holly hedging. It's really beautiful and keeps everyone from taking a shortcut through our yard.
posted by the webmistress at 12:20 PM on April 6, 2016 [10 favorites]

In my experience, the plant would have to be either quite large or quite thorny to inhibit people at all.

Berberis is functionally a good suggestion but it is a horrible plant in many ways - the dwarf red suggestion is good because it tends to be mostly sterile and thus won't contribute to all the berberis taking over everywhere. That said I've walked through dwarf berberis and it doesn't hurt enough to stop a dog or a person wearing pants or boots. Another plant in the berberis family is Mahonia - there are cold-hardy versions and they're horrible things to bump into while gardening; I'm in the NYC area and while ours have mostly made it through the last few winters, they're not totally reliable. That said, they have nice flowers in the middle of the winter which is kind of cool.

Hollies are another option. They come in versions with different color berries. You'll have to get a male plant to fertilize any female plants you get.

Grasses would need to be well established before people will not trample them
posted by sciencegeek at 12:23 PM on April 6, 2016

Former renter of a corner lot here:

Over the course of several years, we tried plants of all ilk, even a fucking cactus, a sign, verbally asking folks not to chill on our lawn, eventually escallating to calling the police on a few constant offenders, etc etc etc.

Eventually we got the landlords to install a low slung cattle fence (one about half that height), which worked really well at keeping people out, and wasn't obtrusive.

Really, especially if its kind of ingrained in the neighborhood DNA, you're looking at fence or frustration, yo.
posted by furnace.heart at 12:46 PM on April 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

Prickly pear cactus
posted by txmon at 2:55 PM on April 6, 2016

Blackberries. Thorny and hardy blackberries. No human walking a dog wants to run into blackberries. Trust me.
posted by corb at 4:11 PM on April 6, 2016

posted by rudd135 at 5:01 PM on April 6, 2016

Are you open to making/paying for someone to build a permanent raised flowerbed? One of those low brick or stone ones. That's what I see the corner houses using in my neighbourhood.

People can trample even the most prickly plants without realizing until it's too late (or on purpose), but not many people would accidentally or deliberately walk on a raised flowerbed with pretty much any plants in it (this kind of thing, if I'm not explaining it very well).
posted by randomnity at 5:40 PM on April 6, 2016

Anything with thorns.

This. I had a similar corner situation, and solved it with a mix of barberry, holly, and some other random thorny plants I bought at the nursery, along with an exceedingly thorny and fast growing rose bush. It took about a year for them to grow in but once they did it turned the corner into a no-go place for people and pets. There are probably more friendly options, but I liked the colors of the plants and they certainly worked once they were large enough.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:45 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the responses so far. A couple clarifications:
- I'm hoping to not spend much money, so building a wall is out.
- I was hoping, but this might be foolish, to gently nudge behavior. Sounds like I'm being naive.
- I can't do a fence or anything (such as holly or barberry) with poisonous berries, for long-winded, irrelevant reasons.
- Thorns might be ok though--you are making me think about how hostile I'm comfortable being to be effective.
- Height-wise, I'm thinking at least a foot, but no more than two feet.
posted by papergirl at 6:43 PM on April 6, 2016

OK on the fact you want it only a foot high I'd suggest some ground cover roses instead of the hedge ones I suggested earlier on. Roses are totally safe to eat to, & the pretty flowers help hide the hostility of thorns, making it a less obvious get the hell off my damn lawn statement. Again I'd use a garden edging sort of fence until the plants are established both to protect them & add to the hey look plants here this is not your space element. They also grow surprisingly fast & are tougher than people think if you pick the varieties that do well in your area. Just ask a local nursery for suggestions.
posted by wwax at 7:31 PM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

A rock garden of just rocks. Hard to stand on for people. You could put a few plants inbetween the rocks. You could even do stacked rocks for a sculptural effect. Someone in my neighborhood has done this and it looks quite nice.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:30 AM on April 7, 2016

Nthing holly. It's thorny but won't really hurt someone.
posted by mareli at 5:27 AM on April 7, 2016

Berberis is throny and has edible berries. I would train it on a wire fence like guidelines to also further discourage and demark your property. The fence like construction consists of just poles placed in teh ground with horticulture wire strung between eye hooks that are drilled into the poles. This give nice areas to tie in the growing plant, but can be removed when the plant is able to support itself.
posted by koolkat at 5:55 AM on April 7, 2016

My neighbours got three huge rocks kinda like this. They're high enough to stop cars from cutting the corner, but low enough that visibility is unimpeded. They arranged them to make a clear corner marking.
posted by sadmadglad at 6:25 AM on April 7, 2016

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