Foundation Plantings: Front-to-Back Landscaping | Home & Garden

Justin Evertson Nebraska Statewide Arboretum

The term “foundation plantings” generally refers to landscape plants purposely placed on or near the foundation of a home.

In the past, these plants were regularly used to disguise unattractive foundations and first floor basements. They usually consisted of shearing evergreen shrubs such as boxwood, juniper, or yew with a few easy-to-grow daylilies or other perennials added to add color and seasonal interest.

Over time, it has become common to add foundation plantings to most new homes, as well as many commercial buildings.

Many new homes don’t end up with unsightly foundations that are better hidden, so are foundation plantings still an important concept?

This question depends a lot on the context: the style of the house, its scale, the surrounding landscape, neighboring properties and personal taste.

Often the plants selected to hide the base of the house are chosen without regard to their long-term suitability and tend to outgrow their usefulness.

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At best, foundation plantings can soften harsh architectural angles and help a home blend in better with its surroundings. And for gardeners and landscape enthusiasts, foundations can be a great place to grow some of their favorite plants.

Here are some suggestions for thinking about foundation plantings:

It’s a good idea to focus on the complete layout of the house and not just the foundation line. In most situations, and especially for novice gardeners, foundation plantings should generally be kept simple and conservatively scaled in order to show off rather than hide the house.

Landscapers advise against placing “foundation plants as if they were little soldiers pressed along the perimeter of your home.” They are more effective when used to beautify the home rather than hide it. Unless you want full screen, avoid planting varieties that will block windows.

They are rarely visible from inside the house, unless they are near low windows. So unless you don’t have enough space elsewhere, you might not want to hide and waste your favorite plants here.

On the other hand, if you’re short on space or are an avid gardener, the foundation area can be a place to have fun while expanding your plant collection. Foundation areas are often the areas we interact with the most, and they are usually close to a water source, so having vibrant landscape plantings near doorways, foundations, and walkways is well worth it.

Remember that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and tastes change over time. A growing trend across the country is a return to gardening and a desire to be more environmentally friendly with landscape plantings. This also applies to foundation plantings, and people are increasingly accepting a little fuzziness or wildness in the home landscape if it leads to better environmental outcomes.

Foundation plantings can have great appeal while helping to support pollinators and other wildlife. There are many great resources on easy-to-grow plants for pollinators.

Areas near downspouts are great places to practice rain gardening, where rainwater is captured and allowed to naturally soak into the ground instead of flowing off site as quickly as possible. The best rain gardens use deep-rooted plants that tend to grow a bit taller.

Beware of tall trees and shrubs in foundation areas. Many views from a bay window were blocked by a misplaced tree. And large growing shrubs can quickly grow out of bounds, making exterior home maintenance more difficult.

Finally, if you are new to landscaping, work with a good landscaper or landscaper. They are worth the investment.

Terri S. Tomasini