The right selection of foliage can make a great impact in your garden. Choose foliage that will add bold shapes, fine textures, and brilliant color to your flowers. In addition, some foliage selections are best for filling in the shady patches of your garden without compromising visual interest. You'll also find foliage that changes its color throughout the season.
Here's a roundup up the 18 best foliage plants to intersperse among your blooms.
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Caladiums, also called "Angel Wings," look truly unique in a garden. They have large, arrowhead-shaped leaves that come in striking combinations of green, red, pink, and white. Caladiums make easy houseplants and are equally delightful outdoors.
Grow your caladiums in partial shade, where they create an unexpected and welcome burst of season-long color for the garden. However, they are only hardy to USDA Zone 9. In cooler climates, you can grow them as annual plants and bring them indoors for the winter.Continue to 2 of 18 below.
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Canna (Canna indica)
There's no missing the tropical flair of canna plants. They have huge banana-like leaves that can be green, red, striped, or something in between, and flowers in glowing shades of red, yellow, and orange. However, even without the flashy blooms, these plants would be standouts. Some gardeners even remove the flower stalks, so that the plant can focus on growing leaves.
Canna plants love water and heat. If you think keeping them watered might become tedious, consider planting them in containers and putting them in a water garden to create your own version of a tropical paradise.Continue to 3 of 18 below.
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Artemisia (Artemisia vulgaris)
Although artemisia is in the daisy family, the flowers tend to be insignificant, but the leaves are airy and charming. Some of the most popular garden artemisias include mugwort, southernwood, sweet Annie, tarragon, and the wormwood.
Most artemisia plants have silvery-gray foliage that beautifully offsets both pastel flowers and richer tones such as deep mauve, purples, oranges, and blues. They pick up the slightest glint of sunlight in partial shade and light up surrounding plants. If they get a bit untidy in summer, simple shear the old foliage, and new silvery leaves will appear.Continue to 4 of 18 below.
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Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides)
Shade-growing coleus plants were popular Victorian bedding plants, but it wasn't until a sun-loving coleus was developed that the plant really captured the hearts of gardeners. Now you rarely see a garden without at least one coleus plant. They are also popular in containers and even indoors as houseplants.
Sun-worshiping coleus come in a rainbow of colors, sometimes all on one plant. Bright, cheerful plants with names such as "Big Enchilada," Brilliancy," and "Copper Sun" hint at what to expect in the coleus aisle. Pinching makes the plants bushier and fuller, with more glorious colorful leaves to enjoy.Continue to 5 of 18 below.
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Coral Bells (Heuchera)
The original coral bells were charming plants with ruffled green leaves and airy pink bell-shaped flowers that made them the favorite plant of hummingbirds. However, much the way plant breeders went wild developing new hosta varieties, they have embraced Heucheras and figured out how to give them purple, bronze, and patterned leaves.
Most Heuchera plants do best in partial shade, but they will also grow well in the sun if they have sufficient moisture. They form tidy clumps and are perfect for edging borders, planting under taller plants, and for containers.Continue to 6 of 18 below.
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Hostas come in shades of green, gold, and blue, as well as a variety of variegated leaves. They prefer partial shade, where the brighter whites and gold reflect the subtle light and enliven the plants around them.
Although known as shade plants, there are several hosta varieties that can be grown in full sun, expanding their value in the garden. There are only a handful of hosta varieties, such as Hosta plantaginea, that have really attractive flowers. Most of the time, the flower stalks are cut off before bloom, allowing the plant to focus on growing their delightful leaves.Continue to 7 of 18 below.
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Ornamental grasses add texture, movement, and sound to your garden, and you'll have dozens of choices. Some shine with their flowers or inflorescence, but many, such as blood grass, porcupine grass, and zebra grass, need only their leaf stalks to stand out. You will need to consider height, growth habit, and even season when choosing your ornamental grass to get one that is suitable for your garden.Continue to 8 of 18 below.
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Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus)
If you keep yours as a houseplant in winter, you can easily take cuttings in spring to plant out in the garden. Persian shield can handle full sun, but the iridescence makes them almost glow in partial shade.Continue to 9 of 18 below.
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Rex Begonia (Begonia rex-cultorum)
As with so many fantastic foliage plants, Rex begonias are tropical plants. That doesn't have to stop you from growing them both as houseplants and in the garden. The foliage of Rex begonias can be swirled, spotted, spiraled, thick, ruffled, or winged. They are such intriguing plants that many people collect them.
Unfortunately, Rex begonias can be a little fussy to care for, unless you live in the tropics. It's often easier to grow them in containers, where you have more control over the soil and growing conditions, rather than in the ground.Continue to 10 of 18 below.
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New Zealand Flax (Phormium)
New Zealand flax is a wonderful dramatic accent in the garden. Some varieties can grow well more than 7 feet tall, while others are small enough to be suitable for growing in containers. There is also a wide selection of colors to choose from, including shades of green, yellow, white, pink, and red.
In warmer climates, Phormiums are evergreen perennials. They are predominately grown for their blade-shaped leaves, but the plants also send up a flower stalk with attractive blooms in red or yellow.Continue to 11 of 18 below.
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Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea batatas)
The rich colors and deeply lobed leaves of sweet potato vines make this a popular choice for both container plants and ground covers. They are related to the edible sweet potato, but the tuber is not as tasty.
These vines are grown specifically for ornamental foliage, which comes in a wide variety of colors and names. "Margarita" has bright chartreuse leaves; "Sweet Caroline" or "Sweetheart" has burgundy heart-shaped leaves; and "Tricolor" has green and white variegated leaves that are outlined in pink.Continue to 12 of 18 below.
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Plectranthus (Plectranthus argentatus)
Plectranthus is a free-growing, bushy plant that loves damp soil. The leaves are thick and slightly fuzzy, with a ruffled edge that can show as a variegated white. Most plectranthus are grown strictly for foliage, which is similar to its cousin Swedish ivy. Pinching them back periodically will keep them full and lush. A newer variety, "Mona Lavender" plectranthus, has tall lavender flower stalks that make it a popular container and indoor plant.Continue to 13 of 18 below.
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Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum)
Many ferns, with their lacy fronds and airy growing habits, are lovely; however, the Japanese painted fern stands out in the crowd. Plant it in a partially shaded nook, and its silvery leaves will catch every ray of sun that stumbles into the garden. Pictum has reddish-purple stems that make the silvery-green fronds shine even more. Burgundy lace takes it a step further with pink-tinted fronds. These are not large ferns (growing to about 12 inches tall), but they are eye-catchers.Continue to 14 of 18 below.
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Lamb's Ear (Stachys byzantina)
The soft, fuzzy, gray leaves of lamb's ear plants are known to delight young children who get the chance to rub them, but they are also delightful to gardeners looking for a velvety texture to soften the hard edges of a walkway or to use for its downy gray color to act as a foil for nearby pastels. Newer cultivars, such as "Helen von Stein," have been bred vegetatively. This means they do not bloom, so no deadheading is required to keep them looking great.Continue to 15 of 18 below.
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Amaranthus Tricolor (Amaranthus gangeticus)
The foliage of amaranthus plants can be so audacious that you will wonder why they even bother blooming. Amaranthus tricolor is a sunburst of yellows and orange. If you think the common tricolor is bold, you should take a look at some of the cultivars, such as "Perfecta." These plants will light up your garden on the cloudiest days and for weeks on end. Amaranthus tricolor is an annual plant and easy to start from seed.Continue to 16 of 18 below.
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Dusty Miller (Centaurea cineraria)
Dusty miller is often grown as an annual plant and used as filler in the garden or in containers, but that really doesn't do it justice. This soft, powdery gray foliage plant is extremely drought-tolerant and forgiving of many tough growing conditions. Its subdued color is an excellent foil for bolder colors, such as hot pink petunias and buttery yellow coreopsis. Look for some of the named varieties, such as "Silverado," that stay fresh-looking longer than the species plant.Continue to 17 of 18 below.
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Elephant Ears (Colocasia esculenta)
The imposing size of elephant ears adds instant drama to your garden. The plant has a definite tropical flair and enjoys being grown partially submerged in water. Although it is only hardy to zones 8 and above, elephant ears grow quickly from large tubers, which can be stored for the winter to grow again next season.Continue to 18 of 18 below.
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Lungwort has stunning flowers in early spring; however, they don't last very long. Luckily the leaves are splattered, or completely washed with silver or white, and they remain a welcome sight for the remainder of the growing season. These are short plants that are a bit slow to spread, but they eventually make lovely carpets with glowing flashes of iridescence.