Annual Foliage Plants

Annuals are not just about flowers! Use these plants in your annual beds or container gardens to add color, texture and drama.

For Sun



Also sometimes called Joseph’s Coat, This annual foliage plant makes a statement with its bold, colorful leaves that range from chartreuse, purple, or pink. Some are more compact than others and are often used as a groundcover in annual plantings. They work especially well in container gardens along side flowering annuals like Angelonia or Vinca.

For best color, plant in full sun in soil with good drainage and lots of organic matter. Keep watered after planting, but after a few weeks, this plant becomes quite heat and drought tolerant.

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Most commonly used as a “thriller” in container gardens, Cordyline’s tall, spiky leaves creates a lot of structure in plantings. Leaves are burgundy-red, pink, or bicolor.

Plant Cordyline in full sun after all danger of frost has passed, in well-drained soil. Although Cordyline is quite drought tolerant, it performs best if you do not let the soil completely dry between waterings.

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Dusty Miller

Dusty Miller’s silvery foliage is covered in soft hairs that is reminiscent of Lamb’s Ears. It makes a great edging plant and combines well with the bright colors of other annuals. Hardy to zone 8, it can usually survive late into winter in North Carolina. You will often find it available in fall along with pansies and ornamental cabbages.

Dusty Miller prefers full sun and organically-rich well-drained soil. Apply general fertilizer twice a month for best growth. Small, insignificant flowers may appear. Many gardeners remove these to allow all the plants energy to go to growing the more attractive leaves.

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Fancy Leaf Geraniums

Geraniums (or Pelargoniums) are an old-fashioned annual that has been around for a long time, but the fancy-leafed varieties are less known. Flowers are available in the traditional colors, but leaves are brightly colored or variegated, with combinations of white, yellow, green, burgundy, red, and bronze. Even when not blooming, these Geraniums are striking to look at.

Growing conditions are like other Geraniums. Plant in full sun or part shade, in well-drained soil.  Fertilize regularly with a high phosphorus, bloom-boosting fertilizer. Deadhead regularly to promote more flowers. If you want to overwinter your geranium, cut back in fall, remove from their pots and shake off excess soil, and store in a cool, dark room, such as a basement.

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Sweet Potato Vine

For a container garden “spiller,” nothing beats the effect of Sweet Potato Vine. Available in shades of chartreuse, burgundy-purple, or rust-orange, the heart-shaped leaves of Sweet Potato Vine tumble attractively over the sides of pots. If planted in the landscape, they become a fast-growing annual groundcover that can reach 4 – 6 feet wide.

Although related to Sweet Potatoes, the annual Sweet Potato Vine produces tubers underground, but they are not edible. During especially mild winters, these tubers may survive and grow into new plants the following year. Plant in full sun or part shade after the last frost.

For Shade

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These heart-shaped annual plants sometimes get mistaken for Elephant Ears due to the shape of their leaves. Unlike Elephant Ears, however, Caladiums are short plants that thrive in shade. Their heart-shaped leaves come in brilliant combinations of pink, white, green, or red.

Native to South America, Caladiums like heat and should not be planted until after the last frost. Some cultivars can take full sun, but most prefer part shade to full shade. Plant in a rich, well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. Caladiums do not like to dry out. Mulch can promote better water retention in the soil, but water regularly as well. Tubers can be dug up in the fall and overwintered in a warm spot.

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A fabulous plant grown primarily for its foliage, Coleus brightens up any shade garden with a multitude of colors, sometimes on a single plant. Leaf patterns are diverse and may include yellow, orange, red, pink, purple or green, or some combination of these colors. Coleus grow best in containers, preferring a loose soil. Some varieties can tolerate sun, but the majority are shade lovers.

Keep soil moist because Coleus is not very drought tolerant. Coleus also has a tendency to grow leggy, so regular pinching back is vital to maintain a bushy plant. Many Coleus can get quite large and grow fast. Occasionally, Coleus may send up a few lavender blue flower stalks, which although not particularly showy, are attractive.


Polka Dot Plant
These colorful plants, as you might guess from their name, have spotted red, pink or white foliage.  Add it to container gardens as mounding plant that may tumble slightly over the edge, or use as a border plant in the landscape.

Polka Dot Plant can be grown indoors or outdoors. When grown outdoors, wait until temperatures reach 60 degrees before planting. Make sure you give it moist but well drained soil with a good amount of organic matter. They do not usually need fertilizer when grown outdoors.