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Foundation Plantings

What Purpose Do Foundation Plantings Serve?

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This foundation planting mixes shrubs and trees, textures and colors.

This entry boasts a nice mix of shrubs and trees, using foliage with different colors.

David Beaulieu

At the most basic level, foundation plantings are simply beds of plants (often dominated by shrubs) installed along house foundations. The classic style consists of three parts:

  1. A planting for an entryway design
  2. Plantings on the corners of the house foundation
  3. And plantings that bridge the gap between these

By referring above to the "classic" style, I'm acknowledging the fact that not all beds planted along house foundations conform to this tripartite model; indeed, the majority probably will not. Nonetheless, we may regard the classic style as a standard -- from which people either deviate or draw inspiration.

Why Install Foundation Plantings?

Traditionally, shrubs were installed along a house wall to hide the raised house foundations that were prevalent at the time in some regions. Many no longer feel the need to install such shrubs, because house styles have changed (less house foundation to hide). At the very least, such critics would argue, while parts 1 and 2 above may still be desirable in some circumstances, there is usually no need to bridge the gap between these (i.e., part 3).

Playing devil’s advocate, I can think of at least five objections to this opinion (objections pertinent in at least some instances):

  1. While a raised house foundation may be unattractive, a long uninterrupted wall of vinyl siding isn’t especially appealing, either.
  2. Shrubs soften the hard lines of a house, even one with attractive siding.
  3. Newly-built homes are sometimes plunked on an expanse of lawn devoid of mature trees. A bed of shrubs can quickly counteract this rather bleak look.
  4. When landscaping in small spaces, you may just plain need the extra space if you enjoy growing a particular shrub!
  5. If you choose evergreen shrubs for your project, you can promote energy efficiency.

What I mean by this fifth point is that evergreen shrubs planted along a house wall can reduce heating costs by creating something of an insulating dead air space around a home's foundation. For, even if just a few inches of concrete foundation are exposed, that's a potential route for cold air to enter your house. The insulation value provided by evergreen shrubs is minimal, yes; but every little bit helps!

Preliminary Considerations

If you’re the organized type, you’ll want to begin with a landscape design plan. Beyond that, keep the following in mind:

  • Contact your local utility companies before digging: they’ll mark the areas where digging is off-limits, due to the presence of power lines, etc. It's free, it's easy and -- in many regions -- it's the law.
  • In selecting plants, think in terms of mature height, not the height of the plant when you see it at the nursery. That cute little shrub at the nursery may soon attain sufficient height to block the view from your window.
  • Which plants like sun? Which prefer shade? Such considerations will help determine what you buy and where can plant it (north, east, south, or west wall).

On Page 2 we’ll look at design and other considerations when installing shrubs along a foundation….

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