Foundation landscape design mistakes.

Design the primary transition between your indoor and outdoor landscape.

When designing your own front yard landscaping in Scottsdale, Arizona; it’s important to put a heavy emphasis on your foundation plantings. Foundation plantings are those plants you choose to plant near or against your home or other buildings. You are going to use foundation plants to tie your home to its outdoor, desert environment. These plants are more than a random cropping of foliage; they act as the primary transition between the indoor and outdoor landscape.

Quick clarification: For some homes, foundation plants include those plants that are a few feet away from the home or buildings, but are still a part of the main foundation landscape bed area.

For those of you still struggling to fully understand what foundational plantings are (don’t worry, it took us time to fully grasp that concept as well), here is an example: You might have dwarf shrubs against the home, a bed of Myoporum ground cover in front of the shrubs, and a small cactus in the bed area of the ground cover. Then to tie everything together, this entire bed area would contain decomposed granite or other rock cover with a distinctive edge at the point where the bed area and the lawn/desert scape area join.

Foundation Planting Mistakes Can Ruin Everything

Foundation plants are the first plants considered in a new landscape design, therefore, a mistake with your foundation plantings could potentially ruin the entire design of your landscape. All decisions made throughout the rest of your landscape design will hinge on the colors, sizes, shapes and layouts of your foundation plantings (obviously you want everything to tie seamlessly together).

Lucky for you, in today’s modern era, we can identify the clear shortcomings made by earlier landscapers who didn’t have a plethora of information to draw on. I suppose we shouldn’t be too hard on early landscape design, after-all, the publics knowledge of landscaping was greatly limited. “Bushes” and “trees” were often chosen for some desirable feature like beautiful white flowers, or some practical use, such as edible fruit. The early landscapes had little regard for the size of a mature plant, whether a tree was deciduous or evergreen type, or a plants relationship to other plants. Today’s landscaping requires designs that are functional, attractive, low-maintenance, and drought tolerant or water-efficient.

Foundation Mistakes To Avoid

When creating your perfect foundation design for your Scottsdale property, be very aware of these commonly seen deficiencies in design.

“Watching Paint Dry” Effect

The first mistake we most often see is something we call the “watching paint dry” effect (common industry name: Toy Soldier Effect). This landscape type applies one species of landscape plant, often round or square, spread equally apart, with 1-3-foot gaps between plants. Can you guess why we call it the “watching paint dry” effect? This might be a little harsh, but we call this the “watching paint dry” effect because it’s boring, monotonous, and truly lacks creativity. Also, having a bunch of plants pruned constantly to meet this look, is bad for the plants and wastes a ton of water on your landscape!

“You Don’t Belong There” Effect

The second effect we see more often than not is the “you don’t belong there” effect (common industry name: “overgrown” Effect). There’s no hidden meaning to this name. This landscape design involves plants that don’t belong in their planted locations. The plants are too large for the rooflines, cover up the windows of the homes, or grow into the sidewalks and driveways. This design smothers the home, and, in addition to a messy look, these plants require a ton of maintenance to control their size.

“Give Them Some Room” Effect

The “give them some room” effect (common industry name: “crowded” effect), is a hodge-podge of random plants all jammed in to one space. These landscapes are often large masses of plants being installed too close together at the time of planting. This mistake often occurs when two things happen:

  1. People over design their landscape. Whether it’s a designer or homeowner designing the foundation plantings, sometimes people can try to add too much to the landscape. Adding more plants isn’t always better. Plants can get overcrowded, creating an unorganized look.
  2. The designer or homeowner want the landscape to look perfect right away! If you aren’t buying trees, shrubs, and desert plants fully grown, the landscape install should not look instantly full. The “give them some room” effect commonly occurs when people try to create the instant fullness look, but instead, as the plants mature, they get a landscape full of plants that lose their individual identity.

“Buzz Cut” Effect

We’ve all had that friend that got their haircut way too short. That same idea is applied to the “buzz cut” effect (common industry name: “clipped” effect), when all of the plants are given a regular “buzz cut” and maintained with a very smooth edge. It’s not that we don’t like this look, because if we are going to be honest about it, the clean, modern trim is often stunning for contemporary properties. Unfortunately, there is a serious downside to the “buzz cut” effect… it stunts a plant’s unique growing habits, leading to plant stress and sometimes plant death.

“Lopsided” Effect

The “lopsided” effect (common industry name: “unbalanced” effect), occurs when the landscape design has too many plants, or plants that are too large on one side of the planting bed and not the other. There is an uneven amount of foliage on one side, resulting in a landscape that appears tilted and uneven.

“Soldier Cut” Effect

The last effect to watch out for is the “soldier cut” effect (common industry name: “hedge” effect). This is similar to the “buzz cut” effect, both effects are caused by over trimming and constant trimming. The “soldier cut” effect is when foundation plants are trimmed in a continuous shape. Some say this lacks variety, but we won’t speculate on people’s opinions. What we will say with certainty, is that cutting your hedges into a continuous shape will give your foundation no relief from the horizontal lines and will start to burn out different portions of your plants.


In conclusion, your landscape foundation plantings will make or break your new landscape refresh. Be thoughtful about the way you plan your design and be cautious about how your plants are trimmed to meet your design expectations.

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