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Episode 28: Best Foundation Plants

If you’re thinking yews and dwarf Alberta spruce, think again

Perhaps many of us are scarred from a childhood spent staring at the houses in our neighborhoods that were all landscaped the same way: A few boring shrubs chucked against the front foundation. In this episode we challenge the notion that foundation plants have to be ugly—or have to be traditional evergreens (we’re talking about you Mr. Alberta Spruce). Find out which plants have found a home against the foundations of Steve and Danielle’s houses, and which ones they’re considering adding into the diverse mix. Then we ask designer Susan Morrison to weigh in on the dos and don’ts of a proper foundation planting.

Expert testimony: Susan Morrison, owner and principle at Creative Exteriors Landscape Design in Northern California.


You might think that trees have no business being along the foundation, but smaller options like Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis, Zones 4–8) are well-behaved, have a narrow footprint, and don’t have an aggressive root system that could damage the foundation.


Ornamental grasses in a foundation planting? You bet! But Steve warns to only pick ones that don’t flop and have interesting traits, like the yellow variegated ‘El Dorado’ feather reed grass (Calamagrostis × acutiflora ‘El Dorado’, Zones 4–9).


Yes, it’s small and round and evergreen, but ‘Teddy’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ‘Teddy’, Zones 3–7) is anything but boring. Its soft needles are a textural delight, and its compact habit means it plays well with others in a small space.


Ninebark wouldn’t typically be a good choice for a foundation because the straight species can get enormous. The cultivar Tiny Wine® (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘SMPOTW’, Zones 3–8) gets only 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Its narrow, vaselike habit is stunning, especially when it gets covered in pink blooms in early summer.
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