How to Plant Flowers on Your Sidewalk




This is an easy guide to planting a big pot on the sidewalk in front of your home. It's designed for people who know next to nothing about gardening.

Adding flowers and plants to your sidewalk is an item on Neighbors Project's Neighbors Checklist, and is a guiding principle of Neighborly Home Design. I don't know about you, but whenever I walk down blocks with great sidewalk flowers, I can't help but think, "I wish my block looked like that." But I've been too lazy to actually do something about it until circumstances forced the issue: some friends needed to get rid of their big pot because they're moving. Now that I'm done, I have to say that this project was really fun. I wish I had done it sooner. And yes, I did actually meet some of my neighbors in the time I was out doing this project.

To do this Instructable you'll need:
-1.5 bags of potting soil (aka, big bags of dirt)
-Pot (big and heavy)
-Watering can

Step 1: Get Your Plants, Pot and Dirt

I got my large barrel, one largeish plant and one (big) bag of dirt from friends who are moving out of town. Since it was a gift of sorts, I didn't have much choice about what to get. But I wouldn't have taken the barrel if I didn't like it; it's a great outdoor pot for plants. And pots are an easy option for gardening your sidewalk; you don't have to build anything or dig into existing dirt areas. However, if you live in a city with grass strips between the sidewalk and street, then you might find it easier to garden that grass area. Some of my old neighbors in Chicago planted gorgeous sunflowers in the grass strip in front of our home.

I had to unpack the dirt and plant from the pot with a mini shovel and put it into some extra strong garbage bags. If you also need to transport unpackaged dirt, I strongly suggest that you spread out the dirt across a bunch of bags, and double bag any bags that are especially heavy. Dirt is very heavy, and bags break easily.

Since the friends from whom I got the pot, etc. lived about a mile from my home, I used my granny cart to roll over the dirt and pot in two separate trips. It's a large sturdy cart and I had absolutely no problems getting the materials home. I highly recommend the humble granny cart for moving heavy objects, particularly if you live somewhere with limited parking and don't want to pay for a cab, or just want to enjoy the gorgeous day.

The donated items didn't really fill up the pot, so I ended up making a separate trip to get a bag of potting soil, three small plants and a watering can from a local plant store. If you've walked around your neighborhood any, you'll probably already know where to find your local nursery. I ended up visiting two plant stores because the first place I went didn't have many outdoor plants. They recommended a nearby store, so I walked over.

If you don't know anything about plants, like me, then be sure to ask the advice of the people at the store. Don't forget to tell the person at the store how much shade and sun the plant is likely to get; you don't have to know the exact hours, just a rough guess of whether the area gets morning light or afternoon light or no light at all. The store employee should know the climate and plants well enough to recommend something that will work for you. If you don't trust the person at the store, be sure to read the labels in the plants, which usually have some info about whether the plant will thrive on your sidewalk. And no, I have no idea what the plants I bought are called; I just chose things that seemed pretty and easy to maintain. Hopefully they'll thrive.

By the way, it's really fun to walk around with a cart full of lovely flowers; people constantly smile at you and peek into your cart.

Finally, be sure to dress properly. Wear clothes that you're willing to get dirty, and take off your rings or other jewelry. After all, you'll be playing in the dirt!

Step 2: Find the Right Spot and Place Your Pot

Since you're essentially gardening on the sidewalk, which is a public area, you need to be especially careful about where you place your pot. You should be sure that it is in no way impeding people's ability to walk down the street. The minimum width that most people, and especially handicapped folks need to maneveur down the street is about five feet. So don't constrain the width of the sidewalk any less than that. Putting the pot parallel to a tree patch is usually a safe bet.

My block is on a hill so I also had to be sure that the pot would be stable. If you're on an even steeper hill, you may need a big rock or customized wedge to prop up one side of the pot.

Once you've chosen your spot, place it and drag your materials next to it.

Step 3: Add Dirt

Pour your potting soil (aka dirt) into your pot until it's about half-way full. Spread it evenly across the pot.

Step 4: Unpot Your Plants and Place Them in the Big Pot

Dig small wells in the dirt for your plants. You can pretty much place them wherever, though you should arrange them to ensure that they get enough sun/shade for their ideal growth.

Remove the flowers/plants from the pots that you got them in by grasping the part of the plant that's not in the dirt, turning the pot upside down, knocking the pot on its bottom to loosen the plant and then pulling the plant free of the pot. If you do it right, it'll look like a popsicle or cylindrical carrot. Or like the baby mandrakes in the Harry Potter films.

Place the unpotted plants in the wells you've created for them so that they're reasonably secure.

Step 5: Add More Dirt and Secure the Plants

Pour more potting soil into the pot and arrange it so that your plants are covered to the tops of their roots with dirt. Pat it down so that they are firmly nestled in the dirt. Think of it as tucking your plants in to bed. Don't short sheet them and don't smother them, but make sure that they're comfortably ensconced.

Step 6: Water the Pot

I bought a snazzy new watering can at the plant store so I really enjoyed this step.

Fill up your can and water it so that it's quite moist across the whole top of the pot and the few inches below the surface.

Step 7: Clean Up and Admire Your Work

Take a second to admire your work. I snapped photos of my proud pot from a zillion angles after I finished. But after about ten minutes I finally snapped back into reality and cleaned up.

I put my bag of leftover potting soil in a garbage bag and put it in a closet. I might give it away on Craigslist since I don't expect to be doing much more gardening.

I recycled the plastic pots that the plants came in.

And then I took a shower. Ahhh.

Step 8: Maintain It

If your plants need regular watering to survive, then you'll need to water them every day, hence why you might want to buy a water can. If you bought plants that need no watering, then you should just check it every week or so to make sure it's thriving.



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    14 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    nice idea! I take it.

    Also, I would love to see a constructable about how to build the pot itself.


    10 years ago on Step 4

    Great idea! You made it so simple. Anybody have any ideas how to keep a water supply under it for auto watering? That would be supurb!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Oh no, I looked through some of your others Instructables and I'm guessing your from S.F., if only I had seen this 3 mos. ago I could have given you a buttload of Vinca, :(

    1 reply

    No worries! I got some new plants from my mother in law last Thanksgiving and they've done very well. They're much nicer looking than the ones pictured in this Instructable. One of them drapes over the sides of the pot, which has been lovely. Thanks for thinking of me though!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    What zone are you? Depending on which one, I would REALLY suggest burying a couple Vinca Vines in there, it will drape over the sides, grows really fast and will fill in a lot as well. You have a lot of height and middle fill, but I'm so biased towards plants that hang and trail and think Vinca would be perfect for this application.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    You might like a website called guerillagardening dot com. It is the logical next step on from your planters project :D


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Just a tip to keep your plants healthy: before you dump the soil into your tub, pour in about 2 inches or so of styrofoam packing-peanuts (or medium-sized rocks, or pieces of broken china, or anything that allows spacing for air between them.) What you're trying to do is create a drainage zone, so excess water can percolate through the soil and drain into the air-spaces between these larger chunks and then out. If you're in a humid environment this is particularly important, because plants in wooden tubs tend to mold if they get too damp deep in the pot; even in dry climates this happens. Packing peanuts (be sure not to use the starch ones!) work great, and it recycles the little monsters into something useful. Grow well, y'all.

    Doctor What

    11 years ago on Introduction

    It's nice to see a way to have green in an otherwise grey environment. Cheers!!!!


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I really like your instructable. I have loved plants and gardening for as long as I can remember. I'm not being critical because what you wrote is great but i would not advise people to water their plants every day. You should only water a pot when it needs water. There is a very accurate scientific method you can use to measure the moisture content of the soil in the root zone and determine if it needs water- stick a finger or two into the dirt. Srsly. Stick a finger or two into the soil and if it feels moist (not wet, just moist) about 2-3 inches down, no water today. If it feels dry, it's time to bust out the watering can. Happy gardening.

    1 reply