Variegated leaves usually have one color on the inner part of the foliage and a second color along the edge or "margin." These are some of the best examples of plants with bi-colored foliage that you can include a few in your landscaping to spice up your flower beds.
Some plants go above and beyond the call of duty, featuring not two but three different colors on their leaves. Another way that plants with variegated leaves can go the extra mile is to offer colorful blooms and/or berries, as well as interesting leaves.
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Variegated Dogwood Shrub
Variegated foliage gives your plants interest even in the absence of flowers. An example is this red twig dogwood bush with variegated foliage (Cornus alba Elegantissima). This variegated shrub does bear flowers in spring (sometimes succeeded by berries), but it's valued more for its bi-colored leaves, which you can enjoy for three seasons.Continue to 2 of 24 below.
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It's hard to choose the best attribute of yellow archangel (Lamium galebdolon or Lamiastrum galebdolon). Is it the variegated foliage? Or is it the yellow flowers? Fortunately, we don't have to choose, although most like the two-toned leaves best, since they are more of a constant.
It is not, however, tough to choose this perennial's worst feature: It is one of the worst invasive plants in North America. If you do choose to plant it, grow this perennial in light shade. It is related to the more common spotted deadnettle. Yellow archangel's shade tolerance makes it a good choice for use in woodland gardens.
A clump-forming plant, Lamium galebdolon reaches 1 to 3 feet in height, with a similar spread. The variegation on the plant takes the form of silver splotches (irregularly shaped) throughout the leaf. The leaves also have a jagged appearance. The flowers form in bunches, growing in a ring around the stem.Continue to 3 of 24 below.
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Yellow loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata Alexander) is another perennial valued as much for its foliage as for its flower spikes. It is also commonly called "Alexander's loosestrife." In late spring and early summer, when the plant blooms with yellow flowers, the foliage is white and green, but when the plant first emerges in spring, its leaves are a more interesting pink and green.Continue to 4 of 24 below.
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We don't usually think of red salvia (Salvia splendens) as a variegated plant. A popular annual used as a bedding plant, red salvia is usually grown for its flowers, not its foliage. However, this gold-spotted variety qualifies as a prime foliage plant, meaning its red flowers are just a bonus.Continue to 5 of 24 below.
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These nasturtiums (Tropaeolum spp.) are another example of a variegated annual. We often think of nasturtiums as fall flowers—we sow their seeds in early June, and they bloom in early autumn. Their orange and yellow flowers fit in well with traditional fall color schemes.Continue to 6 of 24 below.
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Nora Leigh garden phlox (Phlox paniculata Nora Leigh) has two-toned leaves, as well as two-toned flowers. The leaves of this garden phlox have green centers with white edges, while the flowers have a deep pink center, surrounded by a lighter pink color.
Don't confuse garden phlox with creeping phlox, which is a low-growing ground cover that blooms in spring. Garden phlox blooms in summer.Continue to 7 of 24 below.
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Two-Toned Dalmatian Iris
This iris not only bears the beautiful flowers one expects from an iris but lovely leaves, too.
Variegated Dalmatian iris (Iris pallida Aureo-Variegata) has a purple flower and green and gold, sword-shaped leaves. Like many (but not all) irises, it boasts fragrant blooms.Continue to 8 of 24 below.
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Columbine plants are known for both their attractive foliage (clover-like when young) and pretty flowers, but variegated columbine (Aquilegia vulgaris Woodside Variegata) offers an even more interesting foliage than most types. Columbine flowers come in many colors; some are even bi-colored. Columbines can have yellow, white, red, blue, purple, or pink blossoms. They can reach 2 feet in height (taller when in full bloom). Columbine plants bloom in late spring to early summer and re-seed readily if you don't deadhead them.Continue to 9 of 24 below.
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Living up to their name, tricolor sage plants (Salvia officinalis Tricolor) display three colors. Other variegated plants also boast three colors, such as ornamental kiwi vines and tricolor beech. Unlike those other two tri-colored plants, however, tricolor sage's third color—after green and white—is purple, not pink.Continue to 10 of 24 below.
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We usually think of beech trees (Fagus spp.) as fall foliage trees. We don't think that much about their leaves until autumn. Not so with the tricolor beech. Look how boldly the green in the leaf stands out from the pink and white coloration.Continue to 11 of 24 below.
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Sweet Tea Heucherella
Heucherella Sweet Tea has a leaf with a dark center and a lighter color on the perimeter. Heucherella is derived, both linguistically and botanically, from a cross of Heuchera and Tiarella. For most types of this perennial, the leaves are more interesting than the flowers. Sweet Tea is no exception in this regard (the same can be said for one of the parents of Heucherella, Heuchera). Some sport golden leaves, such as Heucherella Solar Power.
There are exceptions, though. However, even in the case of Heuchera Blondie—which is named for the color of its blooms—its leaves are its best feature.Continue to 12 of 24 below.
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Variegated Rose of Sharon
Hibiscus Sugar Tip is a rose of Sharon with variegated leaves. This rose of Sharon also produces double, pink flowers. Rose of Sharon is such a late-blooming shrub, so you'll appreciate having the interesting leaves to enjoy all summer as you wait for the plant to bloom.Continue to 13 of 24 below.
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Frosty Morn Stonecrop
Frosty Morn stonecrop plant (Sedum) bears bi-colored leaves. The name derives from the white or "frosty" edging displayed on its leaf margins. Like other succulents, such as hen and chicks, this perennial tolerates low-water conditions.
Although this succulent does blossom, it is valued most for its variegated leaves. As with Autumn Joy stonecrop, the flowers of this sedum appear in clusters atop the plant. The flowers tend to bleach out in the sun in very hot areas (they can retain a pinkish color in cooler areas).
Other variegated stonecrops include:
Continue to 14 of 24 below.
- Sedum spurium Tricolor
- Sedum Autumn Charm
- Sedum alboroseum Mediovariegatum
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While ribbon grass (Phalaris arundinacea) is an attractive plant, beware its aggressiveness. As a substitute, grow the similar (but better-behaved) Carex Spark Plug, a type of sedge.Continue to 15 of 24 below.
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Minute Man Hosta
Minute Man hosta is one of several hosta plants that are variegated. Minute Man hosta plants' leaves are white around the edges, green at the center. These markings make Minute Man, like H. Patriot, H. Frances Williams, and H. Francee, examples of so-called "marginally variegated" hostas. All are best grown in partial to full shade.Continue to 16 of 24 below.
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Ornamental Kiwi Vines
Male kiwi vines bear small white flowers in spring, but the attraction in growing Actinidia kolomikta Arctic Beauty vines is their variegated foliage. As the leaves emerge in spring, they're green, but they soon pick up splotches of white. Even better, some leaves then develop pink tips. The coloration does, however, fade some as summer progresses.
So the next time someone brings up the subject of fall foliage season, ask them, "Did you know that there's also a spring foliage season?" When they give you a funny look, explain that some plants, such as Arctic Beauty, actually produce their best foliage color in springtime, not autumn.
Male Actinidia kolomikta vines put on a better foliar display than the females.Continue to 17 of 24 below.
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Jack Frost Siberian Bugloss
Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost is a perennial plant with variegated leaves. The variegation of this Brunnera macrophylla plant (also known commonly as "Siberian bugloss") takes the form of silver leaves with dark green veining (a nice contrast). Blue flowers are a favorite in the landscape, and Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost produces a bunch of them in spring.
The plant belongs to the Borage family (Boraginaceae). Besides the herb, borage, itself, other members of the family include:
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- Anchusa spp.
- Pulmonaria spp.
- Myosotis spp.
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Harriet Waldman Japanese Maple
Acer palmatum Harriet Waldman is one of the Japanese maples. Its leaves display three colors: pink, white, and green. It's the uppermost (newest) leaves that contain the most pink. Fall foliage will be yellow, orange, or red, depending upon conditions. Harriet Waldman Japanese maple eventually reaches a height of 15 feet tall.
Some other types of maple trees are also prized for their variegated leaves, such as Acer pseudoplatanus Brilliantissimum and Acer rubescens Silver Cardinal.Continue to 19 of 24 below.
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Joseph's Coat Plant
Joseph's coat plant (Alternanthera ficoidea) is a tropical plant grown for what is sometimes the intense second color that accompanies the green color in its leaves. For cultivars where that second color is intense, it will be orange, purple, or red. In other cultivars, it is a less intense brownish or coppery. Since Joseph's coat can be grown year-round only in zones 10 and 11, it is treated as an annual in the North, where its color explosion can be used to punch up window boxes and the like during the summertime.Continue to 20 of 24 below.
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Snow-on-the-mountain plant goes by a number of other common names, including "bishop's weed" and "goutweed." Take the "weed" in those common names seriously, because snow-on-the-mountain plant (Aegopodium podagraria) will spread, but the Variegatum cultivar is better-behaved than the species plant. Some people value snow-on-the-mountain as an option for a variegated flowering ground cover in zones 3 to 9. Its flower is white and reminds you of a scraggly version of Queen Anne's lace.Continue to 21 of 24 below.
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The Carol Mackie cultivar of daphne bush (Daphne x burkwoodii Carol Mackie) bears sweet-smelling flowers in spring, along with variegated foliage. Of the two qualities, its variegated leaves may be the more important, since they can be appreciated for the greater part of the year.Continue to 22 of 24 below.
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Wolf Eyes Dogwood
Wolf Eyes dogwood (Cornus kousa Wolf Eyes) is one of the Japanese dogwoods (as opposed to the flowering dogwoods native to North America). It has variegated foliage and white flowers. The effect of so much white is dazzling when this tree is in bloom. Berries follow the blooms for a fall display, but the fall foliage of Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) is much better than that of Wolf Eyes.Continue to 23 of 24 below.
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There are various variegated euonymus shrubs, of which Moonshadow euonymus is one. Emerald Gaiety (Euonymus fortunei Emerald Gaiety), with its white and green variegation, is another. Moonshadow (Euonymus fortunei Moonshadow) has green and gold leaves, with the gold in the center and the green on the margins.
The green and gold color scheme isn't consistent (nor is it consistent in Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus). The gold is strongest on the newest leaves, while it tends to fade to a creamy color on the older ones. Still, the creamy color is attractive in its own right; besides, there are usually plenty of new leaves to supply you with the golden color.
Moonshadow euonymus makes a better groundcover than does Emerald 'n' Gold, as it tends to stay shorter and spread out more horizontally. The outer branches bear a creamy yellow color, giving the overall plant a brighter appearance (as compared to Emerald 'n' Gold, whose outer branches are green). Both plants pick up a pink tinge when cold weather arrives, which boosts their value for winter interest.
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- Type: broadleaf evergreen shrub
- Hardiness: planting zones 5 to 8
- Growing conditions: full sun; well-drained, evenly moist soil of average fertility
- Mature height: 2 feet
- Spread at maturity: 4 feet
- Care: Prune it frequently to shape it if you need to control its size (this shrub is not fussy about when you prune it), or else take a laid-back approach and let it grow naturally.
- General appearance and function: This plant is multi-branched and shaped like a hassock. Its dense branching pattern discourages weed growth, thereby making it an effective ground cover.
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Emerald 'n' Gold Euonymus
The leaves of Emerald 'n' Gold euonymus (Euonymus fortunei Emerald 'n' Gold) are green on the inside, gold on the outside. As such, this small evergreen shrub is the opposite of the Moonshadow euonymus, which is gold on the inside, green on the outside. The leaves on some of Emerald 'n' Gold's new branches will revert back to a plain green color over time (a problem less likely to happen on Moonshadow). You should always prune off such green areas so that the energy of the plant goes into making more variegated leaves.