These Plants Have Colored Leaves That Won't Fade Like Flowers

colorful coralbells
Photo: Blaine Moats

For nonstop color, always include plenty of interesting foliage in your garden. As blooms come and go, these spectacular plants will keep your garden colorful even when they're not flowering.

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Denny Schrock

Available in countless 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.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to full shade (depending on variety) in well-drained, evenly moist soil

Size: 18-24 inches tall; dwarf varieties grow about 12 inches tall

Zones: 9-10

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Caladiums in the Garden

Caladiums In The Garden
Dean Schoeppner

For the best effect, always plant caladiums in groups or drifts. They'll look fuller and add more color, plus they'll help support each other in strong winds. Here, a mixed group of pink, white, and green caladiums is paired with another shade lover, browallia 'Endless Illumination'.

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Robert Cardillo

The brilliant, oversize leaves of cannas look bold and beautiful no matter where you plant them. 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. Start them from rhizomes planted directly in your garden after frost danger has passed in spring.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in consistently moist soil

Size: Up to six feet tall

Zones: 7-10

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Cannas in the Garden

Cannas in the Garden
Kritsada Panichgul

As versatile as they are beautiful, cannas are one of the best plants to use if you need to screen a view or provide quick privacy. Aside from their towering height, cannas large, paddle-shape leaves will block any view. Here, a clump of Tropicanna canna edges a driveway. Dwarf cannas, which grow two to four feet tall, are a good choice for smaller landscapes.

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Justin Hancock

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 like purple, red, orange, pink, and yellow. Almost foolproof, coleus is a snap to grow, but they can get thirsty and need extra water during dry spells.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to full shade (depending on variety) in consistently moist soil

Size: 18 to 30 inches tall

Zones: 10-11

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Coleus in the Garden

Coleus in the Garden
Kindra Clineff

A versatile 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 still grow best in the shade, while others can handle both sun and shade. Coleus partners well with plants that have flowers in complementary colors, such as fuchsia.

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Hosta leaves close up
David McDonald

These shade-loving perennials will brighten even the dreariest spot with their pretty foliage. Depending on the variety, hostas can produce blue, chartreuse, emerald green, and variegated leaves. Arching spikes of pink, lavender, or white flowers are a bonus burst of color in summer.

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in well-drained soil

Size: Can vary from four-inch-tall miniatures to four-foot-tall giants

Zones: 3-9

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Hostas in the Garden

Hostas in the Garden
Laurie Black

When planning your landscape, take advantage of hosta foliage in shady spots. 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-lined 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.

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colorful coralbells
Blaine Moats

Often called coralbells, heuchera makes a brilliant addition to any garden. These tough, low-growing perennials produce finely cut leaves in a gorgeous assortment of chartreuse, purple, red, bronze, green, and silver. The colorful foliage also can be speckled, splotched, or veined in contrasting colors. Spikes of small pink, red, or white bell-shape flowers are an extra treat.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to three feet tall

Zones: 3-9

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Heuchera in the Garden

Heuchera 'Midnight Bayou' Coralbells
Samantha Hedum

The colorful foliage and low-growing leaves of heuchera make it an ideal choice for the front of a flower border or a walkway edge. But these eye-catching plants will look just as pretty in a container paired with annual flowers or other perennials. Because it's relatively cold-tolerant, heuchera is also a good choice for early spring or fall containers.

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Smoke Tree

Smoke Bush
Denny Schrock

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. You can also find varieties with lime green leaves that turn deep, rich red and orange in autumn. This small tree can easily be pruned into a shorter, shrub form.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in well-drained soil

Zones: 5-8

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Smoke Tree in the Garden

Smoke Bush in the Garden
Denny Schrock

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 more fresh, colorful leaves to grow. Here, 'Royal Purple' smoke tree looks terrific pruned to the same height as a Double Knock Out rose.

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Purple Leaf Ninebark
Doug Smith

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 white flowers. There are also varieties with chartreuse, bronze, or green leaves.

Growing Conditions: Full sun in any soil

Size: Up to eight feet tall

Zones: 3-7

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Ninebark in the Garden

Ninebark in the Garden
Denny Schrock

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, 'Summer Wine' ninebark shows off its pretty foliage and flowers.

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Tiger Eyes Sumac

Marty Baldwin

A domesticated form of native sumac, 'Tiger Eyes' is a beautiful addition to any landscape. As it grows, these plants develop chartreuse foliage that gradually turns to bright yellow as it matures. The tree's rosy-pink stems add color year-round, even after dropping its leaves for the winter.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in well-drained soil

Size: Up to six feet tall

Zones: 4-8

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Sumac in the Garden

Sumac in the Garden
Robert Cardillo

'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.

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Sweet Potato Vine

marguerite sweet potato vine
Marty Baldwin

For almost instant color, you can't beat sweet potato vine. This annual vine has long, trailing stems that grow quickly to fill containers and garden beds. Varieties such as 'Marguerite' (shown here) feature glowing chartreuse leaves. Others have bronze or dark purple foliage.

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in consistently moist soil

Size: Stems reach up to 6 feet in length

Zones: 9-11

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Sweet Potato Vine in the Garden

Ipomoea Sweet Caroline Red sweet potato vine
Denny Schrock

Because it's a vigorous plant, sweet potato vine excels at quickly filling in space in large containers, window boxes, and hanging baskets. It also makes a terrific groundcover. This plant tolerates heat and humidity well, but does best if you keep it well watered. Sweet potato vine produces thick, edible tubers but they aren't as tasty as the sweet potatoes you would get at the grocery store.

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