Saturday, March 31, 2012

Foundation Planting -- Tradition with a Twist

boxwood foundation planting
"Foundation Planting,"  an American landscape tradition evolved when subdivisions sprang up all over the country during the prosperous post war era.
Originating as an inexpensive method of hiding concrete basement blocks or the base upon which a home was built, the most common and practical choice was a straight line of evergreen shrubs.  The look has survived the post war generation and is the most popular frontscape of choice in the northern U.S. 

juniper and rhododendron foundation planting
As home design has evolved, and the foundation of a home is not the functional line of old, the tradition of foundation planting has hung on, mainly out of tradition and practicality.  Evergreen shrubs retain color and texture in cold winter months, hold up to heavy snowfalls, and look great adorned with Christmas lights. 

Classic foundation planting involve boxwood or juniper hedges lined up under the front windows of a home. Here's some advice:

1.   Traditional:  Keep it green and monochromatic.  Popping in a contrasting red barbery next to a golden globe arborbitae results in a choppy look.  The idea is to underline the windows of the home, drawing the eye to a welcoming front door. 
juniper hedge
2.   Read and then measure.  Leave room for growth.  Plants are funny about that.  That cool mungo pine could grow to six feet and obliterate the view from the dining table, so plan ahead.  Leave room, including projected growth so that there is at least twenty four inches between the hedge and the brick once it has reached maximum size.  Otherwise trimming and home maintenance will be painful. 

3.   Maintenance:  Clipping hedges is great exercise and lovely for working out the upper arms, but if time is of the essence, then avoid installing a fast growing privet.  Stick with slow growers such as boxwood and junipers.  Even so, haircuts will be required in late spring and summer. 

4.  Modernize:  Layer a line of low growers like Euonymous, dwarf Wintercreeper, or Green Velvet Boxwood in front of a line of more colorful Ninebark, Forsythia or Burning Bush.

zone six or five rhododendron hedge
5.   Softer Look:   Rather than evergreens, if the area receives cooler morning sun try a line of hydrangea or rhododendrons. There are new varietels every year, but stick with tried and true varietels like Annabelle, Samantha, or Nikko Blue for a high traffic area like the front of the house.  Leave the dried moppy heads on in the fall for winter interest. 

6.  Borders:  Cut a one foot wide space in front of the hedge for summer annuals or bright perennials, but add some curves to soften the line of the home. Wait until after the first spring trimming to plant so as to aovid dislodging delicate plants while removing clippings.  As the hedge grows, cut a bit more into the front lawn along the bed.  For a clean and natural  look, use botanical edges. 

7.  Color and style coordination:  Burgundy barberry along a red brick home won't stand out like a soft green boxwood.  Remember that most nonevergreen shrubs will change from four to five different colors through the season.  The darker the home, the lighter the shrub.

juniper and rhododedrom zone five
8.  Location and heat retention:  Evergreen will not thrive under a shade tree.  Hydrangea will fry planted in front of a white brick home with afternoon sun exposure.  All new plantings need plenty of water to establish.  Direct downspouts so that the overflow augments ordinary watering and new growth
juniper hedge
There's nothing wrong with tradition, but mixing it up maximizes the curb appeal of your home.

Related articles of interest

How to Trim Shrubs -- No More Bad Haircuts

Green Fences -- Boxwood Hedges to Hydrangea Hedgerows

New USDA Planting and Gardening Zones

Burning Bush and other Fall Follies

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Will this Early Warm Weather Harm my Plants?

Seventy degrees on St. Patrick's Day?  Be it the luck of the Irish or El Nino, this has been one lovely winter--and  tisn't even officially Spring until next week! One morning we made the rounds of the garden with morning coffee in hand marveling at the green daffodil shoots already seven inches out of the ground.  By dinnertime there were bright yellow blooms hanging from those stems. 

It seems like the yard changes daily, grass is greening up, trees are budding and shrubs are begining to bloom.  Spring seems to have eerily arrived overnight in Southeast Michigan. 

While we all rejoice in the warm temperatures, it's easy to feel wary given our fickle climate here in the mitten.  Will the early appearance of shoots and buds hurt baby plants and budding shrubs should temperatures drop?

Early Daffodils
The answer is--not likely.  Should temps stay in the freezing range for an extended period of time there might be a bit of brown "freezer burn" on the edges of tender leaves, but the issue is purely cosmetic. 

Plants know when to exit dormancy based upon soil temperature and light exposure. Their wake up alarms are set by Mother Nature.  Soil temperature is already higher than usual due to the warm winter, so a dip on the thermometer should have no effect on the early risers in the garden.  Trees, for example,know when to bloom leaves based upon the cycle of light and darkness, so the warm temps have no effect.  the concept works in reverse in the Fall.

The only bad news is that marginally hardy weeds have survived with gusto, so it may be a good idea to spend a few of those warm moments outdoors getting ahead of the weeding. 

Warmer ground makes Spring bulb planting easier.  Remember the opposite rule--plant fall bloomers in Spring and vice versa.  So daffodils and tulips are only for admiring, not planting right now!

Hellebores have been blooming for a few weeks now, their soft colors and pale centers are unmatched this time of year.

So stop worrying, and enjoy the sunshine!