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Shrubs for Foundation Plantings and the Entryway Design

The Front-Door Planting as a Focal Point

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Picture of a colorful foundation planting.

Picture of a colorful foundation planting, at its peak in spring.

David Beaulieu

As mentioned on Page 1, foundation plantings can be divided into three parts. The criteria for selecting landscape shrubbery for foundation plantings will differ, accordingly. I discuss plant selection for each of the three parts below (the discussion will be restricted to the front-door side of your house), beginning with the entryway design. While tastes in planting styles vary greatly, most people agree on one idea: namely, that the focal point of a foundation planting should be the entryway design.

Shrubs for Foundation Plantings: The Entryway Design

Why should the shrubbery of the entryway design serve as the focal point? Well, why do we festoon the front door and porch with outdoor decorations? Isn't it, in part, to inject a sense of welcome into such a critical area of the property, that transitional area from outdoors to indoors? For the same reason, special importance should be attached to the shrubbery in an entryway design during plant selection.

However, the rationale goes beyond that. Shrubs for foundation plantings should complement the house they adjoin. Thus, just as, architecturally, the front door should be the focal point on that wall of the house, so the foundation shrubs in the entryway design should be the biggest attention-grabbers of the overall foundation planting. Aesthetically, the entryway design and the front door should work hand-in-hand.

But how can we ensure that the foundation shrubs in the entryway design will receive the viewer's focus? Although it can be over-used, many of us are instinctively attracted by symmetry. Such symmetry is often achieved conveniently through the use of container plants, as this landscaping picture with urns shows. A popular plant for such symmetrical arrangements, whether planted in the ground or in a container, is the dwarf Alberta spruce. Dwarf Alberta spruces achieve just enough size to make a statement without getting in the way (not for quite a few years, at least). The fact that they are evergreen shrubs is also helpful, since that means they'll provide visual interest year round.

Shrubs for Foundation Plantings: The Corners of the House

Smart plant usage at the corners of a house is important, too, since these plants can frame the house, visually. To that end, plant these foundation shrubs (or small trees) far enough away from the corners so that, even at maturity, they won't obscure the corners of the house.

Corner plantings should be taller than the rest. Let scale be your guide, adjusting allowable plant height according to the height of your house.

However, sometimes you'll want to tweak the scale, so as to correct what you might view as a "fault" in the architecture. For instance, perhaps you feel that your ranch-style home gives too "horizontal" an impression. To correct this, plant something tall and skinny at each corner, such as Emerald Green arborvitae trees. Such corner plantings will break up the home's horizontality and lead the eye upwards.

By contrast, it is the verticality of the corners that you may wish to combat with a house that is relatively tall, compared to its width. In this case, a small tree with a horizontal branching habit can soften the home's vertical lines. Dogwoods are an example; a variety that stays short (12'-15'), the pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), is often a good choice for corner plantings.

More Shrubs for Foundation Plantings and Other Plants

The remaining foundation shrubbery bridges the gaps in the foundation planting, between the entryway design and the corners. These plants don't enjoy the sexy roles of the plants we've been considering so far, but they should still be selected with a purpose in mind. First and foremost, of course, they should work in harmony with the foundation shrubs we've already been considering. But beyond that, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Dwarf shrubs are preferable to something that you'll have to prune, if you prefer a low-maintenance landscape design.
  • But don't think that you are limited to shrubs! Ornamental grasses provide another tall-but-not-too-tall option for inserting an element of verticality.
  • Annual flowers and perennial flowers can be installed in front of foundation shrubs, giving you more options for varying textures and injecting color into foundation plantings (see Page 3).

How Close to the House Should You Place Foundation Shrubs?

Having shrubbery right up against your house isn't good for the house, the shrubbery, or for you! So keep the following guidelines in mind when planning a foundation planting:

Locate good-sized shrubs (6 feet tall or higher at maturity) in such a way that their mature foliage will remain at least 5 feet away from the house. You can get away with planting shrubs that stay shorter a bit closer to the house. Where you live also makes some difference. In hot, humid climates, you'll want more air circulating between the house and the foundation shrubs, to discourage rot. Adequate spacing between the plants themselves, too, is important, to reduce disease and maintenance.

At least two more reasons readily suggest themselves for keeping foundation shrubs a reasonable distance away from the house:

  1. You'll want adequate access to your house in order to work on it.
  2. Foundation shrubs growing right under the eaves of a house would be deprived of rainfall.

On Page 3 we put it all together, discussing landscape design with foundation plants....

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