“I’ve heard that its not a good idea to place mulch too close to a house’s foundation. I was also told to mulch or plant shrubs around my house’s foundation to prevent my kids from getting lead poisoning from the old chipped off paint in the soil. What should I put near my foundation, bricks? Also, how far from my foundation should I plant vetiver grass? I’m having trouble finding guidance on how far from my brick foundation it should be with its deep root system.” Veronica of Clay City, Indiana
Answer: Some speculate that termites may be attracted to or reside in bark mulch. It is true that termites can eat bark mulch, but they survive and form colonies in solid wood, so bark mulch not a terribly strong termite lure. Moreover, newer homes are generally protected from termites, and older homes should be for their longterm protection.
The best way to keep kids away from the soil at the base of the home is to plant lawn or shrubs along your foundation (click here for some good flowering shrubs for foundations). Ornamental grasses are another option, but I would not recommend vetiver grass (Vetiveria zizanoide, Zones 7-8) because it is a warm-climate grass that will not be hardy in your Zone 5 garden, and it is weedy. Better, more beautiful, sun-loving grasses for your foundation include Karl FoersterFeather Reed Grass, Prairie Winds®‘Apache Rose’Switch Grass, or Little ZebraDwarf Zebra Grass. All need sunshine and should be planted 2 to 4 feet from your foundation in a mulched bed, depending on the final height and width of the grass you choose.
“What are the best perennial plants to use for foundation planting? [I need] something to cover a fairly tall, 5ft swath of concrete foundation. Thank you!” Question from Trish of Newton, New Jersey
Answer: There are lots of wonderful garden perennials ideal for foundation plantings. Those that I recommend the most are long-lived, have a long season of beauty, and perform reliably. When designing a perennial garden for a foundation, It’s always important to plant larger perennials towards the back, graduating to shorter specimens towards the front. Here are some options that mix well together and look great.
Tall Perennial Plants
The perennials listed here are bold, bushy, look good all season, and create good foundation coverage while also creating a nice backdrop for shorter perennials.
Sun KingGolden Japanese Spikenard (Aralia cordata ‘Sun King’, Zones 3-9, partial sun to shade): Though it only reaches 3 feet tall and wide, ‘Sun King’ has beautiful golden leaves all summer that creates a happy backdrop for flowering perennials.
Morning LightChinese Silver Grass (Miscanthussinensis ‘Morning Light’, Zones 5-9, full sun): The feathery good looks of this 4- to 6-foot grass are always appealing, even in winter.
Prairie Winds®Apache Rose Switch Grass (Panicum virgatumPrairie Winds®Apache Rose, Zones 4-9, full sun): Reaching a maximum of 4 feet, Prairie Winds®Apache Rose has soft blades and rosy, grassy panicles in summer.
Floribunda or Shrub Roses (Rosa spp., hardiness varies, full sun): Ever-flowering, bushy shrub roses are an excellent choice for the back of the border, as long as you choose a really tough, disease-resistant variety. I love the double-pink-flowered Queen Elizabeth, which grows to a maximum of 5-6 feet and stays bushy. The breeders describe it as indestructible.
Tall Phlox (Phlox paniculata, Zones 4-8, full to partial sun): Two favorite tall phlox varieties are the heavy-flowering, pure white ‘David’ (4 feet) and the coral-pink-flowered Garden Girls™Glamour Girl (3 feet). Both are mildew resistant when most others are susceptible. The only downside to these tall perennials is that they lack winter interest.
‘Denim ‘n Lace’ Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Denim ‘n Lace’, Zone 4-9, full sun): The brilliant violet-blue spires of this 2- to 3-foot shrubby summer bloomer are very impressive and attract bees and butterflies. It also retains a pleasing branch structure in winter.
Hellebores (Helleborus hybrids, hardiness varies, full sun to shade): Hardy hellebores bloom very early in the season, and then maintain attractive evergreen foliage the rest of the year. They mix well with many other perennials along foundation borders. (Click here to read more about hellebores.)
Line the edges of your beds with perennial sedums, low-growing flowers and ornamental grasses, or anything colorful or evergreen. Lots of creeping garden plants look great along a garden edge. (Click here to read more about garden creepers.)
I hope that you use some of these plants to design a spectacular foundation perennial border this year.