Foundation plantings were originally used to hide the underbusiness of a house, much like a bed skirt hides a box spring. They also acted as insulation-helping to keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Done well, they can serve to soften the look of the home in the landscape. Done badly, they can ugly things up, create mold problems, and damage your home. In the words of Atlanta Landscape Designer Tara Dillard, many foundation “bushes are either leggy hags or green meatballs. “
Personally, I’m not a fan foundation plantings. Too often, shrubs and trees are planted right next to the house and hacked back to keep them small-or worse- they are let go and just eat the house. If the front of your home is attractive, why hide it? Here are 10 things to keep in mind if you must plant around your foundation:
- DO have a plan. It doesn’t have to be a formal plan, but have some idea of your goals before you begin. Dragging random things home from the nursery and plunking them in may not give you the result you want.
- Remember, the trees and shrubs in the nursery are BABIES. That is why they call it a nursery. Feed them and water them, and they will grow.. A lot. That cute little Rhododendron maximum or Yew in the one gallon pot will eat your house in twenty years.
- Match the plants to the scale of your home. A few dwarf shrubs in front of a large Colonial will look silly, or just flat get lost..
- Keep large trees well away from your home and electrical wires to minimize storm damage. Have existing trees trimmed away from the house, if possible. Keep smaller, ornamental trees 10-15 feet away from the foundation.
- A few feet of gravel held in by steel edging will ease drainage, prevent damage, and allow room for painting, window washing and other maintenance chores around the foundation. Use the bottom of an extended ladder to determine the width of the gravel bed. Or expand the gravel for a more open, courtyard effect. Functional and attractive.
- Consider the view from inside your home. What do you see from your windows? What do you want to see? Do you need more privacy?
- Keep plantings away from doors and entryways. This gives your home a more open, welcoming feeling. A few well placed containers will give you all the color you need.
- Avoid blocking windows. Let the air and light in!
- Limit plant varieties. Use and repeat the same variety, or several varieties of shrubs for a more unified look.
- If you must have hydrangeas near the house- (of course you must- on Cape Cod we love our hydrangeas) give them room to grow and be what they want to be. Or select some of the many new compact or dwarf varieties.