It's now spring--and we should be thinking about what to plant in our window
boxes, containers and garden for endless color all season long. Today, let me
tell you about the best foliage plants for color, as flowers are not needed when
you use these plants. Foliage can become the "Star" of your garden.
So this spring when you plan your garden, consider: leaf texture, foliage colors,
leaf and stem shape, plant character, growth habits, foliage contrasts and the
plants' ability to change things around during the season. Look at the plants
I have selected for your inspection and try a few of these plants on your property--and
you too will become a believer that foliage is more important than the flowers
the plants produce.
#1 Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus)
was new to me last year, and I fell in love with it because of the bold and brilliant
metallic purple foliage. The plant will grow 3 to 4 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet
wide when mature, but if you keep pinching the taller growing branches back,
it will reward you with many new side shoots that have darker purple foliage,
and the plant will stay more compact. The leaves will grow 4 to 7 inches
long, 2 to 3 inches wide and are oval with a wonderful point to them. The edge
of the leaf has small teeth on it and when young these teeth they are purple
but mature to green, giving the leaf additional color.
The young foliage begins all deep purple with sunken veins that give the
leaf the appearance of a feather. As the leaf mature and grows larger, the color
will gradually fade to silvery or iridescent purple and the veins will change
to green like the teeth on the edge of the leaf. During the heat of summer, your
plant will have layers of deep purple new growth, silvery purple in the middle
and silvery purple with green veins and leaf edge on the base of the plant. For
the best color, keep the plant in a sunny location.
Your plants will grow best a rich potting soil that has been conditioned with
compost and animal manure--and your soil should also be well drained at all times.
Fertilize often with a liquid plant fertilizer like Ferti-lome Blooming and Rooting
or Miracle-Gro. If growing in containers or sandy garden soil use Soil moist
granules when planting to help the soils retain moisture. In the summer, small
blue flowers will form but they are of little interest. One last thing--the underside
of the foliage stays bright purple. In the fall take a few tip cuttings--they
root easily--and grow them to use as houseplants; they will do well indoors on a sunny
window during the winter months.
Red Leaf Fountain Grass: This is a wonderful annual grass with foliage that comes
in several shades of burgundy to purple-red. The plant produces an endless supply
of dark spiky foliage. The foliage is narrow--under 1/2 inch wide-- and glossy.
The purple-red foliage will grow 1 to 3 feet tall, depending on the variety you
select, with a rounded tip on the end of the blade of grass. The foliage will
grow in a clump and has a unique upright growing habit. As if this was not enough
to turn your head, the plant will also produce many long, arching, birthday candle-like
flower spikes that are fuzzy and light tan in color but blushed with pink and
burgundy. The foliage is so shiny it looks like it was sprayed with wax. When
it rains or you water the plant, the water will bead- up on the leaf like peas
in a pod, it's also just beautiful early in the morning with the morning dew.
The unique foliage looks striking when poking out of green foliage in a mixed
Another member of the Pennisetum grass family you will love is the purple
millet called 'Purple Majesty.' This unique plant will grow as tall as 3 to 4
feet high, and the foliage resembles a miniature corn plant--not grass. The foliage
will grow wider--1 to 2 inches wide and 6 to 12 inches on strong stems that develop
as a clump at the base of the plant. Each stem can and will produce several leaves
on it and both the stem and the leaves are rich dark purple red in color. The
leaves are thin and wavy looking; they also grow narrower and develop a sharp
point on their tips. The millet variety is well known for the large cattail-like
flower spikes that are soft, fluffy and bright purple-red early on. As the spike
matures, it will begin to turn a creamy tan color from the top working its way
down the spike. Soon it will be covered with small, round, shiny seeds that are
bright purple-red like the flower, making additional contrast.
Plant either type in a soil that has been conditioned with compost or animal
manure. They love a full sun location in the garden or in a container that is
well drained and they will both tolerate dry soil but will thrive in a moist
soil. If plants receive some shade, some foliage will develop green areas on
the plant rather than being all colored. Soil Moist granules help keep plants
active in sandy soil or in containers when water becomes scarce. Both types are
annual and cannot be brought into the house for the winter months and replanted
the following spring. Start new plants from seed during February or March indoors.
#3 Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)
This is a
vigorous trailing vine that is great for containers or as a border plant for
your garden. In the past few years, this plant has changed a great deal and now
comes in several colors such as lime green, purple, red, black and variegated
colors. It also now comes in several leaf shapes--from the early heart shaped
leaf to foliage that is deeply lobed (like the 'Lace' cultivars) or shaped like the ace of spades; some even
have varieties with holes in the foliage. Two years ago, I saw this plant used
as an annual ground cover in an open area between perennial gardens. Because
the plant has the ability to root as it touches the ground, it grew very large
leaves--almost a foot in diameter. This bed had both lime green and deep purple
plants alternating in it creating a large checkerboard pattern on the ground.
Sweet potato vine will give you the best colored foliage in full sun but it
will grow in partial shade, although the leaf color will be more subdued and the plant
will not grow as vigorously. Plants prefer a rich soil conditioned with compost
or animal manure and if your soil is sandy or your planting in container use
Soil Moist Granules to help retain moisture around the roots during periods of
hot dry weather. When you set out your plants pinch back every new shoot to the
next leaf and watch the plant quickly develop additional stems. This will help
fill your containers with colorful foliage and create many new cascading shoots
that will quickly run on the ground. Sweet potato vine can grow stems up to 10
feet long if fertilized regularly with Miracle-Gro or Fertilome Rooting and Blooming plant
food. When you're planting your containers this year, add the new Bio-Tone fertilizer
before planting your container to encourage faster root development. In the fall
you can take tip cuttings easily. This plant will do very well as a houseplant
during the winter for you indoors. It grows like a large-leaf ivy, with lots
of color both indoors and outside. Great in window boxes in place of vinca vine,
for a change.
#4 Silver Falls (Dichondra argentea)
Now, this is a plant I found
3 years ago and have not looked back ever since. The label said it would cascade
quickly and spread far and wide in your container, or to use it as an annual ground
cover to cascade over a stone wall for great color. The greenhouse I purchased
it at also called it silver nickel vine, and I just loved the small rounded foliage.
The plant is all silvery white to gray and velvety soft to the touch, even the
stems. The foliage is rounded to kidney shaped and reminded me of ground ivy
and quick-growing lawn weed. I planted some in a window box and in a whiskey
barrel and the vines quickly grew 3 to 6 feet long over the summer months. When
I planted the plants I cut back every tip on the vines to encourage new growth
and, believe me, it quickly multiplied with every vine that I cut.
Once the plants hit the ground they rooted and even more new shoots developed
from the vine--making it even more beautiful and thicker. The thing I like best
about this plant is that it was not aggressive in the containers and did not
choke out other plants growing near it. It also sent out runners throughout the
container and came out everywhere, adding color to the container where it was
not expected. I also had one plant left over when the planting was done so I
added it to a hanging basket filled with dark leaf begonias and it made the hanging
basket "POP" with that silvery foliage. I did see a few small silvery
flowers but they were barely noticeable.
Plant this wonderful vine in a sunny location or some of the leaves will turn
gray green, still nice, but not that "Eye Popping" white silver. It
loves a well-drained soil; the plant cannot sit in a saucer of water, ever. The
better you condition the soil, the better the plant will grow, so use compost
or animal manure. If you like dusty miller, you will like this plant even better
because of the color, the ability to cascade in containers and over stone walls--plus, I never saw a bug or disease problem with it all year. Also, once it roots
while growing on the ground, cut it from the mother, dig it up and pot into a
container to make a new plant for the house for the winter months. The color
is unusual, it's delicate looking and your fellow gardeners will be envious of
you because they won't have it.
#5 Bloodleaf Plant ( Iresine herbstii ):
plant is not used much today because of all the new coleus but you should look
it over one more time. Grow it in a container of mixed plants or in your garden
for a mass of colorful foliage. The foliage will draw your friends to it to take
a closer look at it because of the unique colors. This is a plant known for the
markings on the foliage; they are bright and rich and the colors are deep and
interesting to look at. The plant looks like a coleus a bit--but with much different
leaves and unusual stems. The leaves are oval with a pointed tip to them, 1 to
3 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. These wonderful leaves are deep purple
with reddish to pink veined covering the leaf like a spider web when young. The
veins on the leaves almost look like they have blood running through them at
times, and the stems and foliage stand out with any type of mixed container.
As the plant matures, the colors change to more pink and red with some purple
and green veins.
The plant will grow 2 to 3 feet tall and just as wide, so pinch it at a leaf
to control the size you want in the garden or container. This plant loves the
sun in the Northeast where summers are not very hot and will do well near the
lake or in a seaside planting with cool breezes. It will also do well in partial
shade late in the day. In hot sunshine all day, the colors will bleach out. Plant
in a conditioned soil with lots of compost and animal manure added before planting.
Soil must be well drained so avoid overwatering plants or they will rot and fall
over easily. You can take cuttings at any time and with a quick dip in rooting
powder you can easily start new plants quickly in a rich soil like the new Black
Gold Potting soil that has been conditioned with compost already. They make wonderful
houseplants for any time of the year and are great plants for beginners. This
is just a nice plant with great color for your garden or containers.
#6 Red Leaf Castor Bean (Ricinus communis):
I first grew this plant when I was 5 years
old--and that was a long time ago now--and I still grow it every now and then
in the garden. Two years ago, I planted a few seeds and gave the plant lots of
room in the garden to grow and it became the one plant everyone talked about
at the garden tour at the house. The garden tour is again this year and I will
grow it again to help give my garden a bit of a tropical appearance. This is
an annual plant in the Northeast. It will catch your eye because it grows so
fast and large in such a short time. The plant has a thick stem and if you can
plant 3 seedlings 18 inches apart in a triangle, you will create a plant that
will resemble a tropical shrub in your garden and have everyone asking, "what
is that plant?" Or plant them singly here and there in your garden as an
accent color plant and to add some unusual foliage.
The plant grows upright and bushy--up to 5 to 7 feet tall if you can plant
it in a well-conditioned soil. The more compost and animal manure you add to
the garden, the larger the plant will grow and the bigger the leaves will become.
This is a wonderful plant to place in a garden where you spend time during the
summer months outside--like a on a deck, on the patio or near a swimming pool.
Great conversation plant, great tropical like foliage, great foliage color, some
flowers--and the plant does make very unusual looking seed pods. Just one work
of advice: if you have young children, the plant is poisonous--and the seeds
are deadly--so think about it before planting unless everyone is all grown up.
The leaves of the plant are lobed like a Japanese maple leaf but much bigger,
and when they first form on the plant, they are shiny--almost glossy. Also, the
leaf stems and the plant stems are red and shiny.
Also unusual about this plant is that it has both male and female flowers.
The female flowers are pink and the male flowers are cream colored. This is unusual
for plants, so when your gardening friends come to your garden let's quiz them
on this! Good gardening points for you! The seed pods resemble a horse chestnut
pod (only more so); when they dry, you can collect the seeds for next year's
plants. Plant seeds in a full sun area of the garden or in a large container
like a whiskey barrel if the container is somewhat protected from the wind. If
you're pushing the plant to grow big and tall plant near a fence or trellis so
you can tie it up and prevent the strong wind from knocking it over during a
Soak the seeds overnight before planting (the seed covering is very thick)
to help speed germination. If you can start the seeds indoors about a month before
the planting season outside, it will give you a big jump on the growing season.
Start a couple of seeds in a 6 to 8 inch pot together to give the plant more
body once in the garden. If you have sensitive skin, use gardening gloves when
you handle the plant as it may irritate you, I have no problem with this plant
that way; just a warning. This plant also comes in green and copper colored foliage
if you don't like red plants.
This year, think outside of the box and try something different in your garden
and containers. Just in case you would like some of these plants this spring
and your favorite greenhouse does not carry them, I found all these plants at
Vermont Transplants in Arundel, Maine. Give them a call, they have even
more unusual plants for your garden. Enjoy!
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