New Foundation Plantings

New Foundation Plantings

Is it time to add or replace the shrubs around your house?

If your foundation plantings are hiding your house, it might be time to evaluate things on a plant-by-plant basis. Some might be pruned differently so they could stay, while others are just too large and can’t be made smaller again.

Does your house need better curb appeal? Sometimes the older shrubs and trees have just gotten too large, or they have been pruned so many times that the plants are no longer attractive. Or perhaps you have a blank slate because the house is new or you’ve had things removed. In all of these cases, if it’s time to put in new plants around your house, here are 5 tips for creating beautiful foundation plantings.

  1. Home landscapers now have access to shrubs that have been bred or selected to stay shorter. There are many dwarf or short evergreens and flowering shrubs available, so look at the tags to find things that won’t grow too large. Do keep in mind, however, that the sizes printed on many tags are an estimate for the plant’s size when it’s five to ten years old. So if it’s important to keep plants from covering a window, mentally add about a foot to the mature size that’s listed on a plant label.
  2. Know how much direct sun the sides of your house receives and choose plants accordingly. For example, if you place blue-flowering Hydrangeas in a sunny western or southern facing location those flowers will brown out quickly in the summer. And should you plant roses in a shady bed on a north side of the house, they won’t grow or flower well.
  3. Choose some plants that keep their foliage all year, and some that might lose their leaves but flower in the summer.
  4. Pick a variety of foliage colors and textures. If you plan for leaf color and size first, your foundation planting will always be attractive whether there are flowers or not. Shoppers have never had such a wonderful selection of plants with dark green, yellow, blue, red, lime or variegated foliage. Place plants with small leaves next to others with large leaves, and use a variety of colors and textures.
  5. Space plants far enough apart so that they have room to grow in the future, and you don’t have to prune them to try and control their size. If the area looks too sparse to you at first, use perennials or annuals to fill in while the shrubs are growing. A good general rule of thumb is to have the very center of any shrubs you’re putting into a foundation bed be at least 4 feet from the house. This will look like it’s too far away when you first plant, but in three or four years once the shrubs have grown, you’ll be happy that you placed them this way.
This foundation planting is filled with plants with tiny green leaves. The homeowner missed the opportunity to use different colors and textures of foliage. Also, the shrubs under the windows already need frequent pruning to try and keep them small, so this foundation planting isn’t very low-maintenance.
This Cotoneaster shrub was once attractive in the foundation, but it’s no longer adding anything of value to this house. Time to remove it and start fresh! When picking new plants for this area, the homeowners should decide if the plants should be evergreen, and if they should stay shorter than the railing around this porch. Next, they should pick plants that will grow well in the amount of sun that the bed receives.
When junipers have been sheared again and again they become bare and ugly. Once most evergreens look like this, it’s time to remove them and start with a blank slate.
Shoppers have never had such a great selection of colors and textures of shrubs…plus there are many that will stay small or grow very slowly. When you pick the right plant for the location, it’s less work because you don’t have to fight its size or try to get it to look good in growing conditions that aren’t suitable. Go for leaf color first, matching the right plant to your growing conditions. (Pick sun-lovers for sunny areas, shade plants for northern or tree-covered beds, and plants that are drought-tolerant for dry spaces.)
This house used a combination of evergreen and flowering, deciduous shrubs in the new foundation beds. Yellow Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’) has been used for color and to help fill out the area while the shrubs are growing. The red Japanese cut-leaf maple on the side adds additional color, as do the variegated boxwood shrubs on either side of the front porch.
Before Photo. Side yards are usually a corridor so you don’t necessarily have to include many evergreens as these foundation areas aren’t seen much in the winter. This is how C.L. Fornari’s side yard looked when they purchased their house. It faces northwest, and there are trees about twenty feet away, so it’s a part-shade location. It is an area where the Fornari’s knew that they might sometime have a party or other event on the lawn, however, so planting things to screen the air conditioners and the bulkhead doors was desirable.
After Photo. As you can see, the Fornari’s extended the foundation bed to stretch along this entire part of the house, including under the second floor balcony. Because evergreens weren’t needed, C.L. mainly planted summer flowers in this bed. She planted, (from left to right) Hosta, Osmunda Fern, blue mophead Hydrangeas, (with a yellow-foliaged Filipendula perennial in front) a panicle hydrangea, a pink Invincibelle Spirit Hydrangea, a dwarf Hinoki falsecypress (hidden behind the pink hydrangea) and a tall bayberry that screens the bulkhead and softens the tall blank wall. Beyond the bulkhead are a Weigela for June flowers, a variegated Miscanthus grass, and a white-flowering Rose of Sharon on the corner. The main pruning that’s needed now is to remove the section of the Hydrangea paniculata (panicle hydrangea) that is flopping onto the lawn. That will get removed completely and the upright stems of this shrub will continue to grow higher and soften the post that supports the balcony.
Sometimes we reach the point where we need to thank a plant for being with us over the years, but tell it goodbye. One an arborvitae becomes bare in places it won’t fill in with new, green growth.
If you can no longer see where the doors and windows are, it’s time to renew!
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