When you think about adding color to your landscape, flowering bedding plants are usually the first thing that comes to mind. Many plants with colorful foliage, however, can serve the same purpose. These plants will often stay attractive and colorful longer and with less care than flowering bedding plants.
Since the color these plants provide is from their foliage, they are never out of “bloom”. As long as they are alive and healthy, they provide color.
One of the best known and popular plants with colorful foliage is the caladium. This plant as it perennial that grows from it tuber and is excellent for part shade to shade. The foliage colors are attractive combinations of green, white, pink, rose and red. Depending on the cultivar, caladiums can grow to be 10 to 24 inches tall.
Over the next few weeks, you can plant unsprouted tubers (the best buy) or plants growing in pots. If you left caladium tubers in the ground last year, they should sprout sometime this month. So keep an eye out for them. If you dug and stored your tubers last fall, you can plant them now.
Plant caladium tubers about two inches deep and eight to 12 inches apart in beds generously amended with organic matter.
Coleus is a tender perennial that is generally killed by winter freezes. Some coleus cultivars, such as Wizard series and the Kong series, do best in partial shade. Other coleus cultivars thrive in full sun, such as Alabama, Red Ruffles, Pineapple and the Solar series.
Depending on the cultivars you choose, coleus will grow from 10 to 30 inches tall. Many cultivars will grow naturally bushy and full, but generally pinch out the growing tips occasionally to encourage branching and control their size. It is also a good idea to pinch off the rather unattractive flowers spikes as they appear in late summer.
Amaranths are an annual that loves summer heat and is commonly known as Joseph’s coat. The brilliant, sometimes neon colors of their foliage may be a little too much for some gardeners, but others will find bold colors invigorating in the landscapes. These plants grow three to five feet and are best used in the back of the bed or border in full sun.
Amaranths are easy to grow from seed and may be available as young plants of the nursery. Don’t be disappointed by the foliage color of young plants. The color develops as the plants mature. Cultivars such as Illumination, Molten Fire, Aurora and Joseph’s Coat will bedazzle you with foliage colored magenta, burgundy, red, green, yellow and gold.
Alternanthera is related to amaranths and is commonly called Joseph’s coat, although these sun-loving plants are much smaller than amaranths. Some only grow to be a few inches tall and are excellent for edging beds and in pots, while others may grow to be 2 feet tall or more.
New cultivars of alternanthera show up every year, indicating the popularity of colorful foliage plants. Colors are generally red, yellow, and pink or white combined with green. Short cultivars include Red Threads, Summer Flame, Nana Aurea and Snowball. Taller cultivars are Purple Knight, Gail’s Choice and Party Time.
Blood leaf or chicken gizzard plant (Iresine herbstilI) is similar to the taller-growing alternantheras and is also a valuable plant with colorful leaves for summer color.
Try planting a colorful foliage plant called the copper plant, Acalypha wilkesiana. It is a tall, shrubby plant that thrives in full to part sun. As long as winters are mild and plants are well-mulched, it is reliable about surviving for years in the garden. The foliage is generally shades of chocolate, copper, red, green, and yellow. The leaves may be fringed or crinkled. This tough plant grows 3 to 5 feet tall and will perform well all summer with little care.
More Choices — You can’t go wrong with ornamental sweet potatoes. This running vine with foliage generally dark purple or chartreuse will cover large areas. Cultivars include Blackie, Margarita, Black Beauty and Tricolor.
I, also, recommend duranta Cuban Gold, graptophyllum Black Beauperilla , Chocolate and Tricolor, penniselum Purple Fountain, Persian shield (Strobilanthes); perilla, Magilla, variegated shell ginger (Alpina), and setcreasea Purple Heart.
All of these plants will thrive in the heat and humidity of the coming summer, and you will find many more available at your local nursery. If you have only focused on flowers in the past, you will find colorful foliage plants offer a whole new opportunity to provide abundant color in the summer landscape.
For more horticultural information, contact Chris Robichaux, county agent, St. Martin/Iberia Parishes, at 332-2181 or 369-4440.