“Nature has many scenes to exhibit, and constantly draws a curtain over this part or that. She is constantly repainting the landscape and all surfaces, dressing up some scene for our entertainment. Lately we had a leafy wilderness; now bare twigs begin to prevail, and soon she will surprise us with a mantle of snow. Some green she thinks so good for our eyes that, like blue, she never banishes it entirely from our eyes, but has created evergreens.”
—Henry David Thoreau

Foundation Shrubs examples
Photo credits: Anna Herbst

We often hear how important curb appeal is. #curbappeal on Instagram has over 740,000 posts! If you talk to any realtor about selling your house, the first thing they’ll say is—make a strong first impression. The outside of a house is what people first see, whether browsing through online listings or driving through a neighborhood. It may not sound fun or sexy, but planting the right foundation shrubs is a crucial step toward boosting a home’s curb appeal.

Foundation Shrubs examples

Clients ask for pops of color throughout their beds, but they hesitate when I suggest replacing their foundation shrubs first– despite the fact that they are usually overgrown or dying. They often say “I hate my shrubs, just cover them with flowers!” to which I respond “that’s like putting lipstick on a pig!” All the pretty flowers in the world won’t hide unsightly shrubbery.

Foundation shrubs are the plants along the foundation of your house. As the backdrop of your garden, they should be evergreen. Evergreens stay green all year long and don’t lose their leaves. Look for shrubs with attractive leaf color and shape. While flowery hydrangeas, azaleas, rhododendrons, and roses are lovely, they only bloom for half the year and the rest of the time are just branches. Use them as accent shrubs and place them in front or to the side of the foundation shrubs. Make sure your shrubbery enhances the features of your house, like a porch railing or beautiful windows, not hide them.

Keeping the foundation shrubs in a simple arrangement allows the flowers and accent shrubs to really steal the show. Shrubs that are more natural in shape usually work better than hedges, which tend to be heavy and bulky.

Here is my go-to list of foundation shrubs:


Foundation Shrubs examples
Photo credits: Aimee Ryan

Nothing says cottage garden better than boxwoods. The clean shapes and bright lush green leaves provide a beautiful backdrop for any garden. The most fun part about a boxwood is that it can be cut into fantastic shapes which add a little whimsy to your garden. Boxwoods require full sun to part shade to grow properly and tend to be very hearty plants. The only threat to the success of your boxwood is boxwood blight, a widespread fungal disease that browns the leaves of the plant. There are blight resistant boxwoods that are guaranteed to resist fungal damage.

Schip Laurel

When someone needs height and has a massive space to fill, this shrub fits the bill. The dense green leaves provide lots of coverage and the dark color creates fantastic contrast against lighter colored houses. The Schip laurel can handle full sun but prefers partial shade. This shrub is highly prunable and easy to form into a hedge. If Schip laurel is too large for your space, it’s smaller cousin, the cherry laurel, is a good alternative for smaller hedges and boundaries.


Foundation Shrubs examples

The holly shrubs I recommend don’t look anything like the pointy leaf and berry version commonly used for Christmas decorations. The ones I love come in a variety of sizes and create a classic manicured look. They actually look a lot like boxwoods, but are less expensive. They grow much faster than boxwoods, so they are perfect if you need more height– but this also means they require a lot of pruning. Hollies are hardy plants that do well in both sun and shade, and in various soil conditions, which make them a favorite for people with “hard to grow” spots on their property.

False Holly

Oh, how I love the variegated leaves of false holly! They contrast nicely against the other green shrubs and add a little pizazz to your foundational shrub arrangement. Like the hollies mentioned above, these are good growers that thrive in various soils and different sun exposures– even deep shade. An entire row of this shrub might be a bit much for some houses, but as an accent piece they can create a real pop of interest.


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