Landscape Plant Recommendations, North Side of a House, Midwest, Zone 4

Recently, my family and I visited some old college friends back at Iowa State University, and one of them asked for recommendations for perennials that would do well in Ames, Iowa on the north side of her home. Here’s what I came up with. I could provide a much longer list, but these were the plants at the top. I tried to provide her with some structural specimens to provide year round interest, followed by some foliage perennials which would provide interesting leaf color and texture throughout the entire growing season.
The Right Plant for the Right Place:
It is important to have the right plant for the right place, not only for asthetics, but to protect your investment. After all, you work hard for your money, right? Perennials and shrubs don’t come cheap, unless you have a great friend like myself who knows how to propagate them and is willing to shar

10 Perennial Plants for North Side of House, Zone 4 Climate:

  1. Hydrangea lime light and Hydrangea Annabelle are larger shrubby plants that get huge…as big as your head ball shaped clusters of white flowers that fade to lime green and then brown in winter, adding months of large flowers for a huge impact in your landscape
  2. Variegated Red Twig dogwood: multi stemmed shrub w/ multiple stems coming up from the base…bark on new growth turns bright red, so when the leaves die back in winter, you have beautiful bright red twigs to look at. foliage is silver green w/ white edges in spring and summer. excellent focal plant
  3. Japanese Painted Fern: beautiful fern silver fronds w/ purple veins and purple under side.   Great plant for front of the border along with the burgundy Heuchera mentioned above.
  4. Hmmm ground cover: this is a low growing plant for the very front of the border that grows only a few inches tall: Lamium Beacons Silver: silver tiny leaves with green edge. great spreading hardy ground cover that gets cute pale pink or white little flowers off and on throughout the summer.
  5. Hostas, any kind of hosta that you like the looks of will do well on the north side of a house. my favorite varieties are “June” which has smaller leaves, “Sum and Substance” giant lime green leaves, “Halcyon” is cool and all blue leaves, and “Guardian Angel” larger blue leaves.
  6. Heuchera many varieties available in lots of funky foliage colors…it’s a nice low moundy plant with neat leaves and sends up cute little spikes of flowers in spring.
  7. Virginia Blue Bells
  8. Lily of the Valley
  9. Vinca
  10. Pachysandra

5 Ingredients for an Interesting Winter Garden:

  1. Interesting bark:  I would definitely start with 1 variegated red twig dogwood in the middle, flanked by 2 smaller evergreen shrubs on either side of the dogwood…                                                                             
  2. Evergreens: such as boxwood, Bowling ball juniper, Skyrocket Juniper
  3. Interesting Shapes:   Spheres, cones, cylinders, can create beautiful winter scenes when they are dusted with snow.  These shapes can be achieved by choosing the right plant with the right growth habit.  Always read your plant labels, they will tell you the mature shape and size of the plant you are buying.
  4. Use “Dwarf” conifers:  Again, make sure you read the label for the Mature size, as those cute little shrubs can sometimes turn into obnoxious giants;)
  5. Dried Flowers:  Next, for the more bang for your buck high impact flowering shrub, I’d go with the Hydrangea, one or 2, depending on how large you make your border.  You can leave a few flowers on, and they will dry on the shrub to leave winter interest, long after summer has passed.
3 Guidelines for Plant Spacing:

  1. For those larger shrubs, you should probably plant them 5 to 10 feet apart, depending on how you arrange them in your landscape…if you read the labels there are directions for that on there, all about how deep to plant, what the mature size is, and how far apart to space them. Just make sure you read that so you don’t jam things up too close to the house. 
  2. You should try to always plant shrubs at least 2 to 3 feet away from the foundation of your house, depending on what the mature size is. Planting shrubs too close to the foundation will cause them to grow crooked away from the house within a few years after planting, rendering them ugly and useless.
  3. Short in front, tall in back.  If it’s 12 inches tall or less, plant towards the front of the border.  If it’s 12 to 24 inches tall, plant in the middle of the border.  If it’s 24 inches or taller plant towards the back.
How to Choose the Size of your Border:
As for the width of your border, use the rule of thumb…it can be at least as wide as 3/4 the height of your house. Curvy borders are easier than straight lines and much more fun to work with. Don’t be afraid to be bold, baby:)

Creating a Garden Border:

10 Steps to Getting That Garden Started:

  1. Be sure to have all your utility lines flagged before you start!
  2. Lay out the flower bed with a garden hose to achieve the shape.
  3. Then spray Roundup on the grass now to kill it off. Or, if you don’t want to mess w/Roundup, lay out the bed w/garden hose…spraypaint the border,
  4. Rent a sod cutter from Home Depot and cut the sod.   It only costs about $50 for the whole day, and will save you a lot of time from picking up little chunks of sod out of the flower bed later on. 
  5.  Roll sod into rolls.
  6.  Get a tiller and break up the soil.  Till down 6-8 inches deep.
  7. Add the 4 inches of black compost.
  8. Add Turfus if you have poorly drained soil.  If it is really poorly drained, you may want to consider adding a drainage tile.
  9. Till it in compost down 6-8 inches.
  10.  Plant any fall bulbs you would like, and let your new garden it over winter, and you will be totally ready to plant in April!  
Why Good Soil is Key in Protecting Your Investment:
If you don’t have good soil, you might as well just throw your money out the window and watch it blow away. Plants living in good soil with lots of organic matter and good drainage will grow twice as big as plants planted in clay, or backfill from when the builders built your home. 

3 Ways to Get Good Soil                                                                

  1. Add Compost:  If you have poor soil that is hard, or sandy,  or clay like, and poorly drained amend the soil with about 4 inches or more of composted compost (the black compost) or topsoil, and then till it in down to 6 or 8 inches deep. Compost is filled with nutrients your plants need to grow big and strong and to have lots of blooms.  Not only is it nutrient rich, but it also makes your soil more spongy to hold more moisture after a rain.
  2. Add Epsom Salts:  Epsom salt has Magnesium in it in the form of Magnesium Sulfate.  Magnesium is one of the main parts of the chlorophyll molecule, which is what makes plants green.  Apply to the soil about once a month, as if you were lightly salting a steak, and you will have nice green plants.
  3. Add Turfus:  Turfus is a product that can be added to the soil to help break it up and improve drainage.  It looks like pea sized or smaller chips of rock.  Contact your local garden center or home center to find it. Why do we need good drainage?  Because most plants do not like to have wet feet all the time.  Soil that stays constantly soaking wet or standing in water will cause plant roots to suffocate, resulting in poor plant health, disease, and eventually, death.  

5 Reasons to Mulch Your Garden, the Next Step to Protecting Your Investment:
After you finish planting next spring, be sure to mulch everything with 3 inches of shredded bark mulch.  So you ask, “Why mulch?”  Here’s why:

  1. Mulching reduces erosion.
  2. Mulching reduces plant disease.
  3. Mulching reduces the amount of watering you will have to do.
  4. Mulching reduces weed populations.
  5. Mulch looks a heck of a lot nicer than bare soil, and is much easier to work with if you want to rearrange plants later on.

 Find out if your city has a compost facility. You can usually get great deals on mulch and compost. In Davenport, Iowa, we can get a truckload of shredded bark mulch for $30! Lots cheaper than spending $3 to $4 per bag, eh? Compost only costs us about $15 per truckload. We are even able to have it delivered to our home, for a fee. So don’t forget to find out. You could save a ton of money.


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