There is considerable variety in variegation.

Flowers get all the credit for color. They certainly are the most colorful features in the garden, as well as the most fragrant. However, foliage can do so much more than simply provide green. It can be hued with yellow, red, blue, purple, bronze, gray, or variegated with white or yellow. Plants with colorful foliage can range in size and function from small annuals and perennials to shrubbery, vines and even trees.

Hydrangea, hosta, ivy, English holly and various pittosporum are some of the more popular plants for white variegation, and are often variegated with yellow. Euonymus can conversely be variegated with white, but is usually variegated with yellow. New Zealand flax can be variegated with pink, bronze, brown or gold. Box elder is a good sized deciduous tree that can be variegated with white, or alternatively frosted uniformly with gold as new foliage emerges in spring. There is even a variety that has slightly purplish or smoky colored new foliage.

Silver mountain gum, silver Mediterranean fan palm, lamb’s ears, artemesia and the various dusty millers have remarkably silvery foliage. Silver mountain gum can grow into a mid-sized tree with a stout trunk. Lamb’s ears is a low perennial. Olive trees, some junipers and the various lavenders have gray foliage. Colorado blue spruce and some agaves have striking blue color.

Various purple leaf plums and Japanese maples are famous for their purplish foliage. Smoke tree and some beech have even darker purplish foliage. Some New Zealand flax and cannas can be just as purple or comparably bronze.

Actually, New Zealand flax and cannas, as well as junipers known for blue or gray foliage, can alternatively be bright yellow. Golden arborvitae, golden honeylocust and golden Monterey cypress really stand out nicely against darker green.

Colorful foliage tends to be most colorful as it develops freshly in spring, and tends to fade somewhat through summer. Gold junipers can actually fade to basic green by autumn. Shade inhibits most types of coloration, but can show off variegation better. There really is so much variety with colorful foliage that it is impossible to generalize.


9 thoughts on “Foliage Can Provide Color Too

    1. Coleus is rad! My colleague down south uses is more liberally than we do, because it is happier there. We just recently got some, but it will likely need the floral stems to be plucked, and at the end of the season, it will succumb to frost. (Frost is minimal here, but it is enough to kill coleus.) I am not so keen on the modern cultivars. A few years ago, common coleus looked like the same coleus that I remember from decades ago. Are you coleus the classic types?

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      1. I don’t know what kind mine are. I have two tricks. I cut them in half when they get tall and root them for more plants. I also scatter the seed heads about the garden beds in the fall and end up with a nice selection in the spring.

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      2. Does cutting them in half also delay bloom? Once mine start to bloom, I can not stop them. I mean, they can be vegetative for quite a while, but if floral shoots appear, and I cut them off, they just make more until the season if over. It is annoying with houseplants.

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      3. I think it does delay the blooms. Pinching off the flowers as soon as they start helps. I find that pollinators and hummingbirds visit the tiny flowers, so I will let them bloom at the end of summer. I throw the seeds back into my beds and many germinate for the next season.

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    1. Some variegation looks rather sickly; but I could not say that in the gardening column. For the landscapes in shady redwood forests, white variegation makes the situation a bit brighter. We will be getting some yellow variegated Mexican orange soon, which I do not know what to think about. There is already some gold dust plant there. The lighter color looks nice, but yellow just does not do it for me. I must remind myself of how other see it. I am confident that it will look better than the plain green that I prefer. Your garden is likely sunnier, even with those trees around the neighborhood, and more importantly, it is very colorful. Variegation would not be much of an asset, especially if you do not like it. Do you find that yellow variegated plants are more susceptible to sunburn?


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