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When it comes to foundation plantings at your beautiful historic brick home, there are some special considerations that must be taken. The trees and shrubs planted years ago for curb appeal can cause damage to your brick and foundation that you may only notice when it’s too late - at which point you’ll have a very costly structural repair on your hands. This doesn’t mean you should shy away from foundation plantings around your historic brick home, only that you should choose carefully and place them wisely. Let’s address the pros and cons of foundation plantings and old brick, and how to balance their hidden dangers with their obvious aesthetic appeal.

The Risks of Foundation Plantings to Historic Homes

Although this may feel like an unfair burden, the truth is that selecting the wrong tree, shrub or plant can cause harm to any home’s foundation, historic or not. So, while no home is immune to the problem of improper planting, your historic home has a few extra risk factors to consider when all you’re trying to do is beautify your property and increase its curb appeal.

Trees and shrubs present the biggest challenges when it comes to foundation planting. Many homeowners think the root systems extend to the width of the canopy, but a root system can spread up to five times more than that in all directions! Since one of those directions is toward your home, it’s easy to see how roots could create pressure against your foundation, eventually working their way between the mortar joints.

If a potentially risky planting is already in place, you should consult an expert to assess your foundation, and figure out the best and most efficient way to remove the troubling tree or shrub. 

What to Avoid in Foundation Plants

Certain trees, shrubs and plants have extremely aggressive roots. These include willows, aspens and poplars and should never be planted near a foundation. They will rip up patios, crumble retaining walls, tear up pavers, and make short work of your home’s foundation, especially as the roots “search” for even the slightest drip in a pipe. Their never-ending pursuit of water and more space to grow can cause those roots to tear apart concrete driveways and roads.

This issue applies particularly to ‘dwarf willows’, a very common and popular plant that you’ll often find at nurseries. They are a form of willow shrub grafted onto standard tree stock – which means their roots are just as aggressive as ever. And although the non-grafted willow shrub varieties are beautiful, they still have those aggressive root systems and should be avoided at all costs.

Examples of plants that should never be placed near your foundation include holly bushes, bamboo, some kinds of boxwood, or any full-sized tree. Even some rose bushes grow very large and have a root system to match, as well as thorns which can damage your brick and mortar above ground. English Ivy should always be avoided, as it will weave its way into your mortar joints and can cause significant structural concerns. If any of the exterior walls of your historic brick home still have ivy remaining from years gone by, it may look charming, but despite its beauty, the wise thing to do is to have it removed before any further damage is done.

So…What Exactly Can I Grow Near my Historic Brick Home?

The good news is that there are still plenty of options to provide the curb appeal you want without risking the integrity of your brick. You’ll want to choose smaller varieties of shrubs and trees and plant them at an appropriate distance from your foundation, according to their mature size. Keep in mind that any plant which is pressed against the foundation can still potentially cause problems, so make sure you space them correctly. Many junipers, dwarf spruce, thin cedars and hydrangeas can be the more prominent (and safe) elements that you’re seeking to use as the backdrop to your perennial garden. 

Learn How to Manage Troublesome Foundation Plantings

Renaissance Development specializes in restoring historic brick homes, including helping you assess your foundation plantings and their impact on your home’s structural integrity. We can help you plan and design new space-appropriate and eye-catching urban garden features, such as walkways, brick patios, retaining walls, and more. Contact us today for a complimentary consultation and discover how to enhance your home’s curb appeal without worrying about compromising the structure of your historic brick home.

Renaissance Development are the experts when it comes to historic brick homes in DC. If your home requires repair or restoration, whether interior or exterior, contact us for a complimentary consultation.

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Post by Christina Wilson
Jun 29, 2023 8:30:00 AM