Some tips for planning and planting your traffic island

Spring starts tomorrow. Volunteers will be needed soon to help plant the island at the corner of Federal and North Street. Check back for the exact day and time.

Thank you for helping Salem look its best. Salem, as a tourist and vacation spot, depends on looking great to ensure its success as a destination city. Your support for that goal makes it a win-win-win situation – for you, for Salem’s economic success, and for the quality of life of all who live here. The following tips may help you to plan and plant.

Traffic island gardens are not like most other gardens. They may be in the middle of asphalt with little access to ground water, have an abundance of sun and heat reflected from the asphalt surfaces around them, and be subjected to winter road salt. Many plants will not survive these conditions. So plant sensibly, using plants known to be tough, to be survivors. Shade- and water-loving plants are not appropriate.

There are many beautiful plants and shrubs that do weather the above conditions when planted properly in at least eight inches of decent soil with a couple inches of mulch to keep them cool and moist, discourage weeds, and make those weeds that do push through easier to pull. You can’t beat mulch for setting off the plantings properly. The dark mulch chips (please, not red or orange) are the most attractive and allow water to penetrate. Unfortunately, the shredded mulch has a nasty tendency to braid itself together and actually prevents water from getting through. Finer mulches or chips do better.

Treating the soil with lime or gypsum counteracts the winter salt. Corn Gluten or Preen sprinkled on soil very early in the season prevents germination of weed seeds. Read the directions carefully when you apply as some plants such as roses may be adversely affected. Soil Moist and vermiculite are great additives to the soil to retain water. Rotted cow manure or peat enrich the soil, help to hold water, and feed the plants.

Perennials and annuals* can be used very effectively together. Perennials may have a shorter blooming season but provide interesting textures and greens through the summer and fall and give the added bonus of returning the following year. Grasses, roses, and daylilies are good drought-resistant perennials. Petunias and marigolds are tough annuals that sometimes last longer in the fall than chrysanthemums.

Colors are easy. Mix and match whatever you like. Textures from leafy perennials, great colors from annuals. It is better to stay away from excessive use of deep colors such as red, wine, and purple as at any distance dark colors do not show up well.

Good luck and best wishes for a great summer from The Salem Beautification Committee! Sandi Power, Chair, Traffic Island Subcommittee (978-745-6720)

*See attached perennials and annuals possibilities list

Beautification Committee Traffic Island Suggested Plants List


grasses (many varieties, short and tall, annual and perennial)
daylilies (the dwarf everblooming such as Stella D’Oro, Happy Returns, and the taller, old fashioned kind)
achillea (yarrow, predominantly yellows, but also whites and pinks)
catmint (herb, lovely blue, Walkers stays compact)
coreopsis (mostly yellows, some readily reseed)
dahlias (tubers, bring in to save over winter, all heights)
echinacea (daisy type, tall, great colors)
ornamental sage (lovely bright blues)
russian sage (large, blue, definitely background)
sedums (tall and ground covers)
rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan – dwarf and regular)


roses (so many kinds and colors, some very drought and salt hardy)
potentilla (usually yellow, very hardy)
spirea ( interesting leaf colors, some with bright reds in spring, lime at other times) evergreens (spreading – fill in nicely, sensitive to salt which can turn some branches brown,

beautiful planted simply with white petunias)


alyssum (6″, white)
argeratum (bright blue, short and tall)
cleome (2′ to 3′ tall, white, pink, lavender)
helichrysum (low and silvery, looks like small flowers at a distance)
marigolds (different heights, yellow, orange, and white, very tough, can last longer than mums in fall)
petunias (one of the toughest of plants, the wave petunia spreads beautifully)
portulaca (very drought tolerant groundcover flower with a brilliant array of flower colors-tiny plant really spreads)
stattice (doesn’t seem to notice if there is no rain, great dried flower)
sage (annual, blue or white)
sweet potato vine (lime green, wine, other colors – a rampant spreader, great for planters)
zinnia (gorgeous colors, grows well from early direct-sown seed)

This is not a definitive list. You will find lots of ideas at your local nurseries. Avoid plants such as astilbes, impatiens, New Guinea impatiens, begonias, ferns, pansies, most hosta unless you have filtered shade and access to unlimited water.