Plants with Colorful Foliage

Hyacinth Bean Vine in the Garden
Always include a generous helping of plants with colorful foliage in your garden. They'll provide nonstop color while other plants come in and out of bloom. Here are some of our favorites.

Caladium

Available in a myriad of shapes and colors, caladiums are a top pick for shady garden beds or containers. Their bold, tropical foliage looks terrific from early summer until frost. Caladiums grow from tubers planted just underneath the surface of the soil. Standard caladium varieties grow 18-24 inches tall; dwarfs grow 8-12 inches tall.

Caladiums in the Garden

For the best effect, always plant caladiums in clumps or drifts. They look spectacular and help support each other in high winds. Here, a mixed group of pink, white, and green caladiums is paired with another shade lover, browallia ‘Endless Illumination’.  

Canna

Bold and beautiful! That’s how most gardeners describe the brilliant, oversize leaves of cannas. These tropical beauties are available with green, bronze, black, variegated, or striped foliage. As a bonus, they also develop flowers in red, pink, orange, yellow, or bicolor. Cannas are tropical and prefer a hot, sunny spot in the garden. Start them from rhizomes planted directly in your garden after frost danger has passed.

Cannas in the Garden

As versatile as they are beautiful, cannas are the perfect plant to use if you need to screen a view or provide quick privacy. Standard-size cannas can grow 6 feet tall; their large, paddle-shape leaves will block any view. Here, a clump of Tropicanna canna edges an asphalt driveway. Dwarf cannas, which grow 2-4 feet tall, are a good choice for smaller lots.

Coleus

Once only a shade plant, new varieties of coleus have been developed to grow as well in the sun as they do in the shade. Coleus comes in a mind-boggling array of solid and mixed colors. Almost foolproof, coleus is a snap to grow. But they can get thirsty and require extra watering during dry spells. Most varieties grow between 18 and 30 inches tall.

Coleus in the Garden

A terrific landscape plant, coleus works as well in beds and borders as it does in pots and planters. Just read the label before you buy to make sure you’re getting the right variety for your light conditions. Some varieties grow best in the shade, while others can handle both sun and shade. Coleus partners well with other colorful plants such as creeping Jenny.

Hosta

Electrify your landscape with hostas. These shade-loving perennials will brighten even the dreariest spot with their pretty foliage. Hostas vary from 4-foot-tall giants to 4-inch-tall miniatures and offer blue, chartreuse, emerald green, and variegated leaves. Arching spikes of pink, lavender, or white flowers are a bonus. They thrive in Zones 3-8.

Hostas in the Garden

When planning your landscape, take advantage of the charms of hosta foliage. Here, a narrow ribbon of hosta ‘Halcyon’ is used to create a “river” of color in an all-green shade garden. Another option is to plant hostas with broad, white-margined leaves along a garden walkway to act as living path lights. Or, mimic the sun peeking through the trees by scattering clumps of sunny, chartreuse hostas in your shade garden.

Heuchera

Often called coralbells, heuchera makes a brilliant addition to any garden. These tough, low-growing perennials excel in partial sun to shade locations. The attractive, finely cut leaves come in gorgeous assortment of chartreuse, purple, red, bronze, green, silver, speckled, splotched, and veined. Spikes of small pink, red, or white bell-shape flowers are an extra treat. It thrives in Zones 4-9.

Heuchera in the Garden

The colorful foliage and low stature of heuchera makes it an ideal choice for the front of a flower border or a walkway edge. But, these handsome plants will also look just as good in a container paired with annual flowers or other perennials. And because it is relatively cold-tolerant, heuchera is a good choice for early spring or fall containers.

Smoke Bush

Named for its feathery summer flowers, smoke tree, Cotinus coggygria, is prized for its large, gorgeous blue-green or purple foliage that turns red, orange, or yellow in the fall. Smoke tree is a small tree that can grow 15 feet tall but is easily pruned into a shorter, shrub form. It thrives in Zones 5-8.

Smoke Tree in the Garden

To keep your smoke tree in top form, prune it regularly to keep it compact. Left to its own devices, smoke tree can become tall and scraggly. Frequent pruning will also encourage the production of fresh, colorful leaves. Here, 'Royal Purple' smoke tree looks terrific pruned to the same height as a Double Knock Out rose.

Ninebark

Dark purple, almost-black foliage makes Ninebark a must-have shrub for your garden. This easy-care plant is as tough as it is beautiful, standing up to heat, drought, and winter cold. It also has few insect or disease problems. In midsummer the plants develop ball-like heads of purplish-white flowers. There are also varieties with chartreuse, bronze, or green leaves. Ninebark thrives in Zones 3-7.

Ninebark in the Garden

Ninebark varieties can vary quite a bit in height and width so check the plant label before you buy one. Smaller forms are ideal for large pots and planters, while standard-size plants are best used as a specimen on a front lawn or in a hedge. Also, be sure to give ninebark plenty of room to spread its graceful arching branches. In this shrub border, variety Summer Wine ninebark shows off its pretty foliage and flowers.

Sumac

A domesticated form of our native sumac, Tiger Eyes is a beautiful addition to any landscape. Growing about 6 feet tall and wide, the plants develop chartreuse foliage that gradually turns to bright yellow as it matures. Additional color is provided by the tree’s rosy-pink stems. Sumac varieties thrive in Zones 4-8.

Sumac in the Garden

‘Tiger Eyes sumac might look like a tender tropical, but it’s actually a hardy tree that will tolerate poor soil and dry conditions. In this front border, it’s paired with other low-maintenance plants such as bearded iris, ninebark, heuchera, coreopsis, and baptisia.

Hyacinth Bean Vine

For almost instant color you can’t beat hyacinth bean vine, Dolichos lablab. This annual vine grows quickly from seed sown directly in the garden after frost danger has passed. The vine forms a wall of dark purple foliage that’s topped with purple seedpods and pink-purple flowers. It’s a sun-lover, so plant where it will receive 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Hyacinth Bean Vine in the Garden

Because it's a vigorous vine, hyacinth bean vine requires a sturdy fence or trellis to grow on. Sow the seeds about 6 inches away from the base of the support and stand back. It won't be long before the entire structure is awash in purple. The vines produce beans that can be toxic unless they are prepared properly. To be safe, use hyacinth bean vine as an ornamental plant only.

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