Foundation Plants


One of the biggest mistakes home gardeners make is not matching their choice of plants for foundations to their ability to maintain them and to the design of the house. Generally, homeowners plant shrubs that get too large for them to keep up with the trimming. Or, they plant fast-growing shrubs that overpower a ranch style home. Or, they plant dwarf species in front of their colonial and the boxy shape is never offset by the softening effect of plants.

For ranch or cape style homes, very few, narrow upright plants should be used. Generally, they look best planted on the ends of the home, between windows, or beside front steps. Emerald Green Arborvitae and a few species of columnar Juniper, like Blue Alps, Blue Arrow, or Pencil Point, fit this category. Most other shrubs must stay below windows and should not grow more than 3-5' tall.

For evergreen varieties, dwarf spruces, pines, and rhododendrons, as well as a few junipers work well. Birdsnest or Pumilla Spruce grow wide, but no more than 2' tall. Purple Gem Rhododendron also grows slowly wider than the 2' maximum height. Blue Sargeant Juniper may get to 2 ½' tall, but many rug juniper species hug the ground. For a little more height, Wilson, or Waltham, or Windbeam Rhododendron can get 3' or 4' tall. In spruces, Gregoryana Parsons, Howell's Tigertail, and R.H. Montgomery will grow to be mid-sized shrubs. Similarly, with pines, Adcock's Dwarf, or Blue Jay, or Paul's Dwarf. or Mops, should be easy to control beneath windows.

With flowering shrubs, there are too many choices to more than mention a few very good species. There are varying -colored Potentilla, which bloom all summer and do not grow more than 3 ½' tall. Daphne and Little Princess Spirea do not grow more than 2' tall, while Anthony Waterer, Goldflame, Shibori, and Snow White can reach 3-5'. Many shrub roses are extremely hardy and bloom all summer, while growing to a 2-5' height. French Lace; Midnight Wine, Java Red, and Wine and Roses Weigela are quite manageable in the 3-5' range. A few of these keep deep purple foliage and provide a good alternative to redleaf barberry.

For taller style homes, like Colonial, that have windows higher off the ground, there are a few more choices. Any of the above can be worked into those planted furthest from the foundation. The following can be planted closer to the foundation, but remember these get sizable and should usually be planted no closer than 4'. For evergreens, Dwarf Albera Spruce, Goldthreadleaf Falsecypress, PJM Rhodedendron, Hetz Columnar or Mountbaten Juniper, or Weeping White Spruce can be good upright forms. Hinoki Falsecypress, Dark American Arborvitae, George Peabody Arborvitae, or Hillspire Juniper are also good large upright varieties. Andromeda, Laurel, Heatherbun Falsecypress, or Sherwood Moss Arborvitae are good mid-sized, broad forms.

Some of the larger flowering, deciduous shrubs that are suitable between windows are Summersweet, Red Prince Weigela, Enkianthus, Ninebark, Beach Plum, Peashrub, and Quince. For most homeowners, Forsythia, Lilac, Mockorange, large-leaf Rhododendron, Viburnum, BurningBbush, Dogwood, and Honeysuckle grow far too fast to plant near the foundation.

An investment in plants can be substantial. Mistakes in planning where to place them can be a continuing headache. Many nurseries offer good advice in this regard. Bring photographs of your home with distances between windows, along with house dimensions. Done properly, you will have a more valuable property and reduce utility costs as well.


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Poland Spring, Maine
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