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The best plants for a foundation planting

By: Garden Gate staff
The best-looking foundation planting starts with the right plants. Use our design guide whether you’re starting from scratch or redesigning your foundation garden.

Foundation-plants-by-shape-lead-stacked

Everyone wants a foundation planting that looks great and accents their home. A variety of plants shapes are a sure way to do that. You can easily use this design technique if nothing’s planted in front of your home. Or if you want to revamp an established landscape, simply keep your favorite trees and shrubs and pair them up with a few new selections. All it takes to get a fresh, updated look is choosing a few simple shapes. Start with these tips for choosing the right plants for your space then take a look at some common plant shapes and how they can take your foundation planting from ho-hum to head-turning.

Consider mature size of plants for your foundation planting

Be sure to check the mature width of the plants you'll be growing next to the house. For example, if you want a pyramidal shaped tree, the first plant that comes to mind might be a large spruce. But do you want one in your foundation planting? Probably not — it could grow to be 25 feet wide or more! That size would be much too large for most houses. And you don’t want to keep pruning a large prickly plant to keep it small. So the mature size of your choice becomes an important factor. Sure, a capitata yew or a Canadian hemlock can be clipped so it fits the spot, just factor the maintenance time it will take as you choose each shape.

There are no hard-and-fast rules about heights. But you don’t want plants covering your windows. The tallest shapes are usually at the corners. And a good rule of thumb is to keep the plants there slightly above or just below the edge of the roof.

Don’t forget there’s sun and shade to consider, along with other growing conditions. So, to help you get started, check out these plant lists, broken down by shapes, below.

Foundation-plants-by-shape-dwarf-blue-spruce-globiosa-round: This ‘Globosa’ dwarf blue spruce has a round habit.

Round-shaped plants

This is the most common shape in any landscape. Use it in groups or masses where you don’t want to focus a lot of attention. Your eye moves over a round form quickly and easily, often heading to a weeping or pyramidal shape.

  • Abelia Abelia ‘Edward Goucher’
    Type Shrub Blooms Pink flowers from spring until frost Light Full sun to part shade Size 4 to 5 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9

  • Boxwood Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ 
    Type Evergreen shrub; easily sheared for size Light Full sun to part shade Size 2 to 4 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

  • Brownii yew Taxus x media ‘Brownii‘ 
    Type Evergreen shrub; dark green needles; shear for size Light Full sun to part shade Size 8 to 10 ft. tall, 6 to 12 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7

  • Dwarf blue spruce Picea pungens ‘Globosa’ 
    Type Evergreen shrub; stiff steel blue needles Light Full sun Size 3 to 4 ft. tall, 4 to 6 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8

  • Dwarf fothergilla Fothergilla gardenii
    Type Shrub Blooms Fragrant white flowers in spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 4 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

  • Dwarf Korean lilac Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’
    Type Shrub Blooms Fragrant lavender flowers in late spring Light Full sun Size 4 to 5 ft. tall, 5 to 7 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

  • Smooth leaf hydrangea Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’
    Type Shrub Blooms White flowers in summer Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 4 to 6 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

  • Viburnum Viburnum lantana ‘Mohican’
    Type Shrub Blooms White flowers in spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 7 to 8 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Foundation-plants-by-shape-Castle-spire-holly-pyramial: Castle Spire holly leads your eye up with its narrow top.

Pyramidal-shaped plants

Wherever this shape is placed, it will draw attention. And the narrow top will cause you to look up. Use pyramids sparingly, implementing them near an entrance, to frame a view or at the start of a path.

  • American holly Ilex opaca
    Type Evergreen tree Foliage Shiny green foliage; need a male and female plant to get fruit Light Full sun to part shade Size 15 to 30 ft. tall, 10 to 20 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

  • Arborvitae Thuja occidentalis ‘Holmstrup’
    Type Evergreen tree; soft-to-the-touch green foliage; slow growing Light Full sun to part shade Size 10 to 15 ft. tall, 3 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

  • Canadian hemlock Tsuga canadensis
    Type Evergreen tree; dark green needles; easily sheared or left natural Light part shade to full shade Size 40 to 70 ft. tall, 25 to 35 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

  • Capitata yew Taxus cuspidata ‘Capitata’ 
    Type Evergreen tree; dark green needles; shear for size Light Full sun to full shade Size 3 to 25 ft. tall, 2 to 15 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

  • Dwarf Alberta spruce Picea glauca albertina ‘Conica’
    Type Evergreen shrub; slow, dense growing Light Full sun to part shade Size 6 to 8 ft. tall, 3 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

  • Holly Ilex x meserveae Castle Spire®
    Type Evergreen shrub; female produces red fruit Light Full sun to part shade Size 8 to 10 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 7

  • Juniper Juniperus scopullorum ‘Wichita Blue’
    Type Evergreen tree; prickly steel-blue foliage; can be sheared Light Full sun to part shade Size 10 to 12 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

Foundation-plants-by-shape-Princeton-Sentry-ginkgo-Columnar: Columnar plants like this ‘Princeton Sentry’ ginkgo lead your eye upward. But this shape is softer and more casual than a pyramid.

Columnar plants

The narrower this shape is, the stronger the effect. Similar to a pyramid, it leads the eye upward, just not as dramatically. Where space is limited, use a columnar shape in place of a wide rounded one to hide or soften the look of a tall corner.

  • Arborvitae Thuja occidentalis Emerald
    Type Evergreen tree; bright green foliage Light Full sun to part shade Size 12 to 15 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

  • Birch Betula platyphylla Dakota Pinnacle®
    Type Tree; white bark Light Full sun Size 20 to 30 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

  • Cutleaf buckthorn Frangula alnus Fine Line® Type Shrub; fine, feathery foliage Light Full sun to part shade Size 5 to 7 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 7

  • European hornbeam Carpinus betulus ‘Frans Fontaine’
    Type Tree; medium green foliage Light Full sun to part shade Size 20 to 25 ft. tall, 6 to 10 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

  • Flowering crabapple Malus ‘Adirondack’ 
    Type Tree Blooms White flowers in spring Light Full sun Size 15 to 18 ft. tall, 8 to 10 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

  • Ginkgo Ginkgo biloba ‘Princeton Sentry’ 
    Type Tree; male cultivar won’t produce fruit Light Full sun Size 15 to 40 ft. tall, 15 to 20 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

  • Hicks yew Taxus x media ‘Hicksii’ 
    Type Evergreen tree Foliage Dark green needles; easy to shear for size Light Full sun to part shade Size 10 to 12 ft. tall, 3 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7

  • Japanese holly Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ 
    Type Evergreen shrub; very slow growing Light Full sun to part shade Size 6 to 8 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Foundation-plants-by-shape-Blue-Chip-creeping-juniper-horizontal: Horizontal ‘Blue Chip’ creeping juniper has a comfortable and stablilizing effect.

Horizontal plants

Low plants with flat tops, wider than they are tall, emphasize length. The evergreens flanking the sidewalk above are good examples of horizontals. Other shapes can be planted close together and clipped to form hedges to get this shape. Horizontal forms have a comfortable stabilizing effect.

  • Bird’s nest spruce Picea abies ‘Nidiformis’ 
    Type Evergreen shrub Foliage Dark green needles; slow growing Light Full sun Size 3 to 5 ft. tall, 9 to 12 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

  • Creeping juniper Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’
    Type Evergreen shrub Foliage Blue-green needles Light Full sun Size 4 to 12 in. tall, 2 to 8 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

  • Cutleaf staghorn sumac Rhus typhina Tiger Eyes® Type Shrub Foliage Bright golden yellow foliage Light Full sun to part shade Size 3 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

  • Deutzia Deutzia gracilis ‘Nikko’ 
    Type Shrub Blooms White flowers in spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 1 to 3 ft. tall, 2 to 5 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

  • Doublefile viburnum Viburnum plicatum tomentosum
    Type Shrub Blooms White flowers in spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 8 to 15 ft. tall, 10 to 18 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

  • Japanese maple Acer palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’ 
    Type Tree Foliage Shades of red foliage from spring to fall Light Full sun to part shade Size 10 to 15 ft. tall, 15 to 20 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9

  • Pagoda dogwood Cornus alternifolia
    Type Tree Blooms Creamy white flowers in late spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 15 to 25 ft. tall, 20 to 30 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

  • Rockspray cotoneaster Cotoneaster horizontalis
    Type Shrub Blooms Red fruit in late summer Light Full sun to part shade Size 2 to 3 ft. tall, 5 to 8 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7

Foundation-plants-by-shape-redbud-weeping: Weeping plants like this ‘Traveller’ redbud lead your eye downward.

Weeping plants

While pyramids make you look up, weeping shapes encourage you to look down. Use this shape to distract viewers from something higher up on the house or against a house where a blank wall feels tall and looming. Most of the time, just one is enough.

  • Beech Fagus sylvatica ‘Pendula’ 
    Type Tree Foliage Green leaves turn coppery gold in fall Light Full sun to part shade Size 20 to 50 ft. tall, 15 to 30 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 7

  • Cherry Prunus Snow Fountains®
    Type Tree Blooms White flowers in spring Light Full sun Size 8 to 15 ft. tall, 6 to 8 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

  • Flowering crabapple Malus hybrid ‘Louisa’ 
    Type Tree Blooms Pink flowers in spring Light Full sun Size 8 to 10 ft. tall, 10 to 12 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

  • Juniper Juniperus scopulorum ‘Tolleson’s Blue Weeping’ 
    Type Evergreen tree Foliage Steel-blue foliage Light Full sun Size 12 to 20 ft. tall, 8 to 12 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

  • Mulberry Morus alba ‘Chaparral’ 
    Type Tree; male cultivar won’t produce fruit Light Full sun to part shade Size 6 to 10 ft. tall, 8 to 12 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

  • Norway spruce Picea abies ‘Pendula’
    Type Evergreen tree Foliage Dark green needles; needs to be staked to grow tall Light Full sun Size 2 to 10 ft. tall, 4 to 10 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

  • Pussy willow Salix caprea ‘Pendula’
    Type Tree Blooms Silvery catkins in early spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 6 to 7 ft. tall, 5 to 7 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

  • Redbud Cercis canadensis texensis ‘Traveller’
    Type Tree Blooms Bright pink flowers in early spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 4 to 6 ft. tall, 10 to 12 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9


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