URBANA, Ill. – Plants around the front of a house serve many purposes. A properly designed front landscape can greatly enhance the appearance and market value of a property. These plantings can also be used to blend the structure of the house with the general surroundings so that the house looks natural on its site. But any plantings can become old, overgrown, and in need of a change. That’s why spring makes an excellent time to update plants growing around the house, according to University of Illinois Extension’s Rhonda Ferree.
“Foundation plantings are the combination of plants around the front door, the front corners, and a transition area that joins them,” says Ferree, a horticulture educator.
Ferree recommends that homeowners start their foundation planting designs by standing in front of the house and drawing a rough sketch that shows the front door, windows, and roof lines. A “V” drawn from each corner eave down to the front door serves as a guideline for plant heights along the front of the house. The tallest plants should be no taller than two-thirds the height of the corners of the house. Select plants that will stay relatively short for the area nearest the front door.
“Think of your front door as the center of interest and focal point,” Ferree advises. “The entrance planting should help direct attention to the door. Use plants with year-round interest, because they are seen closely and more often.”
Plants do not need to be placed around the entire foundation – the home’s features should be softened, not camouflaged. If this space is exceptionally long, plants can be used to break up the long line. However, it is best to avoid long rows of the same type of plant to fill these areas. In some situations, a bed of groundcover or mulch may be all that is necessary to tie the entrance planting and corner plantings together and also make maintenance and mowing easier.
Plants should not be planted too close to the foundation, where the soil is often dry or otherwise less-than-optimal for plant growth. Plants should be far enough from the house to avoid growing against the house and to maintain good air circulation. Ferree suggests planting no closer than 1.5 feet from the foundation.
Spreading shrubs should be planted far enough apart to prevent later crowding and avoid the need for constant pruning. On shrub spacing, Ferree says, “Allow for width equal to the eventual height of the plant.”
Unfortunately, not all homes and lots fit the situation described here. Because houses come in all shapes and sizes, there is no “cookbook” recipe for landscaping. Every situation is unique and different. But in nearly all cases, it will help to remember these key points when landscaping the front of a house: the house is the focal point, focus on the front door, and soften architectural features so that the house blends in with its surroundings.
For more information on this or other horticultural issues, contact your local Extension office by visiting www.extension.illinois.edu. You can also post questions on Ferree’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ferree.horticulture.