Problem Dirt Strip! Need Suggestions!

Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9bJanuary 29, 2014

We bought a house built in 1987 and we are the 3rd owner. The terrain is rocky hillside. The house went into foreclosure once, and was sold short the next time. It suffered serious neglect by the previous owners.

The dirt strip is next to a border of railroad ties. Those STAY because they are holding up the dirt so the home doesn't slide down the hill. We would like a 1.5' planting bed next to the ties to make a soft floral break against the ties..

We rebuilt the many rotting view decks. We didn't do anything to the concrete patio. It's old concrete and it shows it's age.

We need suggestions on how to tie the various textures together without spending too much money, and at the same time, cover that dirt strip.

This is a view of the east end, facing west. We are not sure where to begin the front yard and end the dirt strip.

This is looking up from the pool deck, facing east toward the front yard.

This is looking down as the strip turns the west corner. You can see the pool deck descending to the lower drive.

These are the pavers leading to the pool deck looking North East.

This is the South West side where the dirt encounters the BBQ deck and is shown next to the concrete patio.

This is the patio with dirt surrounding it.

Hubby doesn't like the look of ground cover between pavers because of weeds and maintenance. He's not lazy, but our vineyard and orchards keep him busy. Think low maintenance solutions please :-) He might be convinced if you have a really good suggestion.

Grass is NOT an option. Hubby does not want to water or mow, plus there is no way to keep local rabbits from dining on it.

Yes, the front yard needs work also. Just dirt. That's another thread at another time.

The concrete sidewalk and patio is 34' long. The dirt strip is 9.5' wide, and varies by a foot or two on curves. The strip has morning shade and afternoon sun, but at certain times of year, that varies also.

Looking forward to your ideas!


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I can't open any pics.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 6:54PM
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It seems to me that by throwing ALL these different areas into the thread, it's going to be difficult to deal with them. I think it would be better if you dealt with: front yard ... then side yard ... then back yard ... or whatever order you wish. I can't really get a feel of the overall layout by the photos as they seem isolated from each other. For sure, I don't grasp what your front yard consists of and it would be necessary in order to answer the question of how it properly divides from the side yard (which I think you are call the "dirt strip.") The side yard would be subordinate.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 6:58PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

I will explain the plans for the front yard. There will be areas filled with roses and dwarf citrus bordering a putting green built by a professional putting green company. We are getting bids for that currently. There will be no grass. Just artificial turf. There is irrigation in place for any living plants.

The dirt strip is a problem because it is in direct sight from the home when looking at the views. All city and agricultural views are to the north, across that dirt strip. The strip simply winds around the north side of the house and meets the deck on the west side.

I will try to take a photo from the inside of the home so you can see how that strip ruins the view. It definitely has priority.


This post was edited by desertdance on Wed, Jan 29, 14 at 20:07

    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 7:33PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

For those that can't open pics, they link to photobucket which is currently doing maintenance. They started that just as soon as I uploaded them to this thread. Sigh. Hopefully the pics will show tomorrow.


    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 8:20PM
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I think that's what you need ... a photo from inside that shows the dirt strip. Try to take as wide a shot as possible to we can grasp the whole space.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 12:33AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

I had to take these photos when the light outside was equal to inside. If I had waited until later, you wouldn't have been able to see the views, it's so bright outside. I did the best I could with my smart phone.

This is the view from the dining room windows. This is where the dirt strip ruins the city view AND the west view.

This is the view from the living room across the pool deck:

This is the view from the Living room, across the dirt strip to our little grotto pool.

I hope this gives you a better idea, and I hope the photos show. Photo Bucket is done with their maintenance, but I used tinypic this time.


    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 12:17PM
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desertdance, what do your neighbors have growing? I would think that would be a good place to start.

My zone is totally different from yours so I can't make recommendations.

Can you do any of the maintenance? And have you a lot of weeds? Creeping and low groundcovers seem the solution since you don't want grass.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 4:26PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b


We live on a gated private road on a rocky hillside. Each home is on 1-5 acres. The slope is steep and we all have a lot of native plants, weeds, boulders, pines and palms. Critters abound. We all live on the edge of the wilderness. The important parts of our properties are the views, which are amazing.

Front yards consist of palms, rocks, olive trees and citrus. I haven't seen one home up here with grass or ground cover, unless it's the brightly flowered stuff that cascades down their hillsides. We are all fire conscious.

I was hoping for a non-green solution because of drought and weeds, gophers and rabbits. We plant every rose, tree or grapevine in a gopher basket to protect them. The gopher wire extends at least a foot or two around the trunks.

We had thought about extending the concrete, but we fear it won't match the existing concrete. We thought maybe we could seperate the two with a brick border...

We wondered about brick laid herringbone over the whole thing... expensive!

We thought about wood deck, but we'd have to dig out a ton of that strip to make it level.... Nah!!

We thought about pavers with ground cover between, but hubby fears it will look ugly and weedy.

I'm hoping there is some really neat solution that we haven't thought about.

For the little planting bed to soften the railroad ties, we are thinking sword fern mixed with small floribunda roses, and maybe dwarf agapanthas.

We'd like that view to have a beautiful transitional space instead of that awful dirt strip. We have already spent over 150K redoing this place, so money is getting tight.

Hope that helps!


    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 5:13PM
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Suzi, great summation. There's a wonderful designer who is a fellow California, David, I think, screen name Bahia. Hope he notices this and jumps in with advice.


    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 7:42PM
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Suzi, the pictures help in getting your point across. The "dirt strip" just NEEDS to be green! ... so not wanting a "green solution" might turn out to be a colossal dilemma for you! Paving of some sort (concrete, brick, tiles, etc.) is a good option ONLY if it's NEEDED. If that's not the case, then it's not a good solution. The next thing that comes to mind is some kind of stone-based mulch ... decomposed granite or various and sundry decorative crushed stone pebbles. People use them where I live (Florida) but to me, they usually seem unappealing. Compared to plantings, they are very hot (unfriendly to humans,) look sterile, and seem more like something you might expect to find at an incarceration facility. (A little goes a long way!) If I were going to go in this direction, DARK colors are better than LIGHT, as the sun can be blinding. Crushed brick is a favorite, but it is not available everywhere. One would need to be careful that hard rains wouldn't destroy any work. I can't help but think that low, groundcover-like plants would look better and seem friendlier. If you were in Florida, I would have the perfect solution for you, but don't have experience with what would work in your climate. Surely, though, there is SOMETHING, and maybe someone will make a recommendation for you.

When concrete is old and its surface is less than satisfactory, there ARE options. There is a multitude of tough coatings that can be applied. This is also one way that new and old work can be "homogenized." There is also machine grinding with stones and diamond blades. (The result leans toward looking like a slab of light colored granite.)

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 8:32PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Do you have links to machine grinding in 92544? This is interesting.

If you have a suggestion for low ground cover that are drought friendly and low, we are interested.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 8:49PM
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Search Google Images for "concrete grinding" to see possibilities. Some are dazzling. Search the web for same term and I'm sure you'll find local contractors, examples of their work, & lots of information.

In Florida, Arachis glabrata 'Ecoturf' makes a lovely, low maintenance, drought tolerant lawn. It is in bloom EVERY warm day, so when you come home you are always greeted with something very cheery! For a couple weeks in the Spring it is smothered in a thick blanket of yellow flowers. It is tough and durable. Of course, like every groundcover, weeds must not be allowed while it is establishing or they will destroy its appearance. Sometimes, here, it is mixed with grass (so that there is lots of bloom) but then the grass must still be mowed on its schedule. (A peanut lawn I put in last year has not been mowed yet and is still not as tall as mowed grass. It is said to get 3-4" ... might need mowing 2-3 times per year if one wants it shorter. Peanut needs to be edged about every 3-4 weeks in the summer, but this is even easy to do manually with a flat shovel or spade if one doesn't wish to use a machine.) All that said, I don't think it is a California-suitable plant. I think it likes humidity. :-( But there MUST be equivalents for your area! ... something very low and spreading.

This is not the greatest picture of peanut, but it will give you an idea of how something similar could look better than your dirt strip.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 10:10PM
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My vote would be to use concrete for the majority of the area, maybe mix in some areas of river rock, possibly a coy pond or some type of water feature as well... This is a tropical looking property so this could work well here. Your existing concrete could be blended with newly poured concrete and then stamped and sprayed. Google stamped concrete, it is very cool. You can do any design and coloration you want.

To take the edge off of all the hard scaping, I would incorporate large planters that can accommodate full size trees or large grouping of flowers.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 11:34PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

SC77, Wow!

Stamped, colored concrete! Sweet! I love the chair grouping with the fire pit! I think that's a fire pit, but maybe it's a planter.

I really wanted to put such a grouping at that end of the strip so us girls can have a glass of wine and watch the guys putt on the soon to come putting green.

Did you concrete over the existing sidewalk and concrete patio? I cant see it in your photo, but it sure looks good!

Something like peanut might work too. I'll have to ask a local nursery about something gopher and rabbit proof that is also drought friendly, BUT I'm loving the hard scape!

Thanks for the suggestions!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 9:46AM
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New plants that rabbits find tasty must be protected until they are no longer in danger. A vegetable garden -- with tender plants -- might be very attractive to them and difficult to protect. But are you sure rabbits are all that much of a problem with larger scale landscape plants? We have tons of rabbits here and see them everyday during the summer. But they are not a problem with turf, peanut (which is a forage crop) or most other landscape plants. If a swarm of rabbits ate turf or peanut to the ground (which would never happen) it would return in no time from established roots. There is too much for even an army of rabbits to eat!

After indicating that "money is getting tight," you should have an idea of how much the budget will allow as you search for solutions. Are you hoping to solve the problems for $25,000? ... Or $3,000? If it's the latter, then there are many potential possibilities that will automatically drop off the table. Budget will control everything.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 12:16PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Thanks so much! We did a rough estimate of our square footage, and included a 1-2 foot planting bed between the railroad ties and the dirt strip. The stamped concrete will be affordable as long as we don't extend it too much into the front yard. We used the site linked below for our rough estimates.

They also have many solutions for staining old concrete, so maybe they can tie it together.

After Superbowl Sunday, we'll be looking for bids locally. It will be interesting to hear all their ideas.

Thanks again for all your help and nice photos! It may be a while, but when it's finished, I'll post an update photo.


Here is a link that might be useful: Concrete Network

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 2:50PM
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"After Superbowl Sunday, we'll be looking for bids locally. It will be interesting to hear all their ideas.

I am not trying to burst your bubble but this is so NOT how the design process works! Unless you are a landscape designer or architect yourself and plan to be drawing your butt off day and night until Monday, you will have nothing for any contractor to bid on. You need physical plans that spell out what will be installed ... it's size, location, material, finishes, etc. It's description must be complete and detailed, or you will be at the whim of any contractor who wants to cut corners on what you told them verbally. To get prices before anything is actually designed will mean that every contractor will give you a price for what he thinks you should do. You would be asking him/her to BE the defacto designer. Instead of designing, he/she would give wildly varying prices for ideas that will range from good to horrible. You won't know what's up. It will be a thousand times worse than shopping for a mattress! Design is the process, not of building, but of THINKING THROUGH COMPLETELY all of what will be built ... AND COMMUNICATING IT (COMMITTING IT TO A WRITTEN/DRAWN FORM) so that it can be priced. You have the option of doing the design work yourself. If you don't want to do it or don't feel qualified, you can hire a professional designer. Your project doesn't seem extraordinarily complicated, but it's more complex than something a contractor could realistically price on the spur of the moment.

if your project is not designed, any good contractor will immediately think it's probably a phantom project that will never materialize ... a time waster. It takes a good bit of time to accurately price a project, which is done from the physical design. If a contractor also does design, he/she may be interested in doing that aspect of the work for you, but you will pay (one way or another) for his work of doing it. You need a designer. Trying to do without will be shooting yourself in the foot. You will lose money.

This post was edited by Yardvaark on Sat, Feb 1, 14 at 10:22

    Bookmark   January 31, 2014 at 5:03PM
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duplicate post deleted. (No idea how an earlier post would duplicate itself at a later time ... it's twilight zone at gardenweb.)

This post was edited by Yardvaark on Sat, Feb 1, 14 at 10:28

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 1:52AM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Yardvaark, I was wondering why you posted it again, but since it happened, I need to explain.

This is not Florida. This is "fire zone during drought on the edge of the wilderness, So California."

We have rabbits and critters here starving for anything green and edible.

When both of us saw the awesome hardscape posted here by SC77, we KNEW that is what we wish to do.

FYI, hubby has been a project manager for a publicly held home builder his entire life, and knows how to communicate with contractors. We remodeled this entire home with verbal communication, and the house and all exterior decks are done.

We can draw the plan in the dirt with a stick, show them a photo of SC77's plan. Somehow, contractors here get it! That's all they need.

And the budget has wiggle room. I call it "creeping elegance." So you get a quote for the bare minimum, and then... "Well, how much if we add this?" And on and on. $3000 is a little low. $25,000 is a lot high. But, because this is a custom, home with an incredible view, it needs a fabulous solution like SC77 suggested.

Thanks for your input, and I'll post photos of the final result.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 1:34PM
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I'm not promoting one over the other but please seek out an unbiased opinion on stamped concrete vs pavers...

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 1:47PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Are pavers like bricks only bigger? You would need to dig out a base, set them in concrete, and how would you tie them in with the old broken concrete that exists.

You might have missed the part that hubby is very against spaces filled with weedy (and here it will be) ground cover between pavers.

Did I miss something? We would have to cement the pavers for the low maintenance we desire. And then the existing patio and sidewalk would not match.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 2:05PM
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"old broken concrete that exists"

Just saying ............

    Bookmark   February 1, 2014 at 6:33PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Well, the bids are in, and decisions have been made.

The original patio has a skip trowel finish next to the sidewalk with it's brushed finish, and we decided not to go with stamped concrete over the dirt strip because it would look chopped up. Too many concrete styles next to each other. We chose one cohesive look which will make for a huge patio area.

We had so many ideas presented to us, it was pretty confusing, but we settled on a landscape company that also does concrete. He will do all the drains and drip systems for the planting area prior to pouring new concrete.

The new concrete won't match the old concrete, so it will all be refinished with an acid wash and power wash, all cracks repaired, all painted a uniform light gray, then taped into random stone shapes. It will be sprayed with a beige color top coat with a skip trowel textured look. It will be then stained randomly (with different size spray nozzles) in 3 tones (gray, rust, and black) to simulate the rocks that exist here in this area. The tape will be pulled, revealing the gray concrete undercoat so it looks like concrete between flagstone. It will then be sealed, and if I get my way it will have sparkles (glitter like stuff) tossed in, like the granite boulders on our property display in the sun.

I mislead you when I used the word, "broken concrete." It has two cracks in the sidewalk and one on the step to the house. The cracks are smaller than the width of a dime, and easily fixed (per all the contractors). This is California. With our earthquakes, nobody escapes cracks in their concrete....

I'll post photos of the final in a month or so. The price for the new concrete and overlay process is between $6,500 and $7,500 dollars. We are fine with that range.

Thanks for all the input!


This post was edited by desertdance on Wed, Feb 26, 14 at 13:20

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 12:52PM
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Well done, Suzi. Sounds like it will be an excellent look.

Please post the 'promised' pics - it would be nice to see in progress pictures of the process too.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 3:52PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Rosie, "in progress" pics will come. The contractor has other jobs ahead of ours, so he will start in 2-4 weeks. That's contractor talk! They give themselves slack! No slacker like a contractor! Trust me, I know! ;-))

I'm just happy we found a way to cohesively connect all these concrete solutions together to make one fabulous space, and I'm pretty sure it will be awesome!

We love that the patio, the sidewalk, and the dirt strip will be one! We are already looking for furniture and shuffleboard solutions!

For those of you in the same boat, get a lot of bids! With the bids come ideas and confusion, but eventually you will get that light bulb, like" this is it!!"


    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 4:08PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Yesterday, both the landscape contractor and the finish coat contractor met at our house in the afternoon. They discussed the project. I was glad my husband arranged the meeting because the finish contractor needed things done a certain way to make his coating look good. I am confident in both contractors.

The funny thing is, the landscape contractor took lessons from the finish contractor a while back, but did not include concrete coating in his resume. So we got his teacher to do the final coating that will blend 3 different concrete finishes into one!!

Day 1.

This is taken from our big deck overlooking the entire dirt strip. Today they dug it out, framed it, compressed the dirt, and cut out a strip of the current concrete to put in drainage.

The contractor took my husband aside and said "WHEN" the concrete cracks (It will. We get earthquakes here), just know we are putting mesh fiber so any cracks won't spread.

So far so good!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 2:57PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Here is where they cut the concrete sidewalk to put in the drain. We are on a hill, and the drain will empty below the wood pool deck.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2014 at 3:15PM
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"I did pose a question with photos a while back and yaardvark told me to address other areas of my yard. Period!"

Wow, Suzi, point me to that. There is a serious disconnect if after all my posts, that is what you came away with.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 10:49PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Yaardvark, I remembered it because it hurt my feelings and frustrated me because this area was of MAJOR concern to us.

" Posted by Yardvaark none (My Page) on
Wed, Jan 29, 14 at 18:58

It seems to me that by throwing ALL these different areas into the thread, it's going to be difficult to deal with them. I think it would be better if you dealt with: front yard ... then side yard ... then back yard ... or whatever order you wish."

There it is yaardvark.

The project is turning out wonderfully.

The concrete needs to cure for a month, and then the coating contractor will tie in the old and the new into one cohesive surface.

I'll update with the finished project in a month. These things sure take longer than you think!

The cost of part one was $2500.00 Part two is estimated at $3,300.00. We are happy with the cost and the result so far!


    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 10:08AM
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Looks Awesome! Thanks for posting an update. Nice to see ideas get successfully executed.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 12:50PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Shawn, Your idea was the inspiration for this outcome. I will post another update next month when the stained coating is done, and maybe another once we get the planter filled with low color mixed with greens.

Once hubby saw how really nice this is, he gave me that "look." He's resigned to the fact that we will need some nice patio furniture out there for sure!

It's really great not to have to go to the pool deck on those little pavers stuck in the dirt!!


    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 1:45PM
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My dear, you are completely misinterpreting my statement. I'm not AT ALL saying to look at "other areas of the yard." I'm suggesting that if you overwhelm those of us who are trying to interpret your project (help you .... remember, we've never been there or seen it before) with a large or complex volume of space, then it's likely you will not get much help because it's an overwhelming amount of work or it's an overwhelming amount of space to comprehend. As it turns out, your project is not that grand volume of work, but the photos you presented do not help much to understand the space because they are not sequential. They are disjointed photos from many different viewpoints. If you had stood in one spot, where you could have captured everything, and just panned the camera with slightly overlapping shots, it would have been much easier to grasp what is there. I can't imagine why giving you a good suggestion -- that would help you make progress with your thread -- would hurt your feelings. It looks like if you had stood over at the pool deck, on something kind of high (a step ladder) and aimed the camera back at the house, you could have captured everything and it would have been easy for anyone out here to comprehend. My statement was not intended to hurt your feelings, but rather to help you achieve results. You've got to be reading something else into it. Take it at face value.

What you've done so far looks pretty good.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 1:54PM
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