Five Favorites for Foliage

We have a few spots of good color in the Sperry home gardens. But, for the most part, we specialize in shade. Most flowering annuals prefer sunnier sites, so I have to choose those plants very carefully. I shared the flowering stars of our gardens with you last week. In case you missed them, here’s a link back to that story.

Today we turn to plants with colorful foliage. I tend to have better luck with several of these in our gardens because of our shade. Mind you, they, too, will be more colorful when they’re grown in as much sunlight as possible, but these are plants that have done well for me over the years.


• Coleus. These are my all-time favorite foliage plants for the summer. Making it all the more exciting, plant hybridizers have brought them so far in recent years. Choose types that are slow to flower. Blooms stop production of new growth and must be pinched off. Coleus are nice in beds and large patio pots. Most types grow to 24 to 36 inches tall and wide. Some tolerate more sun than others, and that’s where the breeders have been focusing their work. Best color comes from morning sun, afternoon shade.

Continued Below

Copper plants

• Copper plants. These have come into the market during my lifetime. They were huge in the 60s, 70s and 80s. They’re less frequently used now. But they’ll be back! They’re too good to pass up, and we have some great newer selections. They stand up to full, baking sun – in fact, they need it for the best color. Most types grow to 24 to 36 inches tall. Pinch out their growing tips to keep the plants compact. Use them behind flowering annuals to maximize the lovely contrasts.

Purple fountaingrass with Zinnia linearis

• Purple fountaingrass. Everyone loves this graceful plant. It’s another fine “thriller” plant for patio pots. It gets its best color and plume formation when it’s grown in full sun. It’s good in the backs of beds as well. It is not winter-hardy in most of Texas, but it is usually perennial in South Texas. Majestic tall selections are also available.

Crotons combine with Coleus
Crotons with Sansevierias in background

• Crotons. This is an odd entry here, since these plants used to be considered as houseplants. I grow them in large pots that go into my greenhouse in winter, but you can also start with 2- or 3-gallon pots in spring and use them as lovely summer and fall annuals. My experience with the dozen or so types that I’ve tried is that most tend to scorch if exposed to full afternoon sun in mid-summer in Texas.

Coleus and caladiums

• Caladiums. No foliage plant so typifies the South in the summer. Grown from tubers or potted transplants set out once the soil has turned really warm in late spring (May or early June), these give great color clear into fall. They fall into two categories: large-leafed and the dwarfs with more strap-shaped leaves. They’re outstanding in beds, pots and hanging baskets.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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