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Saturday - November 07, 2009

From: Adams Run, SC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Soils, Shrubs
Title: Foundation Plants for South Carolina
Answered by: Dean Garrett


What native plants are suitable as foundation plantings? My soil is heavy clayey loam with red clay subsoil. I live in Charleston County.


When people say foundation plants, they usually mean shrubs, and evergreen shrubs at that. Fortunately, there are a few plants native to your region of South Carolina that fit that description. Not knowing what size you have in mind, nor how much light and moisture your site receives, I can’t be sure my suggestions are right for you, but they are native to your county.

Yaupon Holly (Ilex vomitoria) comes in both standard and Dwarf Yaupon varieties, depending on your size needs, and is a standard landscaping shrub, easily trimmed into a hedge, if that’s what you prefer, and easy to care for.

Its relative, Inkberry (Ilex glabra), can reach 7 to 12 feet high and needs more moisture.

Another standard residential shrub is Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera), also known as Southern Bayberry. It also comes in small and large varieties and is widely adaptable.

Harder to find and less common in residential landscapes are Coastal Leucothoe (Leucothoe axillaris) and Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida). Both are native to your area, prefer some shade, do well in moist well-drained soils, and are normally 2 to 6 feet tall. They are sensitive to overwatering and root disturbance, though, so should be left alone once established.

If you’re open to deciduous shrubs with showy blooms, you might consider Clethra (Clethra alnifolia) and Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica). Both normally range from 3 to 6 feet tall but can get substantially bigger. Clethra adapts well to clay soils.

Another idea is the trunkless palm look of Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor), but spacing considerations will be important with it because its leaves can be stout and obtrusive. It is evergreen and ranges from circa 3 feet tall to as high as a man.

For more ideas, go to our Native Plant Database, scroll down to the Combination Search section, and select your state, site characteristics, and plant type preferences. A list of plants should come up for you to choose from, keeping in mind that not all will be good for your relatively coastal location.

I’ve relied on Sally and Andy Wasowski’s book, Gardening With Native Plants of the South, to answer your question. It has chapters on large and small shrubs for screening, flowers, and fruit.

Your state’s native plant society might also be of assistance.

Ilex vomitoria

Ilex glabra

Morella cerifera

Leucothoe axillaris

Lyonia lucida

Clethra alnifolia

Itea virginica

Sabal minor



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