Plants With Blue Foliage: Learn About Plants That Have Blue Leaves
By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
True blue is a rare color in plants. There are some flowers with blue hues but foliage plants tend to be more gray or green then blue. However, there are some truly standout foliage specimens that can actually provide that intense blue that is the perfect foil for other landscape colors. Plants with blue foliage increase the visual intensity of the garden while helping other tones and hues guide the eye on a colorful journey. Let’s look together at blue foliage plants and how to use them in the landscape.
Using Blue Foliage in Gardens
There are a couple of reasons for blue foliage plants. One explanation is cutin in leaves, which gives them the bluish-silvery appearance. Another is delayed greening, which can happen in many types of plants. Plants don’t have a truly blue pigment but can generate it through reflection and light wave absorption, so blue foliage is possible but it isn’t common.
Plants that have blue leaves don’t exhibit the color of a cloudless sky but more of a toned down stormy sea, but the unique hue is a great compliment to numerous other colors in your garden.
Plants with blue foliage combine in delightful ways with a host of other colors. Blue leaves next to maroon foliage are bright contrasts that draw the eye and increase the red tones of the maroon. Blue and yellow are classic tones. Try combining a blue hosta with a golden Euonymous. Absolutely breathtaking.
The blues may be more gray or more green. Blue green foliage plants as an accent to plants with the two colors that make up the green, form a comforting, soothing visual experience. Smoke bush is one of these that also produces exciting poofs of magenta flowers.
There are many blue green foliage plants with some variegated to add even more interest to the spectacular foliage. For subtle beauty, add these to areas with green or yellow toned foliage and flowers. If you really want to visually explode, combine blue green leaves with purple, yellow and deep salmon tones.
Plants That Have Blue Leaves
Some of our prettiest conifers offer blue to bluish-green foliage.
Dwarf Alberta blue spruce is a classic example of an evergreen with intense color. French Blue Scotch pine and Ice Blue juniper also provide the intensely blue needled foliage. Some other evergreens might be Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’ or Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Curly Tops.’
Common blue fescue is still one of the most popular ornamental grasses around and will stay fairly small and compact for visual impact in any part of the garden.
Unique blue-gray, marbled foliage and red mid-vein on Helleborus x sternii ‘Blackthorn Strain’ will amaze you and then increase your astonishment when it produces its large white winter blooms.
There are many other conifers, grasses and flowering evergreen plants from which to choose blue foliar tones for the garden. The real fun comes when you start to look at all the perennials that bloom and spring to life in spring. Using blue foliage in gardens is easy, spring through summer.
Many succulents have bluish gray or silver foliage such as:
- Digger’s speedwell also has waxy blue leaves with red stems and produces violet blue racemes of flowers.
- Mertensia asiatica is deeply blue and has rosettes of fleshy leaves with turquoise blue flowers.
More blue foliage arrives with plants like the following, which have tones of blue and produce accenting blooms:
- Partridge feather
- Cushion bush
- Sea Foam artemisia
- Dusty miller
- Cheddar pinks (Dianthus)
If you want a blue-leaved climber, try Kintzley’s Ghost honeysuckle. It has eucalyptus type blue-gray leaves and cool faded blue flowers. In fall, striking red berries adorn the serene leaves.
Blue foliage has become popular in the garden and forms of common plants are now being bred with foliage of cerulean, cobalt, azure, indigo and more. Now it’s easy to accent your garden with the tones of blue in almost any plant style.
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Grow True Blue Garden Plants with Blue Flowers, Foliage, and Fruit
I’m taken with the idea of a monochromatic garden these days. Combine that with the fact that I’ve been on the hunt for true blue garden plants and I’m obsessed with blue gardens. I mean, imagine a garden that is filled with blue flowers, blue foliage, and even blue fruit. Wouldn’t that look both serene and striking all at once?
Blue flowers popping up from blue-hued foliage would take your breath away. Imagine deep blue lobelia spilling across the ground while Sea Holly grows in spikes that look like they are made of cool blue ice. It certainly wouldn’t be a boring garden.
You can choose so many different shades of the brilliant color. The happy, bright, cornflower blue of hydrangeas (or cornflowers), the deep moody blue-black of blueberries. Purple hues. Greenish hues. And colors that have a category all to themselves: the gray/green/blue of eucalyptus.
Silver foliage is a useful tool in garden design, as it provides subtle variety that easily pairs with almost all other foliage and flower colors. Unlike attention-getting chartreuse hostas or in-your-face burnt orange heucheras, silver-foliaged plants provide a soft glow in the subdued light of a shade garden. They don’t shout for attention they gently pull you in.
Truth be told, there are few plants that have silver leaves. What is typically referred to as “silver” can range from leaves with fine white hairs, to foliage in shades of gray, to the occasional foliage with a true metallic silver shimmer. Add to that variegation where white combines with gray-green, resulting in a muted “silver” foliage (especially when played against the dark green leaves of a neighboring plant), and the result is a wide range of foliage colors and patterns that are collectively referred to as “silver.” In all honesty, this article should be called “Shade Perennials With Foliage That Is Silver or Grayish-Silver or White-Variegation-That-Looks-Silverish-From-a-Distance,” but I was pretty sure that the editors wouldn’t go for it.
Below are a few of my favorite silver-foliaged plants. They have all passed the durability test, as I have gotten to the point where I am less accommodating to plants with a frail constitution or that require gardening gymnastics to keep them alive. These are all winners that deserve a place in your shade garden. See three ways to use silver to brighten up your shade garden.
Photo: Dianna Jazwinski/gapphotos.com
Agave ovatifolia 'Vanzie'
Item #: 3242
Zones: 7b to 9b, at least
Height: 48" tall
Pot Size: 3.5" pot (24 fl. oz/0.7 L) ?
True Blue Garden Plants
Here is a list I put together of some of my favorite blue garden plants. I looked for unique and common blue garden plants and am so taken with what we have available to us. Thank you, Mother Nature!
- Hosta (Hosta ‘Blue Hawaii’)
- Sea Holly (Eryngium ‘Blue Star’)
- Yucca (Yucca ‘Adam’s Needle’)
- Century Plant (Agave ‘Sharkskin’)
- Spurge (Euphorbia ‘Mediterranean’)
- Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’)
- Hydrangea – note: if your blue hydrangea is turning pink, you can change it back by controlling the acidity of your soil
- Morning Glory (Evolvulus ‘Heavenly Blue’)
- Larkspur (Delphinium ‘Magic Fountain’)
- Clematis (Clematis ‘Cezanne’)
- Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)
- Cranesbill (Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’)
- Passionflower (Passiflora ‘Blue Bouquet’)
- Grape Hyacinth (Muscari aucheri ‘Blue Magic’)
- Bachelor’s Button (Centaurea ‘Blue Boy’)
- Bellflower (Campanula ‘Sarastro’)
- False Forget-Me-Not (Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’)
- Windflower (Anemone coronaria ‘Lord Lieutenant’)
- Springstar (Ipheion uniflorum ‘Froyle Mill’)
- Lily of the Nile (Agapanthus ‘Hoyland Chelsea Blue’)
- Himalayan Blue Poppy (Meconopsis betonicifolia ‘Lingholm’)
- Dutch Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis ‘Blue Tango‘)
- Flax (Linum lewisii ‘Saphyr’)
- Lobelia (Lobelia ‘Regatta Marine Blue’)
- Hummingbird Sage (Salvia guaranitica ‘Kobalt’)
- Borage (Borago officinalis)
- Kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Lacinato’)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’)
- Blueberry (Cyanococcus ‘Bluecrop’)
Blue Shrubs and Trees
- California Lilac (Ceanothus ‘Frosty Blue’)
- Blue Spruce (Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’)
- Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus ‘Azura’)
- Juniper (Juniperus ‘Wichita Blue’)
- Noble Fir (Abies procera ‘Glauca’)
I’m still on the hunt for an all-blue garden to dive into. Someday, if I don’t come across one, perhaps I will create one in my own small space.
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1. Red Rhipsalis
Botanical Name: Pseudorhipsalis ramulosa
Also famous as the Red mistletoe cactus, its deep red-violet semi-succulent foliage can be a stunning addition to the hanging baskets. The small, ornamental berries of the plant make it look more alluring.
2. Red Trailing Queen Coleus
Botanical Name: Solenostemon ‘Red Trailing Queen’
Coleus is one of the best foliage plants, and you can grow it in hanging baskets as well. Learn about the various types of coleus plants here.
3. Peperomia Ruby Cascade
Botanical Name: Peperomia ‘Ruby Cascade’
Its leaves carry a combination of two colors: deep green on the top side and ruby-red on the undersides. Growing it in baskets adds a dab of color and texture.
Botanical Name: Tropaeolum majus
The trailing stems of Nasturtium look perfect while dangling down from containers with pad-like leaves and beautiful bright flowers.
Here are some great Nasturtium benefits and uses
Botanical Name: Polypodiopsida
There are many trailing ferns with beautiful foliage attractions that you can try. Some of them are listed here.
6. Dichondra Silver Falls
Botanical Name: Dichondra argentea
Siver Falls Dichondra has unique, silver pale-green trailing leaves that look pretty in hanging baskets. It’s a fast-growing plant.
7. Ornamental Sweet Potato Vine
Botanical Name: Ipomea batatas
Sweet potato vines spill marvelously over the sides of containers with heart-shaped or oak-like leaves having colors from chartreuse to nearly black.
8. Variegated Ground Ivy
Botanical Name: Glechoma hederacea ‘Variegata’
The pale green leaves of this plant have an unusual heart-kidney shape that gives it an interesting look while they dangle on the trailing stems.
9. Variegated Fuchsia
Botanical Name: Fuchsia ‘Tom West’
With a fabulous color combination of green and yellow striped foliage, this plant is a true eye-catcher.
10. Golden Creeping Jenny
Botanical Name: Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’
‘Aurea’ beautifully cascades with its small rounded leaves having wavy borders and thin trailing stems. It is also a winner of the Royal Horticultural Society Award of Merit.
11. Turquoise Jade Vine
Botanical Name: Strongylodon macrobotrys
Looking stunning in turquoise color, which is the result of malvin and saponarin pigments in its leaves. The plant grows gorgeous hanging stems making it a must-grow trailing vine.
12. Licorice Plant
Botanical Name: Helichrysum Petiolare
The cascading ‘Helichrysum Petiolare’ features small felt-like blue-gray trailing foliage that gracefully arches over containers or hanging baskets.
13. Parrot’s Beak
Botanical Name: Lotus berthelotii
‘Parrot’s Beak’ is trailing perennial with exotic, bright crimson flowers and silver-gray needle-like leaves. It makes for an ideal annual plant for hanging baskets.
14. Trailing Pothos
Botanical Name: Epipremnum aureum
Popularly known as devil’s ivy, heart-shaped and glossy leaves in the green shade with yellow or cream blotches cascade marvelously in hanging baskets or containers in rooms.
Here are some of the best pothos to grow indoors
15. Heart-Leaf Philodendron
Botanical Name: Philodendron hederaceum
This trailing beauty shows off heart-shaped green leaves that drape exquisitely over windowsills, bookshelves, and hanging baskets.
Here is everything you need to know about growing Philodendron
16. Wojo’s Gem Periwinkle
Botanical Name: Vinca major ‘Wojo’s Gem’
Also known as trailing vinca, it has shiny oval leaves in a cream-yellow shade and matching lavender-blue flowers, which creates a dazzling contrast when it trails from containers.
17. Spider Plant
Botanical Name: Chlorophytum comosum
Spider plant grows fast and produces baby plants that dangle pleasingly from hanging baskets. It also removes airborne pollutants from the air, making it a great indoor plant.
Check out some excellent spider plant benefits here
18. String of Turtles
Botanical Name: Peperomia prostrata
This slow-growing succulent vine has an attractive set of fleshy button-like leaves with white veins that look plump like they are full of water.
Learn about different types of peperomia here
19. Inch Plant
Botanical Name: Tradescantia (Genus)
Tradescantia has some amazing trailing plants with beautiful foliage and it would be a mistake if we mention just one. Check out some of the best varieties here.
20. Variegated Ivy
Botanical Name: Hedera helix
An ornamental vine, the plant features white-variegated green leaves that look truly remarkable when they trial from a container. You can also grow them indoors.
21. String of Pearls
Botanical Name: Senecio rowleyanus
A cascading succulent, it truly lives up to its name with fleshy, bright-green plump leaves that look like spherical, marble-like rows of little balls. Can be a great indoor plant too!
22. Sweet Caroline Purple
Botanical Name: Ipomoea batatas ‘Sweet Caroline Sweetheart Purple’
This can be a great colorful addition to the summer baskets or containers with its dark burgundy-purple color and texture with an interesting pattern of leaves.
23. Creeping Inch Plant
Botanical Name: Callisia repens
The leaves of this succulent come in twin color, with a shade of green above and a slight hue of purple below that gives it a contrasting look.
Garden Foliage for Flower Arrangements
Foliage plays a quiet yet important role in most cut flower arrangements. When a floral designer arranges a bouquet of flowers, at least 25% of it will usually be greenery. Though it’s true that foliage is typically less expensive than flowers, that’s not the only reason it’s used. Just as a lawn creates the perfect frame for a flower garden, greenery has a way of making flowers look their very best.
Adding foliage to your home-grown flower arrangements is an easy way to make them look more professional. Here’s why:
Fullness – Sometimes a single stem, alone in a vase is just right. But if you want to create arrangements that are lush and naturalistic, you need foliage. Foliage provides mass and helps to weave various elements into a cohesive whole.
Style – The type of foliage you use and the balance of foliage to flowers helps define the style of your arrangement. Some floral designers use very few greens. Their arrangements are entirely about flowers and evoke the flower-focused compositions of the Dutch Masters. Other designers prefer a look that features almost as much foliage as flowers. These arrangements tend to be softer, looser and more informal.
Structure – When making large arrangement or working with heavy blossoms such as peonies and dahlias, foliage can provide some critical structural support. Shrubs are especially useful for this job, and most home garden offer lots of options.
Foliage is also used to define the overall size and shape of an arrangement. Most floral designers begin with foliage and then fill in with flowers.
Alicia Schwede from FlirtyFleurs.com combining the soft pink of peonies and roses with the citrus greens of hydrangea, ferns, raspberry and maple leaves.
Color – The plant world offers infinite variations of green from dark forest green to lime, blue-green, grey and silver. To make the most of these variations, think about the color wheel. Pair complementary colors such as purple flowers and lime foliage. Or use analogous colors such as white flowers with grey foliage.
Texture – Texture can be almost as exciting as color. In most cases, you’ll want to vary the textures. Include fine (ferns, grasses, asparagus), medium (mint, cornus, baptisia) and coarse (hosta, magnolia, geranium). Also think about the surface texture. Options range from smooth and glossy (astilbe or hosta) to soft and fuzzy (lamb’s ears or alchemilla).
Best Foliage for Flower Arrangements
Home gardeners have many more foliage options than most florists. But sometimes it takes a pro to help you see what’s available. We asked cut flower expert and home gardener Debra Prinzing of slowflowers.com, and floral designer and home gardener Alicia Schwede from flirtyfleurs.com to give us their go-to list of home-grown foliage. You probably have many of these favorites in your garden already:
Akebia, Astilbe, Baptisia, Bells of Ireland, Burnet (Sanguisorba), Burpleurum, Caladium, Camelia, Cerinthe, Cornus mas ‘Variegata’, Cotinus, Dusty Miller, Euonymus, Euphorbia, Ferns (fresh or dried), Fringetree (Chionanthus), Forsythia, Hellebore, Heuchera, Honeysuckle, Hosta, Hydrangea, Ivy, Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), Lamb’s Ears, Lavender, Leucothoe, Magnolia, Mint, Nandina, Nasturtium, Ninebark (Physocarpus), Olive (Olea europaea), Ornamental grasses, Peony, Perennial geranium, Pieris japonica, Raspberry, Rosemary, Salvia, Sage, Scented geraniums, Sedum, Snowberry (Symphoricarpos), Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum), Staghorn sumac, Viburnum
For longest vase life, cut flowers and foliage in the morning or evening when they are well hydrated. You may find that some types of foliage need to be conditioned to prevent wilting. This usually means cutting in the evening and storing the stems in cool water overnight. Do some testing at home to see how different plants hold up.
For expert advice about conditioning foliage, consider investing in the go-to guide for flower farmers: Postharvest Handling of Cut Flowers and Greens by the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.
A special thank you to Alicia Schwede for providing the photos for this article.