When planning your property’s landscape, foundation plants take special thought. A problem I often see is when a homeowner or builder has picked the wrong plant for an application. It’s a common scenario: You go to a nursery or warehouse store and pick a plant that looks pretty right now. But over time it gets big and bushy, reaches 25 feet tall, or starts to die when you prune it.
I’ve had customers tell me, “That plant grows too fast. I can’t see out the window!” And my answer is, “That plant doesn’t belong in front of your house.”
It’s good to do some investigating so that you can pick the perfect plant for the spot you are trying to fill. Before purchasing a plant to go, say, next to your front door, or beneath your dining room windows, find out what that plant does in its mature state. How big does it get? How much pruning can it handle? Some plants just won’t thrive if they are cropped. Those are the ones that are meant to be planted on the border or your property—they can become floppy and big and be left alone, like the Rhododendrons in the foreground in this photo of a Dupont estate.
Recently, a customer asked me to fill in holes in his landscaping to block the view of his neighbor’s property. My customer wanted to achieve instant coverage by planting new Norway spruce under his existing giant hemlocks. Those spruce will fill in the holes this season, but for the long term, they are unfortunately the wrong choice. Norway spruce can grow to 100 feet, so when they are underplanted, they struggle to survive.
Often, the homeowner is not to blame for poor plant choices. The builder is. Builders of new homes and additions have the right equipment to install landscaping plantings, and they are conveniently on the job site with a team to do the labor. But if you entrust a builder with picking your plants, chances are you’ll be hiring someone like me in a few years to come fix that mess!
Besides aesthetics or problems like not being able to see out of your windows, the wrong plants can also cause you major financial headaches. Some plants installed up against homes in the ’70s and ’80s—such as Taxus and Rhododendron, can become so overgrown and out of control that they damage the foundation.
Where can you find the information you need to choose the right plant?
Our own University of Connecticut is a fantastic resource when it comes to gardening and plant selection. Use their Plant Database of Trees Shrubs and Vines and use their Plant Selector to search for plants by attributes.
Truth be told, there's really only a short list of plants that do well as foundation plants in our planting zone here in Easton. In order to have year-round coverage in front of your home, you will want the majority of the back plants close to the house to be evergreen. Boxwood, Spirea, PJM compact Rhododendrons, dwarf conifers such as dwarf Alberta spruce, numerous holly varieties, and slow-growing cypress such as Hinoki cypress or other dwarf varieties are all good choices. In front of those is where you can get into variety and color, with things like Hydrangea, dwarf azalea, and perennials.