The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

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Add the Midas Touch to your Garden

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Sandra Mason
State Master Gardener Coordinator
slmason@illinois.edu

A decade ago if a plant had yellow leaves it signaled only one thing—a sick plant. Something we gardeners try to avoid and certainly try to correct. The causes of chlorosis (abnormal leaf yellowing) are varied such as insufficient light or nitrogen or iron deficiency. A common nutrient deficiency symptom in pin oak, sweet gum and birch appears as yellow leaves, but leaf veins stay green.

Gardening has changed. Yellow leaves are "in". Once I got past the urge to fertilize them, I am in love with yellow-leaved plants.

So what is so great about yellow leaves? Dreary, shady areas come alive with a yellow leafed addition. Repetition of yellow-leaved plants throughout the garden can tie the landscape together and draw viewers to gaze throughout the landscape. Used sparingly, yellow-leafed beauties make a perfect focal point.

Yellow-leaved plants show off best in contrast to other plants. They are a knock out teamed with dark blue or purple flowers such as 'May Night' salvia or plants with maroon leaves such as 'Obsidian' coralbells.

Ok, it's time for a warning. Contrast can be overdone. I once beheld a whole landscape planted with 'Golden Vicary' privets alternated with red barberries. The only word I can think to describe it is, "screaming." This is probably not what you want your landscape to say or your neighbors to do.

Many shades of yellow exist. Yellow plants may change colors with the season and with the location. Yellow-leaved plants that require full sun may lose their yellow and will generally grow greener in the shade. With some plants the new leaves are yellow, but then quickly age to light green.

Name a plant and a yellow version of it probably exists. Here is a collection of perennials with the Midas touch:

Yellow-leaved ground cover plants are a good place to start. For full sun areas try Veronica 'Sunshine' (light blue flowers), 'Aztec Gold' (sky blue flowers) or 'Trehane' (dark blue flowers). All get to about six inches tall and bloom in early summer. In my garden 'Trehane' forms a lovely skirt around miniature yellow iris.

Sedum 'Angelina' is a delightful low maintenance sunny ground cover. It also does well in containers where it drapes over the side. 'Angelina's yellow leaves take on a splashy reddish tint in winter.

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A ground cover for partial shade is dead nettle 'Beadham's White'. It has yellow leaves marked with a central white stripe and white flowers. For full shade areas yellow leafed creeping Jenny will brighten the darkest of areas. Expect it to spread; however, it's a good neighbor and doesn't overwhelm its companions. One of our Master Gardeners planted it with the large dark maroon leaves of 'Caitlin's Giant' bugleweed.

More yellows for shade include: 'Sum and Substance' and 'Sun Power' hosta; 'Citronelle' coral bells; and 'Color Flash Lime' Astilbe. A grass for shade is the lovely arching Japanese Hakonechloa 'Aureola' or 'All Gold'.

Some yellow-leaved perennials include fabulous additional colors. 'Sunspot' heucheralla has yellow leaves with a splashy red center. 'Tiramisu' coralbell is a very compact grower with chartreuse leaves and brick red coloration radiating out from the center of the leaf.

For late season flowers in the sunny garden blue mist shrub, Caryopteris 'Worchester Gold' is a knockout with blue flowers July through September. A better yellow-leaved selection is Caryopteris 'Sunshine Blue'. Bees and butterflies are frequent visitors to blue mist shrub.

'Tiger Eye' Sumac is a beacon of vivid yellow. Since 'Tiger Eye' shrubs love to send out root suckers, dig a few to plant as focal points throughout your landscape. Evergreen (or evergold) shrubs such as 'Mother Lode' juniper; 'Mops' falsecypress and 'Gold Rider' Leyland Cypress are Master Gardener favorites.

Check out the Midas touch of Champaign County Master Gardeners at the Idea Garden on south Lincoln Avenue in Urbana.

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