Native Plant Gardens on Cul de Sac Islands in Columbia

The Villages in Columbia have funds available for residents to beautify the common areas in the neighborhoods, such as the circles at the ends of cul de sacs. The residents responsible for the cul de sac must submit a landscaping plan for approval. The Village’s Community Association will reimburse some of the cost for materials.

Residents Responsible for Public Property

Cul de sac islands, sidewalks, and the property between the sidewalks and the curbs, belong to the county but must be maintained by the adjacent residents. Gardening practices on public property, as well as on our own yards, affect the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the ecology of the region. Low-maintenance landscaping for water conservation can beautify our neighborhoods and benefit the local environment at the same time.

County Requirements

Cul de sac islands are county property. The county is responsible for maintaining trees planted next to streets, including all the trees on a cul de sac island. Landscaping plans that impact existing trees, or call for planting trees, will require county approval.

The county is also responsible for storm drains and stormwater management. Landscaping plans should adhere to the goals of the county Stormwater Management Division to minimize erosion, pollution, and water runoff.

Since the cul de sac islands also function as traffic circles, proposed landscaping must not reduce visibility for drivers, or impede vehicles such as trucks, snowplows, and school buses. These vehicles sometimes drive onto the traffic circle as well, and snow plows sometimes deposit salt or gravel. Consider this when choosing landscaping material for the periphery of the cul de sac island.

For more information, contact the Howard County Bureau of Highways at

Check for Utilities

Make sure there are no underground utilities. BG&E will mark underground utilities for free. Call MISS UTILITY at 1-800-257-7777 or go to

Plan for Water Management

Plan for rain water management. If the street around the cul de sac island has a storm drain in the curb, the island probably slopes down toward the storm drain. Consider creating a catchment area in the lowest part of the island. A shallow depression that is lower than the level of the island's curb will act as a rain garden, collecting water that will be absorbed by the soil and plants. Rain gardens serve to retain and filter water, instead of adding it to stormwater run-off and erosion.

For more information about rain gardens, see and

If the cul de sac island is level, consider contouring around any elevated parts of the island, and creating a rain water catchment area in the lowest parts.

Choose the Right Plants
  • You and your neighbors adjacent to the cul de sac island will be responsible for maintaining the landscaping, now and for years to come. Planting a lawn is not recommended, since lawns require water, fertilizer, herbicides, and mowing on an ongoing basis. Tall bushes or hedges are not recommended because they will require regular trimming to allow visibility across the island.

  • Native perennial ground covers, vines, and low shrubs are recommended for their ease of maintenance. They are disease-resistant, and require little fertilizer or watering after they are established. They also provide food and habitat for native birds, butterflies, and bees.

  • Native plants should be obtained from a native plant nursery; never harvest plants from woods, parks, open space, or other public areas.

  • For a list of plants recommended for Howard County, see

  • Avoid invasive non-native plants, especially those designated as noxious weeds. See or

  • In selecting plants, consider the lighting conditions as well as the flow of rain water. Choose moisture-loving plants for low areas and drought-tolerant plants for elevated areas. Plan for shade under existing trees unless you have confirmation from the county that the trees will be removed or trimmed as part of your landscaping project.

  • To minimize deer browsing, choose plants that deer don't prefer, or spray your plants with deer repellent and/or treat with repellent tablets buried in the plants' roots.

Gardening Tips

Be prepared to garden wisely. If possible, plant in early spring or fall. Enrich the soil with compost or topsoil (available at garden supply stores or from the Howard County Alpha Ridge Landfill). During the first summer, water new plants in the morning (to conserve water and reduce the risk of plant diseases) until the plants are established. Cover bare soil with natural mulch, such as thinly-spread grass clippings or shredded leaves or pine needles. Mulch should be no more than two inches deep and should never touch tree trunks, as the decaying mulch can cause the tree trunk to rot.

For more information or advice about environmentally-sustainable landscaping in Maryland, visit the website at