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What is a Tree Lawn?

By Nancy Fann-Im
Updated May 16, 2024
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A tree lawn is a strip of planted land found between a sidewalk and its parallel street. In residential neighborhoods, grass is the type of vegetation most commonly planted. In public areas, a tree lawn may also include bushes, trees, and flower beds.

Tree lawns help to beautify neighborhoods, serve as a buffer between pedestrians on the sidewalk and moving cars in the street, and provide natural habitats for insects and other wildlife. They also offer practical purposes, such as helping to harvest rainwater and reduce urban runoff water. Some cities with a high level of water pollution, such as Santa Monica in California, specify that the landscaping found on tree lawns produce no runoff.

In most places around the world, tree lawns are public property and therefore maintained by the municipality. In most areas of the United States and Australia, however, it is customary for the tree lawn's neighboring private property owner to provide its upkeep; for example, by mowing the grass or pruning the bushes. The exact regulations of tree lawn maintenance vary by municipality.

Some landowners choose to add plants to the tree lawn that runs along their property. This is not always permitted in all municipalities, however, so it's important that the landowner check with the local government before planting. Power lines, water pipes, and other service lines may also be buried in this area, so anyone who plans to dig in the tree lawn should contact his or her local utilities to avoid damaging these lines.

There are numerous regional variations for the term "tree lawn." In many areas on the U.S. West Coast, for example, it is called a parkway, while in Australia it is known as a nature strip, and in the United Kingdom as a shoulder. Other synonyms include city grass, curb lawn, sidewalk buffer, and verge. It is also called a devil's strip, parking strip, and planting strip.

One variation of the term, devil's strip, has an interesting origin. The phrase is found exclusively in northeastern Ohio, specifically in and around Akron. It has been suggested that it arose from the strip's ambiguous status as a nebulous piece of land that falls between public and private property. The area is effectively rendered a no-man's land, leading to it becoming known as the devil's strip.

"Boulevard" is another variation of tree lawn, most commonly used in North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, and Canada. Today, the word boulevard brings to mind a broad street, but when it was first used in the mid-1700s, its connotation was of a thoroughfare with a strip of landscaping running down its center.

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Discussion Comments
By Soulfox — On Feb 15, 2015

@Soulfox -- I have seen the same thing in my town, but it appears to be on lawns that are privately owned. You don't have bushes and such in the way of tree lawns owned by the city (I think that is the way it works, anyway).

It may be that is going on all over the place and cities simply cannot tell private citizens what they can and cannot grow on their lawns.

By Vincenzo — On Feb 15, 2015

Those tree lawns can actually be a danger if not maintained properly. Let me explain. In my town, there is (apparently) no ordinance against growing bushes on tree lawns at intersections. SO, you have bushes getting in the way of the view of drivers and that can lead to more auto accidents. If it is hard to tell if traffic is approaching the intersection, car wrecks naturally result.

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