Landscaping Around Parking Areas: Tips for an Attractive and Safe Commercial Property

Michael Hatcher

May 16, 2019 8:00:00 AM

If your parking lot landscaping is the last thing on your mind, we understand. It’s an easy area to neglect.

But to your customers, tenants, residents and visitors, the landscaping around parking can make a big difference.

Do overgrown trees block important signage? Or even entire buildings?

Has a steady stream of foot traffic trampled the grass in your parking lot islands? 

Are water-hogging flowers dying of thirst, making your whole place look neglected? 

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There’s a trick or two to landscaping around parking. Lucky for you, we know them all. Here are some things to keep in mind: 

Parking Lots are Tough on Plants 

No offense, but your parking lot isn’t exactly the greatest place for plants.

It’s hot and sunny, especially here in the mid-South. Car exhaust adds an extra layer of damaging heat.

Parking lots don’t have easy access to irrigation.

Constant foot traffic beats plants down.

Tiny parking lot islands have little room for tree roots to stretch out, and the soil underneath is compacted and lacking nutrients.

Landscaping ideas for parking strips have to meet a ton of challenges.

Native Plants To The Rescue 

Poor soil. Little water. Lots of heat.

Native plants are perfect.

Natives are from around here, so they’re happy where you plant them. They’re drought-tolerant once they’re established and will thrive without extra watering.

Native plants in mid-south

Here in the mid-South, we have some real beauties. 

The daisy-like petals of purple coneflower attract butterflies.

Virginia sweetspire offers long tassels of white flowers and red fall foliage. Plant them in a mass for the biggest wow.

Daylilies are a great choice, too, especially the old-fashioned varieties. They’re a lot tougher than some of the newer hybrids, and thrive in a parking area’s tough conditions.

Don’t Let Your Parking Lot Get Scruffy 

If your commercial property is older, landscaped decades ago, those parking lot islands likely need a new look.

They’re probably overgrown. They might obscure signage — or even entire buildings.

And their scraggly, neglected look definitely won’t attract the shoppers and potential renters you want onboard.

They need a landscaping update.

Crews can expertly thin and shape existing trees so you can see through them to the buildings beyond. We can replace tired plants, long depleted of any nutrients, with fresh plantings that will thrive in this challenging environment.

Parking lot islands are a staple of big parking area landscaping. A green, shady oasis is the first place drivers scope out when they park, especially on a sunny day. 

These landscaped islands do more than offer shade. They’re actually required by many municipalities, and when done right can be a real asset to your property. law. Engineers and architects plan for a certain number of parking lot islands in order to meet county, city and state regulations.

Might as well put them to work. 

They’re ideal spots for trees— sometimes the ONLY spot for a tree. 

They’re great spots for a pop of cheerful color. They can help with drainage. (More on this later.)

But islands can be tricky. Some include lighting, which makes landscaping a challenge.   

Be sure you have landscaping experts on the job.  

Water Wizardry 

The best landscaping around parking does more than offer shade and visual interest. 

It provides natural drainage and filters stormwater.

Parking lot islands properly installed below the parking lot level collect water as it runs through. Fill them with a sandy soil mix, top them with sturdy plants and rich mulch.

Then, they go to work, absorbing stormwater, filtering out pollutants, and sending it into the groundwater. 

Have a small parking area? No room for islands? 

Line your parking area with bioswales, another great stormwater solution. These landscaping features remove pollutants and silt from stormwater and direct it toward a larger water collection system to minimize flooding. 

And they can look great while working hard, landscaped with graceful grasses, attractive shrubs and water-loving perennials.

The Right Trees For The Job

Trees are great for parking areas for lots of reasons.

Customers and tenants love parking under a shade tree to keep their car cool. 

They help break up that big expanse of hot asphalt with cool, attractive greenery.

Trees help prevent soil erosion and reduce stormwater drainage problems, add oxygen to the environment, and buffer wind and noise.

But not just any tree can stand up to the rigors of a parking lot.

Maples hate the heat. A beautiful Southern magnolia will take your breath away — but it makes a big mess.

What works? 

Crape Myrtle

Stunning color, drought tolerant, no major pest or disease problems. And its spectacular red, pink or violet clusters of blooms make your humble parking lot a show stopper.

Crape Myrtle

Chinese Elm

Happy to hang out in the tough climate of parking lots, they provide great shade and grow pretty fast.

Chinese Elm Tree

Yaupon Holly

Yaupon Holly This evergreen is known for thriving in urban conditions and will brighten your parking area with bird-loving red berries in the winter.

Yaupon holly berries

Hello, Hardscape

Everybody loves trees and plants, but don’t forget about hardscape when you’re pondering landscaping ideas for parking strips.

It’s the ultimate easy fix.

Pavers, stepping stones and decorative gravel are good choices for the toughest conditions.

Bonus:  Create a path to encourage pedestrians to walk around the plants — not stomp all over them. 

Maintenance Matters

Once you’ve spruced up your dated parking lot islands, installed the perfect trees and handled your water worries, what’s left?

Maintenance. You want your parking lot landscaping to be worry free. 


Follow our tips — the right trees, native plants, creative use of hardscape, water management — and your parking lot will practically take care of itself.

One more tip:  Avoid planting turf on parking lot islands and in skinny parking strips. These aren’t ideal spaces for mowing, so grass makes them high maintenance.

Leave it to the Commercial Landscaping Pros 

Landscaping around parking is a job for experts. Less experienced landscape companies can cause you real headaches. 

They might plant the wrong trees that drop messy berries or debris. Suddenly your lot is filled with tree litter and your customers’ cars are a mess.

They might choose trees with weak branches that could topple in a wind storm and damage cars or hurt pedestrians.

They might plant turf on your parking lot islands. Then they have to awkwardly mow it, potentially tossing debris that could hit cars or passersby.

They might plant fancy flower beds that need lots of water or frequent deadheading.

You don’t need those hassles. We won’t bring them.

Trust Your Parking Lot Landscaping to Hatcher

Here at Michael Hatcher & Associates, we love a good challenge, and that includes your picky parking lot.

We know the trees and plants that can stand up to the tough conditions, we love native plants and we’re experts in stormwater management.

Download the commercial property trends report

Ready to make your parking area shine? Talk to one of our commercial landscaping experts today! We’ll meet at your property, create a custom plan, and get you on your way to enjoying a beautiful, worry-free property.

Image sources: chinese elm treeyaupon holly berries

Michael Hatcher

Written by Michael Hatcher

Michael Hatcher is Founder and Chairman of Michael Hatcher & Associates.