The 18 Best Plants with Pretty Foliage (Because Flowers Don’t Deserve All the Attention)

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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.

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1. Heuchera

  • Why We Love It: Frilly, colorful leaves; deer and rabbit resistant
  • What It Needs: Part sun to shade

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.

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2. Coleus

  • Why We Love It: Loves heat and humidity, looks good all season long
  • What It Needs: Sun or shade, depending on the variety

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.)

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3. Caladium

  • Why We Love It: Heart-shaped leaves with silver, red and green markings
  • What It Needs: Part sun to shade

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.

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4. Pulmonaria

  • Why We Love It: Early spring color, season-long spotted leaves
  • What It Needs: 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.

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5. Lamium

  • Why We Love It: Cold-hardy and tolerates poor soils
  • What It Needs: Part shade to full sun

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.

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6. Hosta

  • Why We Love It: Hundreds of types from teeny to gigantic
  • What It Needs: Morning sun, afternoon shade

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.

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7. Canna Lilies

  • Why We Love It: Striking tropical plants for a different look in the garden
  • What It Needs: Full sun

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.

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8. Sweet Potato Vine

  • Why We Like It: Vigorous vining plant that lasts until a hard frost
  • What It Needs: Sun or shade

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.

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9. Elephant Ear

  • Why We Love It: Striking, gigantic leaves
  • What It Needs: Part to full sun

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.

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10. Dusty Miller

  • Why We Love It: Pretty, silver foliage
  • What It Needs: Full sun to part shade

This hardy plant has silvery, lacy 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.

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11. Brunnera

  • Why we love it: Petite blue flowers in spring, heart-shaped leaves
  • What it needs: Shade

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.

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12. Japanese Painted Fern

  • Why We Love It: Feathery texture provides an attractive contrast to other plants
  • What It Needs: Shade, with some morning sun OK

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.

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13. Rex Begonia

  • Why We Love It: Can be brought indoors for winter
  • What It Needs: Full shade

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 a perennial in warm climates but can be brought indoors as a houseplant in cold regions of the country.

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14. Polka Dot Plant

  • Why We Love It: Whimsical spotted leaves in fun colors
  • What It Needs: Part to full shade

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.

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15. Blue Fescue

  • Why We Love It: Blue foliage and elegant texture
  • What It Needs: Full sun

This perennial grass has a lovely, fine texture that contrasts nicely with other garden plants. The pretty blue color makes it eye-catching in any setting.

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16. Foamflower

  • Why We Love It: Pretty leaves and showy spring flowers
  • What It Needs: Part shade

This native perennial, also called tiarella, has handsome bright green leaves variegated with chocolatey veins. In the spring, the foamy, frilly flowers appear.

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  • Why We Love It: Fast-growing shrub with lovely foliage color, makes a great screening plant
  • What It Needs: Full sun

This shrub has long, elegant branches that always seem to be waving in the breeze. The foliage emerges pink, while the stems turn bright red in fall. The lovely, arching form of this shrub eventually reaches 6 x 6 feet tall and wide.

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18. Lamb’s Ear

  • Why We Love It: Touchable texture, silvery foliage
  • What It Needs: Full sun

As you’d guess, these old-fashioned perennials have fuzzy leaves like a lamb’s ear! The silver color contrast beautifully to the green in your garden. Pollinators love the tall spikes of flowers that appear in early to mid-summer, too.

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Arricca Elin SanSone

Freelance Gardening Editor

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce and many other...
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