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Brighten Up A Dull Foundation Planting

By: Sherri RibbeySherri Ribbey
Here’s a new idea for your foundation planting! These tough and long-blooming perennials dress up a shady area beside the house.

Add perennials to your foundation planting

Tired of the traditional green shrub foundation planting? Try perennials instead! This low-maintenance combo puts on a pretty show of pastel blooms through summer. Plus it’s resilient enough to handle some tough conditions: shade for much of the day, late afternoon sun, drying winter winds and spotty rain.

The highlights of this shady foundation planting

Ostrich ferns are a go-to plant for shady sites. They tolerate dry areas and more sun once they’re established but really shine with regular moisture, growing up to 6 feet tall in some areas! You can even snip a few of the tightly curled fiddle heads in spring and add them to a salad or fry them up in butter for a tasty treat!

Lady’s mantle’s chartreuse flowers are long-lasting but always seem to flop. That’s OK since this low-growing plant is usually at the front of the border. The flowers form a lacy edge that softens the hard lines of this stone path. Remove the flowers below the foliage as they fade, though — this plant reseeds easily.

The real star of this border is astilbe. Colorful plumes add some excitement midborder with their upright flower shape. Give astilbe a wet spot in the garden or plan to water frequently if the weather is dry. Without enough water your astilbe may turn brown and die back midseason; if this happens, cut it down to within a few inches of the crown and start watering. New foliage will sprout again. Even if it doesn’t, don’t count it out — it’s probably just dormant. Most of the time, your astilbe will be back again in spring.

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Colorful foundation planting with Astilbe and Lady's mantle: Create a colorful foundation planting with Astilbe and lady's mantle.

A) Astilbe (Astilbe ‘Cattleya’)
Type Perennial Blooms Rose-pink flowers in midsummer Light Full sun to part shade Size 30 to 36 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8, heat zones 8 to 1

B) Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
Type Perennial Blooms Chartreuse blooms in spring to summer Light Full sun to part shade Size 10 to 18 in. tall, 18 to 30 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8, heat zones 8 to 1

C) Astilbe (Astilbe x rosea ‘Peach Blossom’)
Type Perennial Blooms Salmon-pink flowers in early summer Light Full sun to part shade Size 18 to 24 in. tall, 15 to 18 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9, heat zones 9 to 1

D) Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris)
Type Perennial Blooms Green scalloped leaves all season Light Part to full shade Size 3 to 6 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7, heat zones 7 to 1

Published: July 24, 2018
Updated: Feb. 23, 2021

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