Foundation shrub plantings are a great addition to the landscape, enhancing the aesthetic value and the beauty of any structure. Many different plants will thrive in this setting-but usually we see a common list of several shrubs that are used (Yew, Spirea, Potentilla, Barberry, Burning Bush) which have many useful features, but some disadvantages as well. It's important to know that there are other options that offer similar, but unique characteristics too.
Taxus x media 'Spp' are a commonly used evergreen shrub because they grow fast and maintain their dense structured hedge shape. The rapid growth habit means that in order to keep them structured, they will need consistent maintenance and pruning. A disadvantage though is their susceptibility to winter burn, and the deer absolutely love to eat them. A great alternative is boxwood- Buxus x 'Spp'; a broadleaf evergreen that will similarly hold their shape in a hedge planting but don't require as much maintenance. Boxwood also has an interesting green foliage that remains through the winter.
Spiraea japonica 'Goldmound' is another commonly seen foundation shrub. A good substitution, that offers a beautiful fall color not typical of spirea, is the Tor spirea- Spiraea betulifolia 'Tor' . Or mix it up even more with some other options like Glow Girl, Pink Sparkle- Spiraea betulifolia 'Spp', or Pink-a-licious™ Fritsch Spirea. All of these offer different flower color, fall color, and foliage color during the season.
Ames St. John's Wort, Hypericum kalmianum 'Ames' is a great, low maintenance shrub with yellow flowers making it a perfect substitution for Potentilla- Potentilla fruticosa. Potentilla is still a great option for a foundation shrub in hot dry locations, but commonly do not thrive due to poor pruning practices. Ames St. John's Wort requires less shaping.
Berberis thunbergii quickly grows to provide a dense hedge but can quickly take over a bed. Also, the sharp thorns are a nuisance to people and pets. A great substitution would be any cultivar of Weigela- Weigela florida, which have striking foliage and showy flowers that provide dense coverage. Another is Little Devil Ninebark- Physocarpus opulifolius 'Donna May'PPAF which is a compact form of ninebark and has deep burgundy foliage with white flowers in June.
Finally, a shrub with aggressive growth habits commonly seen in foundation plantings is compact burning bush- Euonymus alata 'Compactus', which has nice dense coverage, but can crowd out other plants in a bed. The Iroquois Beauty black chokeberry- Aronia melanocarpa 'Morton' is a great substitution. Iroquois Beauty is a compact rounded shrub with white flower clusters in late spring and a beautiful purple red fall color. Compact Koreanspice Viburnum- Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum' also has a rounded dense shape like the chokeberry and a wine red fall color, but the white flower clusters which appear in spring are very fragrant and attract butterflies.
All of these new options provide a great way to diversify your foundation beds with unique, low maintenance, beautiful shrubs that characteristically aren't seen in front of house beds.