Foundation plantings are plants–commonly shrubs–planted along or near the foundation of a building intended to hide the barren stretch along the foot of a wall. Foundation plantings were once used to hide cellar windows; the need to mask walls has grown less as home builders have tended to lower house foundations. But the arrangement of well-chosen plants is still used to tie a building to its site and environment.
How to add foundation plantings
Tying a building to its site is commonly achieved by starting at the corner of the building with a group of plants pointing like an arrow from the corner outward. It is generally not enough to set a row of plants from each corner each way along a wall in a straight row. Rather planting groups are used to complement the angles of the building, the windows, and the doors. Taller shrubs should be used are first used at the corner. Lower shrubs are used to bring the plant mass down to the ground and outward.
Types of foundation plants
Deciduous shrubs are often used as foundation plantings. They are available in many sizes and forms; they tend to have diverse textures of foliage and leaf color in summer and often brilliant coloring of the bare limbs in winter. They often have spring and summer bloom and the added beauty of decorative fruits or berries in winter.
Evergreens that hold their foliage from season to season including both broadleaf evergreen shrubs and conifers tend to offer a dense, thicker appearance than many deciduous plants. Evergreens planted along foundations can serve as a background to colorful annuals, perennials, and bulbs that can be planted in beds that also frame a building.
The shrubs listed here look good in a foundation planting or mixed border in front of a house. Most are low-growing; some are dwarf or slow-growing versions of larger plants. None need a lot of pruning.
Deciduous foundation shrubs
Berberis thunbergii var. atropurpurea ‘Crimson Pygmy’ (dwarf red barberry). Grows to 3 feet (1m) tall and occasionally more than 8 feet (2.5m) wide; red-purple or purplish bronze foliage, turning red in autumn.
Callicarpa dichotoma (purple beautyberry). Grows to 4 feet (1.2m) tall and wide; dense, upright, deciduous shrub with bright green leaves and pale pink flowers.
Clethra alnifolia ‘Hummingbird’ (dwarf summer-sweet, sweet pepperbush). This cultivar grows 24 to 36 inches (60-90cm) tall and 8 feet (2.5m) wide; deciduous shrub with mi-green leaves turn yellow in autumn.
Cotoneaster adpressus (creeping cotoneaster). Grows to 12 inches (30cm) tall and 6 feet (2m) wide; deciduous, wavy-margined, dull green leaves turning red in autumn; bears reddish-white flowers in summer.
Cotoneaster apiculatus (cranberry cotoneaster). Grows to 3 feet (1m) tall and 8 feet (2.5m) wide; prostrate deciduous shrub with glossy, mid-green leaves turning red to purple-red in autumn; white flowers in summer.
Cotoneaster divaricatus (spreading cotoneaster). Grows to 8 feet (2.5m) tall and 10 feet (3m) wide; deciduous shrub with glossy, dark green leaves turning red in autumn; pink-tinged white flowers in summer.
Cotoneaster horizontalis (rockspray cotoneaster). Grows to 3 feet (1m) tall and 5 feet (1.5m) wide; spreading deciduous shrub forming a herringbone pattern; glossy, dark green leaves turn red in autumn; pink-tinged white flowers in late spring.
Daphne spp. (daphne). Several dwarf and small cultivars from 6 inches (15cm) to 5 feet (1.5m) tall; glossy, leathery, bright green leaves; clustered flowerheads are fragrant varying from red-purple to pink, lilac, yellow, or white.
Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’ (dwarf slender deutzia). Grows to 3 feet (1m) tall and wide; bushy erect shrub with bright green leaves; fragrant star-shaped white flowers from spring to early summer.
Fothergilla gardenii (dwarf fothergilla). Grows to 3 feet (1m) tall and wide; dense, bushy shrub with dark green leaves turning red, orange, and yellow in autumn; spikes of fragrant small white flowers in spring before the leaves appear.
Hydrangea macrophylla (French hydrangea). Grows to 6 feet (2m) tall and 8 feet (2.5m) wide; rounded, deciduous shrub with glossy, dark green leaves; in mid-to-late summer produce flatted corymbs of blue or pink flowers.
Hypericum spp. (St. John’s wort). Several cultivars range in size from 20 inches (50cm) to 4 feet (1.2m) tall and wide; evergreen in warm winter regions; mid to dark green leaves and showy yellow flowers with prominent stamens.
Itea virginica (Virginia sweetspire). Grow 5 to 10 feet (1.5-3m) tall and 5 feet (1.5m) wide; upright then arching, deciduous shrub with dark green leaves; bears fragrant creamy white flowers in summer.
Lespedeza thunbergii (bush clover). Perennial or subshrub grows 6 feet (2m) tall and 10 feet (3m) wide; blue-green leaves with purple-pink flowers in summer.
Potentilla fruticosa (shrubby cinquefoil). Grows 3 feet (1m) tall and 5 feet (1.5m) wide; compact, bushy, deciduous shrub with dark green leaflets; saucer-shaped yellow flowers from late spring to mid autumn.
Spiraea nipponica ‘Snowmound’ (spirea). Grows 4 to 8 feet (1.2-2.5m) tall and wide; dark green leaves and bowl-shaped white flowers in midsummer.
Stephanandra incisa ‘Crispa’ (cutleaf stephanandra). Grows to 6 feet (2m) tall and 10 feet (3m) wide; thicket forming shrub with arching shoots, mid-green leaves, and greenish-white flowers in panicles in early summer.
Syringa meyeri (dwarf Korean lilac) Grows 5 to 6 feet (2m) tall and 10 feet (3m) wide; dark green leaflets; fragrant lilac flowers in panicles appear in late spring.
Evergreen foundation shrubs
Buxus microphylla (littleleaf box). Several cultivars that range in height from 12 inches (30cm) to 24 inches (60cm) tall and about 3 feet (1m) wide; slow-growing, dense, rounded shrub with dark green leaves turning bronze in winter.
Buxus microphylla var. koreana (Korean box). Grows to 24 inches (60cm) tall and 30 inches (75cm) wide; dense, slowing-growing shrub with dark green leaves.
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’ (Japanese plum yew). Coniferous shrub grows 2 to 5 feet (.6-1.5m) tall and wide; linear, sharp-pointed dark green leaves.
Chamaecyparis lawsoniana ‘Minima Glauca’ (dwarf Lawson false cypress). Grows to 6 feet (2m) tall; rounded to conical habit with upswept branches and rounded sprays of bluish-green foliage.
Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana’, ‘Nana Gracilis”, ‘Nana Lutea’, and ‘Filicoides’ (dwarf Hinoki false cypress). Grows 6 to 10 feet (2-3m) tall; dark green leaves.
Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea Nana’ (dwarf golden Sawara false cypress). Grows to 10 feet (3m) tall and wide; golden yellow sharp-pointed leaves in flattened sprays.
Cotoneaster dammeri (bearberry cotoneaster). Grows to 8 inches (20cm) tall and 6 feet (2m) wide; long spreading shoots with mid- to dark green leaves; white flowers appear in early summer followed by spherical red fruit in autumn.
Cotoneaster salicifolius ‘Emerald Carpet’ (willowleaf cotoneaster). Grows to 3 feet (1m) tall and 10 feet (3m) wide; arching branches with dark green leaves bears white flowers in summer followed by bright red fruit.
Daphne cneorum (winter Daphne). Grows to 6 inches (15cm) tall and 4 feet (1.2m) wide; dark green leaves; bears abundant dense clusters of strongly scented pale to deep rose-pink sometimes white flowers.
Gardenia augusta ‘Mysteryt’ (gardenia). Grows to 3 feet (1m) tall and wide; deep green leaves and semi-double flowers.
Ilex cornuta ‘Rotunda’ (dwarf Chinese holly). Grows 3 to 4 feet tall (1-1.2m) and 6 to 8 feet (2-2.5m) wide; glossy, dark green leaves; bears dull red berries.
Ilex crenata ‘Golden Gem’ (Japanese holly). Grow 3 to 4 feet (1m) tall and 4 to 5 feet (1.2-1.5m) wide; golden yellow leaves turn yellow-green in summer followed by black berries.
Ilex X meserveae (blue holly). Grows to 10 feet (3m) tall and wide; dense, vigorous, erect to spreading; glossy bluish-green leaves; white to pinkish-white flowers in late spring.
Juniperus chinensis ‘Gold Coast’ and ‘Old Gold’ (dwarf Chinese juniper). Grow to 3 feet (1m) tall and 4 feet (1.2m) tall; bronze-gold leaves are long with sharp points; bears violet to brown fruit.
Juniperus conferta (shore juniper). Grows to 12 inches (30cm) tall and 6 feet (2m) wide emerald green leaves; heat and salt tolerant.
Juniperus horizontalis (creeping juniper). Several cultivars grow to 12 inches (30cm) tall and to indefinite width; gray-green foliage lays flat; bears ovoid, dark blue fruit.
Juniperus procumbens var. ‘Nana’ (dwarf Japanese garden juniper). Compact, mat-forming with a layered yellow-green spray of branches; grows to 12 inches (30cm) tall and 6 feet (2m) wide.
Leucothoe spp. (leucothoe). Grows 24 inches (60cm) tall to 3 feet (1m) wide; glossy, dark green leaves with urn-shaped white flowers.
Microbiota decussata (Russian cypress, Siberian cypress). Spreading coniferous shrub grows to 3 feet (1m) tall and indefinitely wide; flat sprays of bright mid-green leaves.
Nandina domestica ‘Compacta’ and ‘Harbour Dwarf’ (dwarf heavenly bamboo). Grows to 3 feet (1m) talk and 5 feet (1.5m) wide; lance-shaped leaflets red to reddish-purple; bears small white flowers followed by long-lasting, spherical, bright red fruit.
Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’ (Japanese pieris). Grows 1 to 3 feet (1m) tall and wide; young red leaves turning dark green; bears white flowers6
Pinus mugo subsp. mugo (Mugo pine). Very slow-growing to 8 feet (2.5m) tall and 15 feet (5m) wide; rounded to broadly spreading; dark to bright green leaves.
Pinus strobus ‘Nana’, ‘Blue Shag’, and ‘Soft Touch’ (dwarf Eastern white pine). Compact, rounded, or mounded shrub with light green foliage.
Pittosporum tobira ‘Wheeler’s Dwarf’ (dwarf Japanese pittosporum). Grows to 3 feet (1m) tall and wide; rounded dense shrub; lustrous deep green leaves; bears terminal clusters of sweetly-scented creamy white flowers.
Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ (dwarf cherry laurel). Crows to 3 feet (1m) tall and 5 feet (1.5m) wide; dark green heaves; fragrant white flowers in late spring and often again in autumn.
Raphiolepis indica (Indian hawthorn. Grows to 5 feet (1.5m) tall and 6 feet (2m) wide; bushy, spreading shrub with leathery, glossy, dark green leaves; bears white flowers in early summer.
Rhododendron carolinianum (Carolina rhododendron). Grows to 12 feet (4m) tall and wide; dark green leaves; bears bell-shaped, pink-purple, pink, or white flowers.
Skimmia japonica (Japanese skimmia). Several cultivars fro from 6 inches (15cm) to 3 feet (1m) tall; creeping shrub, slightly aromatic, dark green leaves; fragrant white flowers sometimes tinged pink or red.
Taxus baccata ‘Repandens’ dwarf spreading English yew). Grows to 24 inches tall and 15 feet wide; glossy or matte, dark green leaves; yellow male cones in spring.
Taxus cuspidata ‘Densa’ (dwarf Japanese yew). Grows to 4 feet (1.2m) tall and 20 feet (6m) wide; spiny-tipped, dark green leaves
Yucca filamentosa (Adam’s needle). Grow to 30 inches (75cm) tall and 5 feet (1.5m) wide; lance-shaped, rigid, dark green leaves margined with curly white threads; nodding bell-shaped white flower appear in mid-summer.