Inula Royleana
Midwest Gardening
Foundation Planting

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Any Plant Can be Used for a Foundation Planting

Foundation plantings can be absolutely anything you want them to be, using any plants you choose.  You only need to consider what you want to accomplish and any purpose the planting should serve.  Simple design principles can guide you in planning.  Take a critical look at your home all the way around.  Determine what you might like to enhance or accent, identify areas that need softening or interest, and items that you would like to hide from view.

foundation planting by David Sawyer

An important function of foundation plantings in cold climates is to insulate and provide wind protection, especially with a cement block foundation.  A foundation planting also covers less than appealing block.  Northern gardeners may tire of yew and arborvitae, but evergreens are dense and do the best job of insulating and protecting from cold winds.  Allowing some space between an evergreen planting and your foundation creates a dead air space that adds to the insulating benefits, reducing heating and cooling costs.  The benefit is somewhat minimal, but it all helps.  Evergreens also create a perfect backdrop for colorful shrubs and blooms.

In warmer regions, foundation plantings can be strictly ornamental, creating transition between the home and property.  If there is not an unappealing foundation to cover the plantings can be minimal.  The home above is small scaled with a neutral foundation and in a warmer region.  The plantings are scaled to the home and limited to purely decorative plants, including perennials and annuals.

 

Functional Benefits of Foundation Plantings

  • Add insulation and wind barrier
  • Covers cement foundation, vents and faucets.
  • Add winter interest

 

Design Benefits of Foundation Plantings

  • Adds curb appeal and a welcoming feeling.
  • Anchors the structure of your home to the landscape
  • Creates a transition between structure and lawn
  • Unifies the home with the total property design
  • A curved bed at angular intersections of concrete such as drive and walkways can soften the lines and draw attention to the entry area.

Planning and Plant Selection

  • Select slow growing, hardy, and long living plants so they don’t quickly become overgrown, requiring constant pruning or removal.
  • Select plants appropriate for your zone, soil, and other regional conditions.
  • Plants located under the eaves will not receive much if any rainfall.  Plan to provide supplemental water or use more drought tolerant plants.
  • Small to medium sized shrubs and plants are ideal for foundation planting.  Larger specimens work well at the corners of the home, or where a large area of the planting bed sweeps out into the lawn.
  • Be sure you know the mature size of your selections.  Growers typically list the size of a ten year old plant as mature.  Most of us try to retain a foundation planting well over 10 years and some plants may live 40 or more years.  Allow enough space for the full size AND space to pass behind for maintenance to your home. If possible allow up to 3 feet of passing space for smaller shrubs, and up to 5 feet for larger or tall shrubs.  Space between the full size plants will help prevent disease.
  • Allow space for meter reading access.
  • Humid regions require more space between plantings and the home to allow good air circulation and avoid rot issues.

Design Considerations

  • A formal design requires a symmetrical planting, neatly pruned.
  • Your front foundation planting can be formal, or somewhat formal and allow the sides and rear to be more casual.  Plants can retain their natural form with a balanced design.
  • The mature size of plants selected should be in scale with your home and property size.
  • Avoid creating bookends at the corners of your home.  Rather than cover the corner with a tall evergreen, plant it out and away from the corner.  This, instead, will create a framing appearance.
  • Foundation planting beds can flow from the house, along the sidewalk, and meet with the drive.  Lining your driveway with showy plants only calls attention to the driveway and garage.  These are usually not attractive elements of our designs, and should not be accented.
  • When using color in your foundation planting, try to use a color from your home.  Repeat or blend colors from brick, shutters or trim paint.
  • Plant selection should focus attention on the front entrance to the home without crowding the entrance area.  An open and welcoming feeling should be created.  Accents such as large containers of blooms and a door painted with an accent color can help create the focal point.  The accent colors used in the blooms or door can be sprinkled into the planting beds to create rhythm and unity.
  • Windows and architecturally interesting elements should not be blocked with tall plants or ornamental trees.
  • Tall shrubs and trees should be reserved for large open areas of the structure, or for softening the corners of your home.
  • Try to avoid a single row of identical shrubs lined up along the foundation.  Even a very formal foundation planting should use a variety of plants, textures, and layers, planted symmetrically or balanced.

Plant Guidelines

  • Large trees should not be planted near the structure to avoid overhanging limb problems, leaf drop into gutters, and roots encroaching on the foundation.  Use large trees to provide backdrop for the structure.
  • Small trees should not block view of the entry door, windows, or architectural details.  Select a space with a large bare area of the structure, or near the corner of the structure.  If you prefer an ornamental tree to partially screen view of windows for privacy, maintain a well pruned open structure.  Allow plenty of space for the mature width of the crown plus passing space.  If crown width reaches twenty feet you need space for half the crown plus passing space, so plant the tree 15-20 feet from the foundation.  The planting bed may need to sweep outward to accommodate an ornamental tree.
  • Large and tall shrubs and evergreens should be planted outside the corners of the home to soften and frame the structure, and should not be taller than the eaves of the home.  When planted in front of a large enough expanse of open structure, a tall evergreen can work well with a two story house.
  • Medium sized shrubs and evergreens should be the base of your foundation plantings.  Medium is relative to the scale of your home, but should generally be around four feet high at mature height, five feet may be a bit large for many homes.  Use the lower edge of your windows as a guide to the first layer of the foundation planting.   A little overlap is fine, but plants that get tall enough to block the windows will need consistent pruning.  Evergreens create a perfect background for more colorful or interesting textures positioned in front.
  • Small shrubs, as well as perennials, annuals and groundcovers, can be used in layers in a wide bed.  Shrub roses are becoming increasingly popular in foundation plantings.  Subtle interest of textures can be added, or showy flowering shrubs and blooms if you prefer.  Spreading, low growing evergreens work very well in transitional layers.  Perennials that bloom for short periods be used to create accents, but be sure the plant looks attractive when out of blooms.  Clusters of easy care annuals could also be used.  An edging of annuals or groundcover that provides consistent color in the growing season can unify shrub groupings used in the foundation base planting.

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