Foundation Plantings Checkup

Foundation planting basics to improve the appeal and value of your home.

By Robert Kaldenbach
January 6, 2020
Foundation Plantings
A.Kurtz/Getty Images

Whether you’re planning to sell or are set on staying in your home, it’s worth your time to take a good look at the plants around the buildings on your property. Here’s some advice on what works—and what does not.

Draw a landscape plan for your property—or at least the part around the foundations of your house, garage, and outbuildings. Then draw a sketch of your house showing window and door positions. Make photocopies of both sketches. You will mess up several before you get one set good enough to execute.

Walk around your neighborhood or a nursery to find plantings that you like. Ask questions, take notes, and later research on the Internet or use a landscape-design book to learn more about each plant’s characteristics: sunlight and cultural requirements; size at maturity; foliage color; need for irrigation; susceptibility to fungal infections; and hardiness to your region and climate.

5 Foundation Planting Concepts

Draw your preferences onto a set of your property sketches, with these five concepts in mind: 

  1. Peripheral plantings should not compete with the house for emphasis; the eye is to be drawn to the house. It is the central focal point; the borders are incidental.
  2. Put “framing” and mass at the edges, to leave the center of the space open. Keep the largest plantings off to the sides. 
  3. Avoid scatter: no flower beds in the middle of lawns, no brilliant-color plants without a background of green foliage to set them off.
  4. Make flowers incidental, to supply color and finish. The lawn and the mass plantings are the main pieces of the plan.
  5. Think about position carefully. Far more important than the right choice of plant is its correct position with reference to other plants and to structures.

When you have a tentative planting diagram, consider hiring the manager of a local nursery to visit your site. Invite criticism of your plans. Ask what he or she would charge to develop a plan for you. It could be the best money that you will spend this year.

Your tasks may include the removal of ill-conceived plantings. Do this decisively, especially if the soil around the foundation is organically poor, rubble-ridden, impossibly acidic, or adversely graded (shedding water toward the house, not away from it). You will have to do some serious digging to get tree trunks down to subterranean levels, but you need not fully remove all roots.

Get a soil test kit and send off a sample to your state soil-testing lab. Pay for the most comprehensive test that’s offered. You want to know the levels of organic matter and trace elements such as lead and cadmium, not just soil pH and major nutrient levels.

Regardless of the cost of what the lab suggests—compost, rotted manure, peat moss, and so forth—buy it. You need fertile, loamy soil, properly graded away from the building in a band reaching to the edge of your planting perimeter at a minimum depth of 6 inches.

Now, plant. 

6 Common Foundation Planting Mistakes

Avoid these common errors in foundation-plant placement

  1. ball-shape shrubs arranged geometrically around the entrance (nature abhors linear geometry; nature knows only curves)
  2. evergreens planted so close to the house that they rub the walls
  3. plants grown so tall that they obscure windows
  4. walkways lined with plants set too close and now intruding over the walking area
  5. weed grass beneath shrubs, rising into their bodies
  6. monochromatic plant choices (everything green or even worse, everything evergreen)

When everything is done, you will have transformed the appearance of your place, increased its value by some large multiple of the cost of the work, and created a pleasant sight for neighbors and passersby to see, season in and season out.

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