The 14 Best Plants with Pretty Foliage (Because Flowers Don’t Deserve All the Attention)
As much as we love all the bright flowers growing in our gardens, flashy foliage has a place too. In fact, many plants with insignificant flowers offer season-long color with showy, dramatic leaves. Both annuals and perennials with attractive foliage also provide texture, structure and contrast in your garden design and serve as a showstopping backdrop for other flowering plants. (Don’t forget that if you’re planting perennials, which return for many years, you’ll want to make sure they’ll survive winters in your USDA Hardiness zone. You can find yours here). Now pull on your gardening gloves and start planting these plants with pretty foliage, so your garden can wow people all season long.
This hardy perennial should be at the top of your list for its glorious colors. It’s available in an array of eye-catching shades, ranging from chartreuse to burgundy to amethyst to deepest red. Some varieties have frilly leaves, too. In mid-summer, heuchera have ethereal little flowers on long stems, but the foliage of this low-maintenance plant is the real star. Depending on the variety, heuchera will tolerate sun or shade.
Coleus has incredible red, green, and maroon patterned or solid-colored leaves and comes in upright and trailing varieties. With their vibrant foliage, coleus add season-long style to containers or planting beds. The flowers are small, but they do attract pollinators. Oh, and they don’t mind heat and humidity! Coleus can take sun or shade, depending on the variety.
It’s impossible to ignore the brightly colored red and green heart-shaped leaves of caladium. This plant is perennial in warm climates but can be brought indoors as a houseplant if you have cold winters. Caladium needs mostly shade.
Also called lungwort because it was once believed to treat lung ailments, pulmonaria has pretty green leaves with silver spots. In early spring, this perennial has clusters of pink or purple flowers, offering a welcome spot of color after a long winter. Pulmonaria needs mostly shade.
Also known by the unfortunate name of dead nettle, this pretty plant has green and silver leaves with white, pink, purple or yellow flowers in late spring. Lamium prefers shade, but it’ll take some sun.
With hundreds of different types ranging from a few inches to up to eight feet across, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a hosta variety that will look smashing in your garden. The leaf colors come in every shade of green from chartreuse to blue-tinged, with variegated and frilly-leafed types, too. Hostas prefer morning sun and afternoon shade to show off their best colors.
7. Canna Lilies
These tall, stately plants have gorgeous flowers, but many varieties also boast stunning foliage. Because they’re tropical plants, you’ll have to dig up the bulbs in late fall in cold climates and replant next spring. Cannas like full sun.
8. Sweet Potato Vine
Add a splash of color to containers, window boxes and hanging baskets with this vining annual. It comes in bright green, burgundy, and a flashy variegated type. Give sweet potato vine its own planter because it tends to take over other less vigorous plants. Sweet potato vine tolerates sun or shade.
9. Elephant Ear
Just as you’d imagine, these bold tropical plants have huge leaves that resemble, well, an elephant’s ears. They are conversation starters no matter where you plant them in landscapes or containers. In cold climates, dig the corms up in the fall and replant in spring. Elephant ear likes part or full sun.
10. Dusty Miller
This hardy plant has silvery, lacey foliage that contrasts beautifully with other foliage plants or flowers. Let it show its stuff in mixed containers. It’s perennial in hot climates but considered an annual in most of the country. Dusty miller likes full sun but will take some shade, too.
Frosted heart-shaped leaves make this perennial a winner for your garden. In spring, it has tiny blue flowers, but the handsome foliage shines all season long. Brunnera needs mostly shade.
12. Japanese Painted Fern
All ferns add some texture to the landscape, but Japanese painted ferns take things to the next level with their blue-green silvery leaves and striking dark ribs. They tolerate lots of different kinds of soils and need virtually zero care. They need full shade, though they’ll tolerate some morning sun.
13. Rex Begonia
Many begonias are grown for their flowers, but this type is loved for its amazing foliage that comes in shades of silver, white, maroon or hot pink. It’s perennial in warm climates but can be brought indoors as a house plant in cold regions of the country. Rex begonias need full shade.
14. Polka Dot Plant
Just like it sounds, this plant has pink or white polka dot speckled foliage that make it fun to plant in beds or pots. Bring it indoors for the winter to enjoy as a houseplant. The polka dot plant needs part to full shade.