Plants With Silver Leaves

Silver is probably not one of the first colors you think of when choosing plants for your garden. There aren't many silver flowers, but silver or gray foliage can transform a garden bed. Silver mutes harsh tones, smolders in the shade, cools things down in the heat of summer and adds sophistication and elegance to combinations.

Many drought tolerant plants have silver foliage, as a survival mechanism. Some leaves are spotted with silver, others are completely grayish. In general, silver...MORE foliage combines best with pastels, especially pinks and lavenders. But try mixing things up, to suit your own taste. I find silver and burgundy very subdued and pleasing.

  • 01 of 06
    Photo: Ayla87 / Stock.xchng
    The wormwoods, or Artemisia, always seem to be used as backdrop. These feathery plants are not just drought tolerant, they also repel many pests with their scent. That is how they got their common name, afterall.

    I like to use Artemisias to soften areas with a lot of large leaved plants or an abundance of primary colors. They're dependable and require minimal maintenance.

  • 02 of 06
    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Brunnera macrophylla may be called the False Forget-Me-Not, but it is second to none in spring beauty. The species plant has green leaves, but there are so many wonderful silver-leaved cultivars available now, you could so an entire bed with just them.

    Brunnera blooms in mid-spring, with sprays of pale blue flowers. The flower will fade, but the foliage remains vibrant throughout the summer. To keep it looking its best, you may need to remove older leaves, as the new growth fills in. Grow it in a...MORE partial shade garden with a rich soil and it will be very happy for years.

    Another silver spring charmer that continues to shine into summer is Pulmonaria, or Lungwort. It too has mid-spring flowers, followed by a new flush of foliage.

  • 03 of 06
    Dusty Miller is a very commonly used foliage plant. As with many overused plants, it doesn't get a lot of respect. But there's a reason some plants become standards and Dusty Miller does not disappoint. The fuzzy gray leaves look like refined doilies. They look especially nice in containers because they don't require a lot of watering and they don't try and outgrow the other plants in the pot.

    Although Dusty Miller is grown as a foliage plant, it does have yellow flowers. However...MORE it is the leaves that are the main attraction and many gardeners actually trim off the flower buds, before they have a chance to bloom.

  • 04 of 06
    Photo: © Marie Iannotti
    As if we need an excuse to plant lavender. English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and Lavender x intermedia, like 'Provence' have soft, gray-green leaves that are perfect foils for the lavender flowers.

    Lavender prefers a slightly alkaline soil. It is extremely drought tolerant, once you get it established, but it should be kept well watered for the first few months. There is a fair amount of winter die back in colder zones, but the plants will send out enough new growth to keep them...MORE attractive - and blooming.

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06
    Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Silver foliage never looks softer than when it is paired with lavender-blue flowers and Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) give you both. The flowers start off a gentle haze of blue and slowly open and brighten in mid- to late summer. The plant looks like a masterful watercolor painting.

    Once again, these gray leaves are extremely drought tolerant. You can virtually ignore your plants and they will come back year after year, but since they bloom on the new growth, you will want to prune them...MORE back to about 6 inches, in early spring.

  • 06 of 06

    And the list goes on...

    Photo: © Marie Iannotti
    These are my Top 5, but there are so many more to choose from. Gardeners in warm climates have the most choices. Many desert plants have gray leaves, as protection against the harsh conditions. If you live in at least USDA Hardiness Zone 8, Agave is a great choice. Not all are silvery gray, but many are. Agave gypsophila 'Marginata' ((Margined Gypsum Agave) has silvery-blue leaves with a buttery-yellow margin. The large grey leaves of Agave ovatifolia (Whale's Tongue Agave) quickly...MORE spread to form a plant that's 36 inches tall and 5 feet wide. It's hardy down to Zone 7.

    Lamb's Ear has earned a place in many gardens. It has some of the softest plant leaves you will find anywhere. The pale pink flowers are lovely in bloom, but the plant tends to go downhill quickly afterward and needs a good shearing.

    Japanese Painted Fern, (Athyrium niponicum ), glows in a shade garden. The silver varieties, like the 'Pewter Lace', pale white 'Ghost' and silvery-blue 'Pictum' are among the best.

    Then there's Summer in Snow (Cerastium Tomentosum, Sea Holly (Eryngium Planum, Curry Plant (Helichrysum italicum), Cotton LAvender (Santolina rosmarinifolia, and the list goes on.