Designing Trees and Foundation Plants

By Amanda Strack, Conservation Garden Park

As you design trees and foundation plants into your landscape, place circles on your draft plan to represent each plant. Make notes that describe your needs for plants in each area, like “tall flowering shrub” or “evergreen perennial.” You don’t need to know the specific plant right away—just knowing its purpose or function will make it easier at the nursery to pick out plants available to our region.  Throughout the design process, ask yourself these questions: What function should this plant serve?  What guidelines should I follow? What plant layout would serve each area best?

Design trees first. Trees are the largest plant in the landscape and will impact all other plants around them, so it’s important to plan their placement first. When you are planning for trees, decide what their function will be. Will they provide shade? Will they block unwanted views? Will you use them for multi-season interest? If you are using them for shade, plant them west of your house and around areas you want shaded. Be sure they are outside of lawn, gathering areas, and activity zones. If you are using them for multi-season interest, plant them in areas of the landscape where most or all other plants will have dropped their leaves or died back to the ground during winter. Other considerations are things like how they should be arranged. Do you want to plant flowering trees throughout the landscape for color? Are you trying to create a focal point, or a place to draw the eye? Remember, always plant trees at least 5 to 6 feet away from all fence lines and follow your city’s ordinance if you plan to plant any in your park strip.

Foundation plants. Foundation plants are positioned close to the house and hide the foundation. They tie the landscape and house together, frame windows and doors around the house, and soften the edges of your home. Foundation plants include shrubs, ornamental grasses, and perennials that are 3 feet and taller. You can also use small trees that don’t grow taller than 15-20 feet. Do you have windows or doors you would like to frame? Is there a bare wall of the house that could use some height? Plant ornamental grasses that you leave up throughout the winter. Focus on shrubs with interesting foliage so that when plants aren’t blooming, there is still color. Repeat similar plant colors around the landscape and group plants in odd numbers. Begin your foundation planning by placing taller shrubs closest to the house and move out from there.

When it comes to design, there isn’t one right way to do things. As landscape designers, we try to share our ideas in a way that makes landscape design accessible to anyone. Just remember to be creative and develop a plan that suits your own personal needs and interests. If you would like more guided help, sign up for one of the Design Workshop classes at the Conservation Garden Park. Or visit us at the Garden for expert advice and to see which plants thrive in specific locations.

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