Add red and purple colors to your garden

One of the hues in the landscape that catches the eye is the purple or red shades of foliage.

Red and purple
The red leaves on the Royalty crabapple add a new dimension to the landscape and offer deep pink flowers as an added bonus in spring. John Zvirovski / The Sun

The season is now getting into full swing in the garden. With the past warm week, plants are starting to pop out of the ground and the ones that are already up are beginning to grow quickly. Add some rain to that in the near future and we will be looking really good.

With all of the new growth popping from the ground and on the trees and bushes, we see all of that brilliant foliage of green and yellow springing forth creating an amazing hue up close and off in the distance. The brightness alone just makes one feel alive in the yard again. We have even had to mow for the first time this past week, so it seems the grass is going strong also!

One of the hues in the landscape that catches the eye is the purple or red shades of foliage. I think they stand out as they are colors that you see the least of in the garden, and the first color everyone seeks for autumn radiance. The red color creates a wonderful contrast among all the green that fills our designs, thus becoming a desired element.

Luckily for us, there are numerous selections in the market in which we can choose. The larger the plant, the less variety there seems to be, but we can get red foliage in trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals alike to fit our needs.


Trees probably have the least availability for red foliage, but we can choose from the beautiful Crimson Red Maple, the Canada Red Cherry, birch and some crabapple trees. If selecting the Crimson Red Maple, be careful as it is borderline hardy for our area and tends to suffer a great deal from sun scald on the south side of the trunk during winter due to its smooth bark. Shading this side of the trunk is very beneficial for the reduction of this problem.

The Canada Red Cherry is a beautiful tree that leafs out green and turns a deep red or purple as the leaves mature. This color remains all season into autumn. The only concern is to watch for black knot on its stems that can cause a problem later, but this can be easily maintained if it doesn’t get out of control.

‘Royal Frost’ birch is an upright selection that has beautiful purple-colored leaves that remain throughout the growing season for a fine-textured look.

The most common tree for our area would be that of the crabapples. Selections such as ‘Royalty', ‘Thunderchild’, ‘Purple Prince’ and ‘Prairie Fire’ are great selections for their richly colored leaves, plus they all provide beautiful flowers during the spring for an added bonus.

If you are looking for shrubs, there is the Red Sand Cherry with its purple leaves, but I will warn you that this selection frequently dies back every year and needs a good deal of maintenance. A better choice would be your selection of Ninebarks. The three best choices would be ‘Diablo’, ‘Center Glow’ and ‘Summer Wine’ with their deep hues which just become more brilliant in the fall season.

There are some unique perennial plants also which display red and purple foliage colors. Coral Bells are a great plant with numerous shades, but ‘Midnight Rose’, ‘Obsidian’ and ‘Palace Purple’ are some of the best. ‘Husker Red’ Penstemon is another great option with its upright growth habit and its deep red leaves. ‘Purple Emperor’ Sedum is a nice perennial selection for the season with brilliant fall blooms.

Annuals have their own groups of plants that can enrich our gardens with red or purple foliar color. The family of Coleus is a great option for sunny and shady areas. Perilla is another close relative of that selection that has richly colored leaves. There are a few selections of Canna bulbs that will add not only height but a tropical look to your garden with its large red/purple leaves. Begonias are available with deep-colored leaves along with the red polka dot plant for something small and delicate.

If red and purple vegetation is your desire, shop around this season and add some permanent features in your garden with trees, shrubs and perennials or just select some nice annuals for a temporary addition of color.


To read more columns written by John Zvirovski, click here.

The colors of red and purple are not just sought after for the garden during autumn but can be utilized throughout the growing season for an extension of great color to accentuate your garden as a whole. Have fun with foliage this season and see what unique designs you can create!

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