Plant these moderate to low-water shrubs for brilliant leaf color in red, chartreuse, silver, deep burgundy, and purple
Lauren Dunec Hoang
1 of 9Thomas J. Story
Perennials and shrubs valued for aromatic, silvery foliage. In mixed borders, their soft hues temper reds and oranges and blend beautifully with blues, lavenders, and pinks. Plant most varieties in full sun and give little to moderate water. A. ‘Powis Castle’ is shown.
2 of 9Thomas J. Story
These spiny-stemmed relatives of Mahonia are easy to grow and tolerate tough conditions—very poor soil, baking sun, and cold winters. Foliage color ranges from brilliant red to dark burgundy and bright yellow. Many of the hardiest varieties are deciduous in cold climates. Hybrids of Japanese Barberry (B. thunbergii) pictured offer the widest variety of foliage colors.
3 of 9Linda Lamb Peters
Breath of heaven (Coleonema)
Wispy, heath-like foliage ranges from bright chartreuse to gold and has a pleasant fragrance. These South African natives thrive planted in full sun or light shade and need fast draining soil. Drought tolerant once established but some irrigation will give a lusher appearance. Flowers in white or pale pink.
4 of 9Linda Lamb Peters
Coast rosemary (Westringia fruticosa)
Native to Australia, these hardworking evergreen shrubs are versatile in Western gardens as hedges, foundation plants, or as part of mixed borders. Foliage color ranges from grey-green to variegated with silver and blends well with most color palettes. Plants need little to moderate water and can be very drought tolerant once established. Work well planted in desert or dry gardens to establish structure. W. ‘Smokey’ is shown.
5 of 9Linda Lamb Peters
Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica)
Fine textured evergreen shrub native to China and Japan. Clusters at tips bloom in summer and bear bright red berries in winter. Many new varieties have been bred for brilliant red, dark plum, and bright green foliage. In hot summer climates, plant in light shade; plant in full sun elsewhere. Plants can grow with very little irrigation but will send out lusher foliage and set more berries if given moderate water. N. ‘Obsession’ is shown.
6 of 9Suzette Hosken/ Flickr Creative Commons
Hop bush (Dodonaea viscosa)
Fast-growing shrub with many upright stems; reaches 10–15 ft. high and almost as wide. Leaves are delicate and willow-like. Inconspicuous flowers are followed by papery seed capsules that may be red, pink, tan, yellow, or green. Native to Australia, these plants thrive with moderate to low water but can tolerate very arid conditions. Plant purple-leafed kinds in full sun to retain rich foliage color; they will turn green in shade. D. ‘Purpurea’ is shown.
7 of 9harum.koh/ Flickr Creative Commons
Loropetalum (Loropetalum chinense)
Cascading plum foliage adds rich color to garden borders and woodland understories. Plants grow best in well-amended soil and require moderate water until established. Mature plants can tolerate less frequent irrigation. Varieties with purple foliage bloom pink while those with green foliage often have white flowers.
8 of 9Linda Lamb Peters
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
The foliage of these tough evergreen shrubs can be prickly so they are best planted set back from walkways or other areas where they might be brushed against. In winter, the glossy green leaves turn purplish or bronze. Yellow flowers in early spring are followed by edible, blue-black fruit with a dusty bloom. The plants are native to British Colombia and as far south as Northern California, mostly west of the Cascades, and birds in these areas feast on the berries. Requires little to moderate water.
9 of 9Linda Lamb Peters
Smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria)
Unusual and colorful shrub-trees create a broad, urn-shaped mass usually as wide as high. They are naturally multi-stemmed but can be trained to a single trunk. The common name is derived from dramatic puffs of “smoke” from fading flowers: as the tiny greenish blooms wither, they send out elongated stalks clothed in a profusion of fuzzy lavender-pink hairs. ‘Royal Purple’ holds its brownish leaf color through summer; ‘Grace’ has vibrant orange fall color.