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Add Curb Appeal with Leafy Plants

Next time you hit the local garden center, think leaves. Flowers may come and go as the growing season wears on, but foliage remains vibrant nearly nonstop.

"People often don't realize that foliage plants present a kaleidoscope of color possibilities, from gold and chartreuse to blue-green, red, burgundy, purple, and nearly black," says gardening expert Nancy J. Ondra, author of Foliage: Astonishing Color and Texture Beyond Flowers. Some plants have leaves of a single color; others are variegated with stripes or spots. Leaves may be soft and round, straight and spiky, big, medium, or little. In other words, you can get almost any look you imagine. Focusing on foliage can trim time and trouble from your yard work as well.

TOH Tip: Some foliage plants do produce flowers, which you can leave or clip. Removing flower stalks when they're still small produces minimal garden waste and keeps leaves more lush, since all the plant's energy goes into them. This also prevents plants from forming seeds, so you don't have to worry about unwelcome offspring.

Nine Building Blocks of a Foliage Garden

Here are a handful of reliable perennials that will grow in most areas of the country. There are varieties of each that will give your garden a wide range of colors, shapes, and textures.

Canna

Canna x generalis

Though most cannas are grown for their flowers, try cultivars with showy tropical-looking leaves that range from nearly black to green striped with gold. 'Phasion' and 'Durban' have purple leaves streaked with orange. Full sun; 4 to 6 feet tall. Hardy to 5 degrees F if roots are well mulched in winter.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Pigsqueak

Photo by Kurt Steuber/GNU

Bergenia

Ground-hugging rosettes of large paddle-shaped glossy-green leaves, with pink flowers in spring and sometimes in fall. Foliage lasts through winter except in the coldest climates. Cut back or divide regularly to keep plants from becoming leggy. Partial to full shade; 12 to 18 inches tall. Hardy to -40 degrees F.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Black Mondo Grass

Photo by Forest and Kim Star/CC

Ophiopogon planiscapus

A type of lily with leaves resembling inky black grass. Makes a dramatic contrast with the dark green leaves of standard mondo grass (O. japonicus). Partial to full shade; 6 to 12 inches tall. Hardy to -10 degrees F.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Plantain Lily

Photo by <a href="http://www.mooseyscountrygarden.com/" target="_blank">Moosey's Country Garden</a>

Hosta

A popular shade plant for borders. Mounds of showy leaves shaped like hearts, lances, ovals, or circles, with textures from smooth to crinkled, glossy to matte. Colors include green, yellow, and gray-blue; many with variegation. Partial shade; 15 to 36 inches tall. Some hardy to -40 degrees F.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Lambs' Ears

Photo by <a href="http://www.mooseyscountrygarden.com/" target="_blank">Moosey's Country Garden</a>

Stachys byzantina

Fuzzy gray-green leaves; insignificant pink flowers in late spring or early summer draw bees and butterflies. Clip flowers to prevent spreading; can be invasive in some areas. Full sun to partial shade; 6 to 12 inches tall. Hardy to -30 degrees F.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Japanese Painted Fern

Photo by Stan Shebs/GNU

Athyrium niponicum

Silver-green leaves or green leaves sometimes streaked with purple. Unlike variegated plants that become mostly green in shade, these retain their silvery color. They grow even on windy sites with poor soil. Partial to full shade; 12 to 18 inches tall. Hardy to -30 degrees F.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Dusty Miller

Photo by Opiola Jerzy

Senecio cineraria

Drought tolerant, with silver fernlike leaves that have a velvety texture. Clipping the insignificant yellow flowers encourages better leaf growth. Can be grown as an annual in cold climates, then propagated from cuttings indoors over the winter. Full sun; 6 to 12 inches tall. Hardy to 10 degrees F.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Japanese Forest Grass

Photo by Cillas/GNU

Hakonechloa macra

Green, gold, or variegated leaves that arch gracefully. Clumps spread by underground runners but are not considered invasive. The most popular variety, 'Aureola,' reaches about 2 feet tall and has green leaves with yellow stripes in sun, chartreuse stripes in shade. Sun to partial shade; 14 to 36 inches tall. Hardy to -25 degrees F.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Coral Bells

Photo by <a href="http://www.mooseyscountrygarden.com/" target="_blank">Moosey's Country Garden</a>

Heuchera sanguinea

Many new varieties have frilly or scalloped leaves in bold colors. All varieties need good drainage. The orange H. villosa 'Caramel' thrives in high humidity. Full sun (in cool climates) to partial shade; 8 to 24 inches tall. Some hardy to -40 degrees F.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Three Standout Annuals

Photo by Evan Herk/GNU

Great for filling an empty spot in the yard—and fun to change out from one year to the next—these annuals showcase some extraordinary foliage. Mix them into beds and borders or pot them up for some stunning containers.

Castor Bean

Ricinus communis

Tropical-looking green-to-burgundy lobed leaves up to 18 inches wide. Not for yards where small children play, as all parts are poisonous. Full sun; up to 10 feet tall.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Summer Poinsettia

Photo by Kurt Steuber/GNU

Amaranthus tricolor

This got its nickname because the top leaves on some types turn brilliant red. Others are yellow or splashed in green and red. Full sun; 36 to 48 inches tall.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.

Coleus

Photo by <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/" target="_blank">Rufino Osorio</a>

Solenostemon scutellarioides

A tropical perennial with leaves from yellow to purple; treated as an annual in most parts of the country. Most varieties like partial shade, but some prefer full sun; 12 to 36 inches tall.

Start planning your new garden! Our Interactive Plant Hardiness Zone Map can help.