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Guidelines for Using Plants with Colored Foliage - Fabulous Foliage - University of Illinois Extension

Guidelines for Using Plants with Colored Foliage

Traditional gardening rules suggest that when you use plants with colorful foliage, use them sparingly. Avoid using too much color and use lots of green to blend and soften. But, when you set out to create a garden of color using foliage, you have to rely more on the colors of the foliage than that of the flowers. Flowers, as nice as they are, come and go, but foliage remains constant. So break the rules. Use masses of the same brightly colored foliage plants in groups of three, five, seven, nine, or more. The effect will be show stopping. But, in order to keep the design from becoming garish, here are a few rules that you should try and follow.

A Passion for Purple

A photo of plants with purple foliage

Purple, bronze, red, and black leaves have a common thread of red pigment. Bronze leaves can be very dull and muddy looking. But if they are planted so that the sun lights them from the side or from behind, the resulting effect is one of a plant that shimmers with highlights of red. Purple-bronze leaved lants are also excellent companions with blue-gray plants. Plants with #147;black” leaves stand out when paired with yellow or red leaved plants.

Golden Plants

Plants with gold or yellow foliage tend to mimic the strong rays of the sun when planted in mass or “dropped” into a planting. Yellow hued leaves will “warm up” a garden and when paired with orange or red leaved plants, cause them to “burn” with intense color. Yellow leaved plants are also compatible with purple leaved plants and blue flowers.

The Silver Lining

Silver-white or blue-gray leaves reflect light and act as “blenders” because they go with most other colors. Silver foliage makes a punctuation type of statement when used with hot colors like red, orange, or gold. White foliage also lightens up dark corners of a garden and is visible in the garden at night.

Wild and Crazy Leaves

Variegated leaved plants offer endless patterns that can be subtle or extremely gaudy and wildly colorful. These irregular patterns can be very complex with the variegations being speckles, spots, blotches, swirls, or lines. Many times, two or more colors are present making them difficult to use. Some leaves even break the color rules and have both warm and cool colors on the same leaf. To use these plants effectively, pick up one color of the leaf and use that color when choosing companion plants.

Color Echoes

Plants with colorful foliage are often used as specimen plants and are allowed to stand alone. Such plants can also be used in groups with other plants if planted next to or with plants that have a similar color in its leaves. This echoing effect, repeating a similar color in different plants, can be used to good effect even when the plants have colors that scream.

Contrasting Texture and Shape

Using plants with contrasting leaf colors, shapes, and texture can make an interesting combination. Avoid using leaves of the same size and texture next to each other. Create textural contrast so the coarse textures will seem coarser and the fine textures seem finer. Texture can also create spatial illusions. Coarse textured plants will appear closer to the viewer and fine textured plants will tend to recede or appear farther away. If you want to make the far end of the garden seem closer, plant coarse textured plants. Fine textured plants can be used to make a shallow garden seem deeper.