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Gardening With Foliage Plants: How To Create An All Green Foliage Garden

Did you know that green is the most easily seen color? Its calming effect is soothing on the eyes. Yet, when it comes to the garden, this attractive color is often one that is overlooked. Instead, it’s the multitude of flower color which seems to take center stage. This shouldn’t be the case. An all green foliage garden can have just as much impact and appeal as any other garden, if not more. Foliage actually plays an important role in the garden, providing year-round interest, depth and personality. Keep reading to learn more about gardening with foliage plants.

How to Create an All Green Foliage Garden

Designing a garden with foliage plants is not only easy, but when all the elements of foliage are incorporated, it can also be quite impressive. So don’t think of all green gardens as dull or unappealing. With or without flowers, a foliage garden can be filled with interesting textures, forms and colors.

Texture

Leaf texture is an important element in the foliage garden. This defines contours and creates contrast. If foliage plants are limited to only one type of leaf texture, or even a few, the garden could certainly lose its appeal. However, when using a wide range of textural characteristics while gardening with foliage plants, this is unlikely to happen. Leaf textures include those that are waxy, rough, fuzzy and smooth.

For example, some foliage plants, such as lamb’s ear, are covered with tiny hairs, making them soft and velvety to the touch. Other plants, like yucca, consist of bristles or thorns, making them hard to handle. There are a number of ornamental grasses that can add instant texture to the foliage garden. Keep in mind that clump-forming varieties are usually better as these are less invasive and include:

  • Blue fescue
  • Plume grass
  • Japanese silver grass
  • Fountain grass

Ferns are great for adding texture with their feathery fronds. The Japanese painted fern not only offers striking texture, but its silver and burgundy foliage can set the garden off, breaking up any monotony.

Form

Foliage plants also consist of various shapes and sizes. Some leaves are rounded, while others are straight and sword-like. They may be feathery, scalloped, or heart shaped. There are even types that will curl or twist into interesting shapes. There are plants that reach massive heights, plants that remain rather short, and a variety of plants that range in between. When designing a garden with foliage plants for form include:

  • Elephant ear
  • Ajuga
  • Caladium
  • Hosta
  • Artemisia
  • Various ground covers

Color

When it comes to foliage color, you also have a wide variety to choose from. All green gardens can actually range in color, from light or dark green to yellow or blue-green. Some foliage appears gray or silver as well. There are also numerous variegated foliage plants available and some containing red pigment, which results in shades of bronze to purple.

Hostas are probably one of the most commonly used foliage plants in the garden. They range in color from light and dark green to blue-green and variegated shades. Some foliage plants that add additional color include:

  • Chameleon plant
  • Caladium
  • Coleus

Combining the different greens and other foliage colors with varying forms and textures can be just as beautiful and captivating as a garden rich with colorful blooms. Don’t forget to include a strong focal point in the foliage garden. This could be as simple as one large plant having distinctive foliage or a lovely fountain with other plants worked in around it.

If you are unfamiliar with the types of foliage plants available, there are numerous resources that can help. As with any type of garden, select plants that thrive in your particular area. There’s so much more to a garden than just flowers. Foliage plants can create a whole other dimension with their wide array of textures, forms, and colors.

Best foliage plants for garden colour

1. Loropetalum ‘Plum Gorgeous’

Mass plant Plum gorgeous for a year round display of deep plum coloured foliage. Pink flowers appear in spring and autumn. Great for informal hedging and container planting in tubs to suit small spaces in full sun or part shade. Plant in the garden for foliage contrast. A moist well drained soil will give best results, although once established, it is dry tolerant.

1.2m H x 1.5m W. Pendulous, compact form.

2. Acacia ‘Limelight’

Compact native shrub (60cm–1m tall) with outstanding lime green, pendulous foliage all year round. Dry tolerant and hardy, it will grow in full sun or part shade in most well-drained soils or pots. Tolerates light frosts.

3. Trachelospermum ‘Tricolour’

‘Tricolour’ will bring accents of colour to your garden all year round. It enjoys full sun or part shade and almost any well-drained soil. Mulch well. Grows in a compact habit making it ideal for border edging plants.

4. Abelia ‘Kaleidoscope’

This striking compact ornamental changes its foliage with the season. From bright yellow with light green centres and soft pink petite flowers in spring to darker foliage in summer, then bright orange foliage in autumn turning into fiery red in the winter months. Plant in full sun to take advantage of the foliage colours.

70cm H x 90cm W. Great as an informal hedge. Low maintenance.

5. Bamboo Dwarf Whitestripe

Pretty bamboo ground cover with crisp green and white variegated fluffy foliage will adorn this compact plant. Grows to 40cm in height, and will stay dense and lush when trimmed down.

6. Canna Tropicanna® range

This range of exotic cannas with their bold coloured foliage and vibrant flowers will give a tropical feel to the garden, patio or pool area. Tropicanna has bold leaves of pink, yellow, red, orange and green, topped by orange flowers.

Tropicanna Gold has broad striped leaves in gold and green with orange flowers with yellow edges.

Tropicanna Black has purple/black foliage with bright scarlet/orange flowers.

Planted together, the three Tropicannas create a stunning colour combination. Tropicanna, Tropicanna Gold and Tropicanna Black when mass planted provide stunning backdrops to garden borders. They are easy to grow and flower readily with minimal maintenance.

7. Lillypilly ‘Big Red’

Plant this medium growing Lillypilly for its large glossy leaves, dark crimson new growth, excellent topiary and hedging properties. Hardy, frost and dry tolerant once established. Responds well to shaping. 4m H x 2.5m W. Plant in full sun to part shade with Searles Garden Soil Mix. Prune to shape during early spring to encourage dense habit.

8. Cordyline

Cordyline Rubra creates an instant impact in gardens with its large bright red foliage giving a lush tropical look. Other bright colours are available such as bright orange, yellow, etc. Loves low light conditions. Traditionally a tropical plant but some varieties can tolerant colder conditions.

9. Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’

This distinctive variety displays unique variegated foliage with spikes of flowers in a blend of cream, lime and green appearing from late winter through to early spring. Compact growth of 50cm2. Plant in full sun. Tolerant of extreme heat and dry conditions. Great as a structural feature in gardens and pots.

10. Kalanchoe luciae ‘Flapjack’

This succulent has increased in popularity over the past few years and is a great choice for lower maintenance style gardens. Its large, disc shaped foliage develops rich tones of russet and burgundy that contrast well against its usual silver green colouring throughout winter, providing a gentle textural element to any garden or potted feature. Plant in Searles Cacti & Succulent Mix.

11. Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)

Commonly regarded as Christmas flowering plants, poinsettias flower during our Australian winters and are now widely available in an assortment of décor colours ranging from the customary scarlet, yellow, pink, cream to bicolours. The new cultivars are grown for their compact stature and can handle a full sun to lightly shaded position.

Most Read

A tropical garden full of plants with vibrant blooms and oversized foliage, and an atmosphere of exotic living, isn’t just for warm-climate gardens.

With a few tricks and a bit of planning, you can create your own tropical look and feel in all but the coldest zones around the country.

When it comes to getting the effect in cooler regions, the key components are design techniques, plant selection and decorative touches. Once you bring these three elements together, the look will fall into place.

Design techniques

A tropical style is not dramatically different from other garden designs, it is just all about the density of planting.

A typical garden is planted in layers or bands. The plants are given space to spread and the height layers are clearly delineated.

In a tropical landscape, the plants appear to jostle for space. And while height layers exist, there tends to be no transition between them, with taller plants thrusting forth from the background.

The aim is to create a closely packed wall of lush foliage, which may look natural and unplanned but is actually very carefully thought out.

The two most important planting layers are the backdrop and the upper canopy, which gives shade and shelter, providing a microclimate for lower-growing plants.

A significant part of the illusion, the backdrop may be planted flush against a fence or wall, as its job is to obscure what lies behind, giving the impression that the garden extends much deeper than it does.

Plant selection

True tropical plants are mostly about the leaves rather than the flowers.

Many have glossy, and often quite large, leaves with patterns on them or foliage that has distinctly different colours on the top and underside.

When you’re looking for plants for your faux-tropical garden, you need to find ones suitable for your region that meet certain criteria.

Any plants you choose will, in most cases, require a moderate to high level of shade tolerance.

You’ll need plants that can fill the four main planting zones of canopy or shade, backdrop, tall and medium fillers and lower growers, including groundcovers.

When selecting plants, remember that there is also a difference between cold tolerant and frost hardy.

Many plants can tolerate cooler conditions if you protect them from frost with your upper canopy plants.

TIP Native tree ferns work well as an upper canopy plant to shelter more sensitive species.

When you’re looking for plants for your faux-tropical garden, you need to find ones suitable for your region that meet certain criteria

Flowering fillers

With their amazing forms, patterns and colours, foliage plants are essential to the tropical-garden look, but that doesn’t exclude flowers from the design. Here are four plants to include as medium fillers.

Plume flowers

Justicia carnea

GROW to 1.5 x 1.5m, but prune to keep bushy.

BLOOM almost all year round.

Plume flowers bloom almost all year round

Canna lilies

Canna X generalis cvrs

GROW up to 2m tall, depending on the variety.

BLOOM from November to April.

Canna lilies bloom from November to April

Blue gingers

Dichorisandra thyrsiflora

GROW up to 2m tall and 1m wide.

BLOOM from spring through to autumn.

Blue gingers bloom from spring through to autumn

Camellias

Camellia sasanqua, japonica and reticulata

GROW from 500mm tall, depending on the variety.

BLOOM all winter.

Camellias bloom all winter

Pick the right plant

Canopy plants

Bananas
Tall clumping bamboos
Bangalow palms. Image: Getty Images
Tree ferns. Image: Thinkstock

Backdrop plants

Murrayas
Tall gingers
Lilly pillies
Dwarf clumping bamboos

Medium fillers

New Zealand flax
Cordyline. Image: Thinkstock
Cyad varieties
Gold dust

Lower growers

Clivias
Variegated liriopes
Bromeliads
Native ferns

Creating microclimates

Establishing areas that provide shelter and extra warmth is a major objective in this style of garden, as microclimates let you grow a broader range of plants.

You can create protected areas by adding a selection of canopy plants to the design or choosing a spot that is already well sheltered by a tree.

Plant screening such as clumping bamboo to protect the area from prevailing winds.

Another technique is to plant up hardscaped or walled areas.

The walls and paving will act as heat sinks and capture warmth during the day, then radiate it after dark, keeping night-time temperatures higher.

Establishing areas that provide shelter and extra warmth should be a major objective as microclimates let you grow a broader range of plants

Decorative touches

The final flourishes that can turn your tropical-look space from just a leafy garden to a luxury retreat come down to colour and texture.

Landscape materials in earthy hues give the feel of an authentic Balinese resort, but adding splashes of vibrant colour, as are seen in tropical flowers and birds, will bring your new space to exotic life.

Sumptuous and modern, this tropical garden shows that the accessories don’t always have to be rustic and earthy
Well chosen decorative garden sculptures can enhance your space

Foliage Plants for Shady Gardens

A shady garden is a cool place to while away hot summer days. Gardens that are filled with lush foliage look cool and feel cool too. Use trees, clumps of palms or a plant-covered pergola to create summer shade in sunny areas or plant shade-loving foliage plants in courtyards or gardens with a shaded southerly aspect.

There are many plants that enjoy these locations, from ground covers to shrubs or even taller plants such as tree ferns. Plants grown for their foliage often have no or insignificant flowers, so create interest with a mix of leaf shapes, sizes and colours.

Shady choices

Seek inspiration in the indoor plant section of your garden centre (where there are lots of shade-loving plants) or look for the following suggestions in the shady plant section. Use these plants to create that cool retreat you’re dreaming of. All tolerate shade, but do need shelter from frost and regular watering. To keep your plants looking good, remove old or spent leaves regularly.

The beautiful, variegated foliage of Alpinia.

Alpinia

This group includes native ginger (Alpinia acerulea), which creates clumps of lush green leaves, has panicles of white flowers and blue fruit. Other alpinias include galangal (galanga) and shell ginger (A. zerumbet). There are also variegated forms. All grow to around 1-2m high.

The bird’s nest fern is an attractive plant with beautiful, intricately-arranged foliage.

Bird’s-nest ferns (Asplenium australasicum and nidus)

This fern is a must for any shaded garden. Its common name comes from its circular, nest shape, which is surrounded by large, green, sword-shaped leaves. Plants can measure 1-3m across.

The delicate flowers of blue ginger add a cool touch to your shady garden.

Blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora)

For a dash of blue in a shady foliage garden, grow this upright, cane-like plant which has glossy green leaves and purple-blue flowers. Stems can reach 1-3m high.

Bromeliads are beautiful additions to any garden – especially guzmania!

Bromeliads

With so many different bromeliads to choose from, there’s bound to be one to include among your shade plants. Many have colourful leaves and long-lasting flowers, so can be used as a feature plant. Bromeliads can also be grown in pots. Look for Aechmea, Guzmania and Tillandsia for a range of colours and sizes. Plants range in size from 30cm to several metres in height.

With its bright orange flowers and strappy, deep green foliage, clivia thrives in shady gardens.

Clivia

This plant, with its heads of salmon lily flowers in winter and spring and evergreen strappy leaves, can be used as a tall ground cover in a shaded spot. There are also yellow, pink and white flower colours available. Use these more unusual clivias as a feature plant or in a container. Plants grow 40-60cm in height.

Want a touch of colour with your foliage? Try planting a cordyline rubra.

Cordyline

Many cordylines have colourful leaves and are grown in full sun, but the palm lilies (Cordyline rubra and stricta) enjoy shade and add height as well as interest with strappy leaves and colourful berries. Plants can grow 3-4.5m high.

The oversized, heart-shaped leaves of the colocasia are attention-grabbers in any garden.

Elephant ears, taro (Alocasia and Colocasia)

For large, lush, heart-shaped leaves, plant a collection of elephant ears. For dramatic dark purple to almost black leaves to add contrast among the green, look for Colocasia ‘Black Magic’. Plants can grow 1-1.8m high.

Ligularia’s daisy-like yellow blossoms will brighten any shady spot.

Ligularia (Ligularia dentata and reniformis)

These shade-loving perennials have large, shiny, kidney-shaped leaves and spires of yellow to orange daisy flowers. Plants grow to around 1-1.5m high and wide. Individual leaves can be as large as 40cm across.

The beautiful and sprawling cyathea cooperi is an excellent statement plant.

Tree ferns (Cyathea cooperi and Dicksonia antarctica)

With their rough, tree-like trunks and large fern-like leaves, tree ferns are majestic additions to shade gardens. Water from the top. Tree ferns can reach several metres in height.

More suggestions

Other plants that tolerate shade include:

  • Agave attenuata;
  • Hosta;
  • Monstera (but don’t allow it to become invasive);
  • Philodendron;
  • Podophyllum Spotty Dotty;
  • Variegated cannas such as Tropicana.

How To Plan A Tropical Garden

Create your very own lush landscape in the backyard whatever the climate Words and Pictures: Cheryl Maddocks

Holidays and gardens have a lot in common, as they’re both about relaxation and pleasure.

And if you associate the tropics with wonderful vacations, you may want to keep the holiday spirit alive by creating your own permanent tropical retreat at home.

You need a rich mix of foliage textures and colours for a peaceful exotic garden mood.

Think large vibrant foliage, flamboyant flowers and eye-catching architectural statement plants.

This garden style isn’t exclusive to the tropics, as it’s also ideal for gardens that are frost-free and can provide shelter for plants from the hot afternoon sun.

Group plants with different leaf shapes together to bring out the best in both and use variegated foliage to break up green compositions.

Caring for your garden

Give your tropical plants a little TLC to keep them looking their best.

DIG copious amounts of well-rotted manure or compost into the soil. Organic matter will hold moisture in the soil to keep your large-leafed plants healthy.

FEED generously with compost or cow manure in the spring and summer.

MULCH around the plants with composted leaves, lucerne hay or pea straw to keep roots cool and retain moisture, topping up as needed.

WATER regularly using a hose or install a drip-watering system.

Group plants with different leaf shapes together to bring out the best in both and use variegated foliage to break up green compositions

Plant in layers

Tropical gardens are densely planted, which gives them their lush look.

They’re designed on three levels, starting with an upper canopy of taller trees and palms that create a warm microclimate and provide shade and protection for lower plants.

The middle layer is made up of shrubs and tall perennials, then at soil level, low growers give a mix of leaf textures and colours.

While the foliage colour is important, the structure, texture, shape and composition are also key considerations.

There is a huge variation in foliage shape, colour and texture, and while mainly green, it can also be colourful.

Upper canopy

You can use any trees in the upper canopy and intersperse them with palms, tall tree ferns and tall shrubs.

TOP PICKS Golden cane palm (Dypsis lutescens), kentia palm (Howea forsteriana), majestic palm (Ravenea rivularis), Alexandra palm (Archontophoenix alexandrae), giant bird of paradise (Strelitzia nicolai), Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum), frangipani, lilly pilly, ivory curl tree (Buckinghamia celsissima) and brugmansia.

Brugmansia boasts masses of spectacular flowers in summer

Middle layer

Choose plants 1-2m high with luxuriant foliage in different shades and shapes, and featuring stunning flowers.

Colourful canna lilies and cordylines make great accent plants in the middle layer

Low growers

When it comes to the lower layer, dense planting adds to the rich feeling of a tropical-style garden.

TOP PICKS Bromeliad, bird’s nest fern, Philodendron ‘Xanadu’, cycad, clivia, lily turf, acalypha, aglaonema, caladium, coleus, croton, maranta, calathea and impatiens.

Croton is an eye-catching choice for the low layer
Enhance the look by attaching bromeliads, Spanish moss, epiphytic orchids and staghorn or elkhorn ferns to trees

Add a pond

Water is an important part of the tropical look, so add a pond. And if you include a fountain, you’ll also benefit from the soothing sound of running water.

But if space is limited, plant a water bowl. The plants need to be positioned at the correct height in the water. Lotus plants and waterlilies should go deep in the water while others do best with the rim of the pot just above water level.

You can gain the correct height for the pots by standing them on bricks or an empty upturned pot in the base of the water container.

If a pond isn’t an option, create an imitation stream bed with pebbles and rocks, softening the edges with overhanging plants

Did you know?

Stone and terracotta plant pots add to the tropical ambience, especially when they have aged. You can speed up the ageing process by painting them with a solution of diluted yoghurt.

Plant up the pots with colourful dwarf bougainvillea, New Guinea impatiens or tropical rhododendrons (Vireya Group)

Lay terracotta urns among plants and add statues to complete the look

Pave the way

When it comes to creating a tropical feel, any pathways you build should have a natural appearance.

Stone pavers combined with gravel or interplanted with miniature mondo grass, or railway sleepers used with pebbles or bark mulch look great.

A slightly raised path made from timber decking boards always works well in this kind of lush setting.

If you already have unappealing concrete floors or pathways in the backyard, you can also lay boards on top to conceal them from view.

Furniture to fit

Cane, timber, stone and concrete furniture all suit a tropical-themed garden, so team cane Asian-style furniture with lots of cushions.

Add a day bed to provide a place where you can relax and enjoy your luscious new garden.

Timber benches, chairs and tables can be left unpainted if you want a simple look or brightly coloured for a more exotic appearance.

If you have any unsightly walls or fences you want to conceal, bamboo screens are ideal for this purpose.

Planting in cool climes

You can still create a tropical-style garden in a cool frost-free or temperate area. The plants you select may not be tropical in origin, but as long as they have the look, they’ll work.

Upper canopy Suitable palms for this layer include Bangalow palm ( Archontophoenix cunninghamiana ), European fan palm ( Chamaerops humilis ) and Chinese windmill palm ( Trachycarpus fortunei ).

Lilly pilly, Magnolia ‘St Mary’, Michelia albaand clumping bamboo are good for screening, while tall tree ferns and Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum) provide height and shade.

Middle layer Use flax, cordyline, Beschorneria yuccoides, yucca, Aucuba japonica ‘Variegata’, strelitzia, cane begonia, Fatsia japonica, ginger lily (Hedychium) and ornamental grasses.

Low growers Go for plectranthus, cast iron plant, impatiens, ferns, lamium, helleborus, arum lily, clivia, day lily, bromeliad and hosta.

GROW TIP Choose plants with large, colourful leaves that shout a tropical hello and they’ll fit into the scheme.

Bangalow palm

Fatsia japonica
Plectranthus Advertisement Vote It Up: Points: 1

Green roof plants

Green roofs are hostile sites. The combination of elevated temperatures, wind exposure and high light provide challenging conditions for plant growth. Plant selection requires careful consideration of site, microclimate, substrate and maintenance factors, linked to the desired aesthetic, functional and management outcomes for the project.

A useful way to categorise plant suitability for green roofs is required substrate depth, shown in below. See also sections on substrate in the following chapters.

Plant selection for stormwater management

If a roof is designed to soak up water and remove contaminants in the water during storm events, species that use water effectively and that accumulate nutrients should be explored. Herbaceous or shrubby species, which use more water than succulent species, will be more effective plant choices. While it may seem counter-intuitive to choose plants that have a higher water requirement over those requiring less, water may move more effectively from its landing on the substrate and back into the atmosphere with herbaceous plants as the interface. In addition, higher levels of water loss provide greater water movement and increase localised cooling of the surrounding environment.

Plant selection for aesthetics

If aesthetics are important, then select plant species that will provide interest throughout the year, and consider both foliage and flowers. The period after flowering provides interest from dried flower or seed-heads, for example, Leonotis leonurus, Agastache rugosa, ornamental Allium species, and native species Olearia axillaris. Planting in layers, with drought tolerant (seasonally dormant) species is another approach. Bulbine bulbosa, Senecio spathulatus, and other short-lived species can be added in with perennial species.

Plant selection for drought tolerance

Plants that come from ecosystems with shallow soils, such as rock outcrops, have been shown to both survive extended dry periods and make use of the high water available after rainfall and dry out the growing substrate. Successful species have also been shown to re-sprout after droughts, offering an ‘insurance policy’ if conditions are particularly harsh. These species include Dianella revoluta, Stypandra glauca and Arthropodium milleflorum.

Experience in Melbourne has shown that the succulent species Sedum xrubrotinctum and Sedum pachyphyllum were able to survive extreme dry conditions on the unirrigated shallow substrate green roof at The University of Melbourne’s Burnley campus through the summer of 2008-09. Other species that failed under the extreme conditions of 2008-09 but survived the milder 2009-10 and 2010-11 summers without irrigation were Sedum reflexum, Sedum mexicanum, Sedum spurium ‘Schorbuser Blut’.

Types of green roof plants

Low-growing succulents

Succulents, particularly colourful sedums, dominate shallow substrate green roofs across temperate Europe and North America. Their low growing and/or spreading habits, great drought tolerance, seasonal flowers and contrasting foliage colours, textures and forms make them ideal candidates for green roofs. Many will benefit from some irrigation, particularly during drier months of the year. In projects with no, or minimal, irrigation, thicker-leaved succulents are the most suitable. Succulents should be planted at high density (up to 16 per square metre) to provide adequate coverage of the growing substrate and aid shading across the surface.

Herbaceous perennials

This category includes a range of non-woody plants, many with persistent roots or underground stems (such as rhizomes and stolons, etc.) that enable the plant to regrow and persist for many years. The most useful herbaceous perennials for Melbourne green roofs are those originating from dryland habitats. Flowering perennials are used mainly for display and seasonal interest, and many indigenous flowering plants used will also have significant habitat values. Ornamental grasses and grass-like plants, especially those forming upright tussocks, provide useful contrasts in texture and form and can be managed through pruning to maintain their shape and habit. Some may have high water needs over summer and large biomass forms could present a fire hazard in some locations.

Geophytes (bulbs, corms, and tubers) are another group of herbaceous perennials that can be extremely useful, particularly for seasonal interest and display. Many of the spring and autumn flowering geophytes are also summer dormant, making them particularly useful drought ‘avoiders’ over the warmer months of the year. Larger succulents with upright growth habits are also useful for green roofs, although their mass over time can be considerable. While many herbaceous perennials can be grown in substrate depths as little as 150 mm, irrigation will be needed for long-term success at these depths. Some caution is needed in the use of plants with vigorous rhizomes or stolons (such as some Bamboo species); they can become excessively dominant and damage green roof profile layers.

Annual and biennial plants

A range of annual and biennial plants can be used successfully on green roofs and tend to fall into two distinct groups. Quick growing annuals and ephemerals, particularly those originating from dry and arid climates, can be spectacular additions to display plantings, but will need irrigation to be sustained for longer periods. Vegetables are the other main group of annual plants used on green roofs. These require irrigation and a substrate depth of at least 200 mm. Careful plant selection and maintenance is needed to ensure annuals do not become weeds on a green roof.

Turf

Some green roofs are constructed specifically to support sports turf. Careful species selection is needed to ensure outcomes can be met: the surface and play requirements are much more demanding than for amenity turf.

Sports turf requires a designed soil or growing medium to ensure effective drainage and a substrate depth of at least 250 mm. It also requires regular irrigation, fertilising and mowing to maintain sward performance and health. Many facility managers seek expert advice on the use of sports turf on green roofs to ensure design outcomes and maintenance can be properly resourced and managed. On smaller scale green roofs, species with excessive vigour, such as Couch Grass (Cynodon dactylon) and Kikuyu (Pennisetum clandestinum), should be avoided: their rhizomes can be invasive and may damage waterproofing membranes.

Small shrubs

Shrubs to one metre in height are best used in substrate depths of 250 mm or more. Small shrubs provide cover, display and habitat values, and often form the bulk of plantings used on green roofs with deep substrates. Increasing the substrate depth and irrigation will also increase the range of plants that can be used successfully. Excessively vigorous species should be avoided unless there will be sufficient maintenance to manage their growth, some low hedging plants could be in this category.

Shrubs

Shrubs up to two metres high can be used where substrate depths are at least 600 mm. They provide screening, space definition, ground coverage and seasonal flowers. Like any plant group, shrubs require careful selection and consideration of their maintenance needs. Plants with dense, upright habits should only be used where there is minimal wind exposure and/or significant protection can be afforded to support the canopy and prevent wind forces. Hedges and screening shrubs will require regular maintenance, including pruning and removal of biomass off the roof.

Trees

While many small trees (to five metres) can be successfully grown on substrate depths of 600 mm, depths of 1,000 mm or greater will ensure the best outcomes are achieved. Trees are dominant elements in any landscape, and on a green roof trees will generally be stunted in height and spread, when compared to those planted at ground level. The greater the roof exposure and overall site ‘hostility’, the more important tree selection becomes. Trees with sparse canopies, flexible stems and high tolerance to heat are best in areas of high wind exposure, although some form of anchorage will always be needed to manage them successfully.

Suitable plants for green roofs in Victoria

Bold text indicated native species.

Provided as a guide only, and should not be considered as an exhaustive list or suitable for all sites.

Plant group Type Examples
Low growing succulents Small and/or thin leaves Crassula multicava Sedum mexicanum, S. reflexum, S. sexangulare
Thick leaves and/or stems Carpobrotus rossii, C. modestus Disphyma clavellatum Carpobrotus edulis
Cotyledon orbiculata

Crassula tetragona

Kleinia mandraliscae, K. repens
Lampranthus deltoides

Mesembryanthemum echinatum, M. lehmanii, M. floribundum
Sedum nussbaumerianum

Sedum pachyphyllum

Sedum xrubrotinctum, xGraptosedum ‘Bert Swanwick’, xSedeveria ‘Pat’s Pink’

Annual and biennial plants Plants for floral display Calandrinia eremaea, C. polyandra Calendula officinalisTagetes patula, T. erecta

Zinnia elegans

Culinary herbs and vegetables Ocimum basilicumPetroselinum crispumSalvia officinalis, S. ‘Greek Skies’Thymus vulgaris

Origanum vulgare

Allium schoenoprasum

With suitable substrate and irrigation, most vegetables that can be grown in containers should succeed on a green roof

Turf Amenity turf Zoysia macranthaStenotaphrum secundatum Zoysia speciesFestuca arundinacea

Festuca rubra ‘Commutata’

Poa pratensis

Lolium perenne

Sports turf Cynodon dactylonPennisetum clandestinum Digitaria didactylaLolium perenne
Herbaceous perennials Upright flowering perennials Brachyscome ciliaris, B. multifida
Calocephalus citreus
Calotis cuneifolia Chrysocephalum apiculatum, C. semipapposumLeptorhynchos tenuifolius
Podolepis jaceoides Rhodanthe anthemoides
Veronica gracilis, V. perfoliata

Vittadinia cuneata
Wahlenbergia communis

Xerochrysum bracteatum

Achillea cultivars

Agastache species and cultivars

Euphorbia rigida, E. myrsinites

Nepeta cultivars

Pelargonium sidoides

Hylotelephium ‘Matrona’, H. ‘Autumn Joy’

Hylotelephium cauticola ‘Ruby Glow’

S. nemorosa cultivars

Low, spreading ground covers Dichondra repensEinadia nutansEutaxia microphylla Grevillea lanigera

Kennedia prostrata

Myoporum parvifolium

Senecio spathulatus

Viola hederacea

Aptenia cordifolia

Cerastium tomentosum

Convolvulus sabatius

Glechoma hederacea

Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’

Thymus pseudolanuginosus, T. serpyllum

Geophytes (bulbs, corms, tubers, etc) Arthropodium milleflorum Bulbine bulbosa, B. crassa, B. vagans
Pelargonium rodneyanum Allium species and cultivars

Tulbaghia violacea

Larger succulents (upright and rosette forms) Aeonium arboreumAeonium haworthiiAloe mitriformis
Aloe ‘Gemini’
Aloe brevifolia
Crassula falcata, C. ovata ‘Blue Bird’, C. tetragonaEcheveria ximbricata
Echeveria cultivars

Hesperaloe parviflora

Yucca desmetiana

Grasses Austrodanthonia caespitosa, A. setacea
Austrostipa scabra Chloris truncata
Deyeuxia quadriseta Dichelachne crinitaOrthrosanthus multiflorus

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Miscanthus cultivars

Flowering plants with ‘grass-like’ foliage Anigozanthos cultivarsConostylis species & cultivarsD. caerulea, Dianella revoluta, D. tasmanica species and cultivars
Ficinia nodosaLomandra micrantha, L. multiflora and cultivars
Poa hiemata
Stypandra glauca
Themeda triandra

Armeria maritima

Sisirhynchum cultivars

Iris unguicularis

Liriope species and cultivars

Ophiopogon japonicus

Small shrubs (to 1 m) Acacia amblygonaCorrea glabra, C. reflexa, C. decumbens and cultivarsOlearia axillaris
Plectranthus argentatus

Buxus sempervirens and B. microphylla species and cultivars

Cotoneaster dammeri

Erysimum xcherei

Gaura lindheimeri species and cultivars

Helichrysum italicum

Lavandula species and cultivars

Nandina domestica ‘Nana’

Plectranthus ciliatus, P. parviflorus
Salvia chamaedryoides, S. microphylla species and cultivars

Santolina magonica, S. chamaecyparissus, S. neapolitana cultivars

Teucrium marum

Shrubs (to 2 m) Callistemon ‘Little John’ or ‘Captain Cook’ Correa albaEremophila debilisGrevillea obtusifolia, G. rosmarinifolia

Lasiopetalum behrii

Melaleuca incana

Westringia species and cultivars

Cistus species and hybrids

Escallonia cultivars

Juniperus horizontalis, J. sabina

Leonotis leonurus

Nandina domestica

Pittosporum tobira

Raphiolepis umbellata, R. indica species and cultivars

Rosmarinus species and cultivars

Viburnum tinus

Small trees (to 5 m) Trees Acacia cognata cultivars, A. pendula, A. stenophyllaBrachychiton rupestrisEucalyptus caesia ‘Silver Princess’, E. dolichorhyncha, E. macrocarpa, E. paucifloraFicus microcarpa var. hillii

Tristaniopsis laurina

Arbutus species and hybrids

Cercis siliquastrum

Citrus limon

Cussonia paniculata

Jacaranda mimosifolia

Lagerstroemia indica xfauerii cultivars

Malus ioensis ‘Plena’

Metrosideros excelsa

Pyrus salicifolia

Quercus ilex, Q. suber, Q. coccifera

Geijera parviflora

Ulmus parvifolia

Olea europaea ‘Tolley’s Upright’ or ‘Swan Hill’

Laurus nobilis

Tree-like forms Dracaena dracoYucca gigantea

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