Hey, not every plant can live at a botanical garden, right? Sometimes you wake up, stretch your leaves, and realize your new home is next to hot black asphalt.

Some plants know how to say, “Cool,” and make the best of it.\

Parking lots, walkways, and roadsides are the hardworking areas of your commercial property. Landscaping them takes smart choices and creative thinking. The challenges:

  • Lack of irrigation. Roadside and parking lot landscaping has to be drought tolerant.
  • Foot traffic. People walk all over parking lot islands and overstep walkways, so plants have to be tough.
  • Car exhaust can burn plants right up.
  • Salt and snow pile up during the winter, taxing plants.

These pavement-side plants put up with a lot.

Consider these roadside landscaping ideas:

1. Plants That Aren’t Picky

Not all plants can stand up to the harsh conditions of roadside landscaping. But these sturdy varieties won’t let you down:

Creeping Juniper

You can actually walk on this low-lying evergreen ground cover. And it’s drought tolerant.

Creeping Juniper


A pretty, grass-like plant, liriope is a Level Green favorite. It’s hardy, inexpensive, stands up to foot traffic, and offers a lush, wavy, grassy feel.



This native plant has beautiful, vibrant foliage in shades of green, yellow and burgundy. Plus it has thorns, great for deterring pedestrians from stomping through the plants — so it’s perfect for parking lot island design.

Japanese Barberry


It’s also called firethorn, so yes, this one is thorny, too. But it also offers spectacular clusters of red or orange berries that emerge in the fall and stick around through the winter. And it’s drought tolerant.


2. Tough Trees

Nothing breaks up a big expanse of pavement like pretty shade trees.

Adding trees in and around parking lots, walkways, and roadsides improves appearance, prevents soil erosion, and adds oxygen to the environment.

Planted areas also reduce storm water drainage problems, buffer wind and noise, and make passers-by and parking customers happy by providing cool shade.

But roadside landscaping can be harsh. The sun really bakes parking lots and other pavement and it’s made even worse by reflecting off adjacent buildings and cars.

These trees have to tolerate heat, drought, salt, and soil compaction.

Choose tough trees that can handle parking lot landscaping, like:

Crape Myrtle

This beauty, with its gorgeous, drooping flower clusters ranging from red to pink to lavender to white, would brighten any parking lot landscaping.

Crape Myrtle Tree

It looks fragile and exotic, but is surprisingly hardy. These heat-lovers actually thrive in parking lots, blooming luxuriantly in the reflected heat off the pavement.

Chinese Elm

The Chinese elm adapts well to a wide range of soil types and does well in urban conditions. It thrives in drought and is resistant to Dutch elm disease, elm leaf beetle and Japanese beetle. Elms are also salt tolerant, which makes them a good choice for parking lot landscaping.

elm tree

Red Maple

The Red Maple will grow most anywhere. You’ll find it growing in swamps, in the poorest dry soil, and most anywhere in between. Parking lots? Walkways? Roadsides? No problem.

3. Avoid a Mess

Imagine it’s a hot sunny day and you nabbed a prime parking spot beneath the shade of a leafy, sheltering tree.

Then, splat! A messy piece of fruit hits your car, leaving a bright purple stain. Or, an ill-mannered bird deposits a messy dropping.

So much for your happy mood.

Not every tree is a good choice for parking lots and walkways.

Some trees have berries that fall and can stain cars. Some attract insects and birds.

Good choices:

Oaks and Maples

Try ‘Red Sunset’ and “October Glory’ maples for their stunning fall foliage, and columnar oaks that grow tall and skinny rather than wide.

red maple tree

Zelkova ‘Green Vase’

This graceful tree offers pretty branches and dark green leaves that turn soft yellow, orange and russet in autumn.


It’s also a great tree for the urban landscape, as it has a high tolerance for wind, pollution, drought, and compacted soils.

Littleleaf Linden

This pretty tree, with its pleasing shape, dense canopy and super-fragrant flowers, isn’t bothered by air pollution, poor drainage or compacted soil, making it a parking lot landscaping winner.

littleleaf linden

It does well in full sun to part shade, tolerates all soil types and has moderate drought tolerance.

4. White Gravel to the Rescue

Use white gravel instead of mulch in places like baking hot parking lot island design.

green roof with white gravel

It’s easier on the budget — while mulch has to be replaced a couple times a year, gravel is a one-time expense.

It helps the environment, too. White gravel reflects light, so it keeps the area cooler. Black asphalt and dark mulch attract heat, making the entire area hot.

5. Consider Winter Issues, Too

Your parking lot, walkway, and roadside landscaping goes through a lot in winter, too, from salt spray to snowplowing.

That’s why it’s a great idea to hire a commercial landscaping company that can also handle your snow and ice management.

truck and snow plow move snow at commercial building

Why is that good for your landscaping?

They Know Your Walkway Landscaping

They’ve walked your sidewalks many times during the spring, winter and fall, so once winter hits they know exactly what size plow to use to clear the snow without damaging adjacent grass or beds.

When crews know your sidewalks are four feet wide, they won't bring in a five-foot-wide plow to clear them. That just invites damage.

They know where everything is planted, so they won’t push snow on top of planting beds.

They Care About Your Plant Material

If your snow removal company is also your landscaper, they have an extra interest in keeping your plant material safe from damage. They’ve worked hard to select it, plant it and care for it all year.

If a plant is damaged by snow removal and needs to be replaced, your landscaper knows exactly what it is and how to safely plant it. A separate snow removal company won't have that expertise.

6. Be Creative with Parking Lot Island Landscaping

Parking lot islands are pretty little spots of cool in your sprawling commercial property parking lot. They break up large expanses of hot pavement with shady spots of green plants and bright flowers.

But don’t plant them with grass. While grass is inexpensive and offers a nice carpet of green, it won’t stand up to the rigors of car exhaust and winter salt applications.

parking lot island with plantings

What to use instead? The tough plants we mentioned above, like creeping juniper or liriope, are tough and attractive options for parking lot island design.

How about bright but sturdy flowers? Try these:

Black-eyed Susan

Everybody loves this cheerful garden staple. These natives are great in mass plantings and hold up well in the tough conditions of parking lots and roadside landscaping.

black eyed susan

Purple Coneflower

Another garden favorite, it’s both pretty and sturdy, blooming heavily for several weeks in late summer.

purple coneflowers


There’s a daylily variety for everybody— tall, short, yellow, purple. Cover them with snow, spray them with salt — they bounce back, so they’re perfect for roadside landscaping.


7. Don’t Ignore Drainage

Landscaping parking lots, walkways and roadsides means lots of pavement. And that means drainage issues.

A sloping property can encourage water to pool in low areas, which can cause flooding around entrances.

puddle with leaves in it on walkway

When water drains to a low spot near a building’s foundation, water can seep in. What to do?

  • Installing river rock can help direct the water in parking lot landscaping.
  • Plant slopes with a terraced system of native plants and groundcovers to break up the slope and slow down water and soil.
  • Consider a rain garden of deep-rooted native plants and grasses in a low area of your property to encourage storm water to soak slowly into the ground.
  • Other roadside landscaping drainage solutions include retention or detention ponds or bioswales.

Need Great Parking Lot Landscaping? Trust Level Green

Pavement is a necessity of commercial property life.

But your customers, potential residents, and tenants want to see green, leafy, shady appeal.

Partner with landscaping pros who know what greenery thrives despite the challenges of pavement.

If you’re not already a Level Green Landscaping client, we’d love to add you to our growing list of happy customers. Our focus is on commercial properties like offices, mixed-use sites, HOAs, municipalities and institutions in Maryland, Washington DC and parts of Virginia.

Contact us at 202-544-0968. You can also request a free consultation online to meet with us one-on-one.

We’d love to hear from you.

Request a Consultation

Image Source: coneflower, daylily, red maple, zelkova, littleleaf linden, elm, crape myrtle, pyracantha, barberry, liriope, creeping juniper