Enliven your landscape with colorful foliage

The Carol Mackie Daphne shrub. (Photo by Amy Jo Detweiler)
The Carol Mackie Daphne bush has variegated foliage. (Photo by Amy Jo Detweiler)
Last Updated: 
January 24, 2014

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When you think ornamentals, flowers may immediately come to mind. But consider shrubs with vibrant leaves to add interest to your landscape all year.

"Always look for different textures," said Barb Fick, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. "I'm always looking for plants with different colors of foliage. Flowers are great but they don't flower all year and it's good to have diversity other times of year. When it's a time of year when flowers aren't in bloom, your eye is drawn to the color of the foliage."

"We call them the 'bones of the garden.' Colorful foliage gives the garden structure. Plants that keep foliage year-round make the garden interesting all year."

Below are Fick's recommendations for shrubs with interesting foliage that you can grow in western Oregon. "Variegated" foliage is a term that refers to a leaf that is green and non-green in color, a unique characteristic in landscape design. 

  • Rhododendron "Superflimmer" – In the family Ericaceae, this is a newer introduction similar to "Goldflimmer" but with bolder golden variegation. This cold-hardy rhododendron features gold and green leaves and blooms purple flowers. "It's got bright golden yellow foliage with dark green margins, a beautiful year-round foliage color," Fick said. Make sure your soil is acidic and well-drained. This shrub needs full sun.
  • Gold Leaf Mexican Orange "Sundance" – Scientific name Choisya ternate. "It has great golden yellow foliage," Fick said. "It's nice to have that yellow in a landscape. It's got white flowers in the spring that are very fragrant." It needs partial to full sun and well-drained soil.
  • "Goshiki" false holly – Scientific name 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. "When everything else turns brown, the eye moves to this shrub because it has a spark of yellow," Fick said.

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

  • Carol Mackie Daphne – Scientific name Daphne x burkwoodii 'Carol Mackie' Daphne x burkwoodii ‘ Carol Mackie.' This slow-growing, medium-sized shrub blooms with fragrant pale pink flowers in the spring and variegated foliage the rest of the growing season. Its grayish-green leaves have striking cream-edged margins. It needs partial shade. This is a semi-broadleaf evergreen. 
  • Fernbush - Scientific name Chamaebatiaria millefolium. This native shrub with white flowers is drought-tolerant and has fragrant, fernlike foliage. This is a deciduous shrub. 
  • Dappled willow – Scientific name Salix integra 'Hakuro Nishiki'. This Asian shrub needs partial to full sun and grows fast. It prefers a moist environment. Its bright pink shoots open to creamy white and green variegated leaves. This is a deciduous shrub. 

In western Oregon, plant shrubs any time of year when the ground is not frozen, Fick said. 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: Denise Ruttan
Source: Barb Fick, Amy Jo Detweiler