Give the garden a facelift with 6 shrubs sporting dramatic foliage

'Goshiki' false holly gives a pop of color and texture to the garden. Photo by Barb Fick.
'Goshiki' false holly gives a pop of color and texture to the garden. Photo by Barb Fick.
Last Updated: 
April 5, 2018

CORVALLIS, Ore. – It’s easy to grab the pretty flowers staring back at you from the nursery shelves but try straying from the usual and plant vibrant shrubs to spice up the garden.

Experts with the Oregon State University Extension Service suggest looking for shrubs with a range of shapes and sizes of foliage to contrast with the plants around them. Also, look at the color of the foliage: golden, gray and variegated leaves add pops of color and draw the eye through the garden.

Below are some recommendations for shrubs with interesting foliage that grow well in western Oregon.

‘Sundance’ Mexican orange (Choisya ternata): Bright golden yellow foliage and white flowers in the early summer that are scented like orange blossoms. Even the foliage has a citrus-like fragrance when crushed. It needs partial to full sun and well-drained soil and even water. Grows 5 to 6 feet tall. Hardy to Zone 7.

‘Goshiki’ false holly (Osmanthus heterophyllus): It looks like a holly plant, but it's not a holly. New leaves start out reddish-pink, then become light orange and pink, then turn cream, gray-green and gold. This broadleaf evergreen shrub needs partial to full sun and regular watering. Reaches 3 to 5 feet tall, 4 feet wide. Hardy to Zone 6.

‘Rose Glow’ variegated Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea): Dramatic deciduous shrub that unfolds new growth of deep burgundy leaves splashed with pink and cream. The colorful show lasts until fall when the foliage takes on its fall colors of red, orange and golden yellow. Red fruits follow small yellow flowers that hide among the leaves. Bees love it, but deer and rabbits avoid it. Give it full sun to light shade with occasional water. Grows to 6 feet tall and wide. Hardy to Zone 4.

Additionally, Amy Jo Detweiler, horticulturist for OSU Extension, offered suggestions for shrubs with interesting foliage that can be grown in central Oregon. 

‘Black Lace’ elderberry (Sambucus nigra): The delicate, lacy-looking purple black foliage of this deciduous shrub belies its toughness. Big clusters of pink flowers come out in early summer and are followed by black berries that are food for the birds. Give it part to full sun and an average amount of water. Grows to 10 feet and 6 feet wide. Hardy to Zone 4.

Fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium): This deciduous native shrub bears big clusters of white flowers is drought-tolerant and has sweetly fragrant, fernlike olive-green foliage. Attracts butterflies, bees and birds, but not deer. A drought-tolerant plant that needs well-drained soil and full sun. It has a rounded form and grows to 6 feet tall. Hardy to Zone 4.

Dappled willow (Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki'): This fast-growing Asian shrub needs partial to full sun with regular water. Its bright pink shoots open to creamy white, pink and green variegated leaves. This is a deciduous shrub with bright coral red stems in winter. Reaches 6 to 10 feet but can be kept smaller with pruning. Zone 4.

In western Oregon, plant shrubs any time of year when the ground is not frozen. But wait until April or May in central Oregon to plant shrubs.

For more information about planting and caring for shrubs, view the OSU Extension guides below.

Author: Kym Pokorny