- 10 plants with dark foliage
- More plants with dark foliage
- Hardy Deciduous Shrubs for Colorful Foliage: Part 2 – Red and Purple Foliage
- How to Prune Purple Leaf Plum Trees
- Purple sand cherry
10 plants with dark foliage
Plants with dark leaves and stems can be particularly useful in the garden, helping to catch the eye and provide dramatic contrast to plants of other colours.
When combining dark-leaved plants, there are a few important things to remember. Firstly, rather than growing a group of these plants side by side, they’ll stand out more if grown alone as statement plants, or if combined with flowers and green-leaved plants, where the colours can bounce off of each other.
Many dark-leaved plants have foliage that is deep purple or a dark bronze-red colour. Combining them with plants with purple flowers and plants with red flowers will help to bring out these undertones, resulting in beautiful pairings.
More foliage features:
- 10 plants with silver or grey foliage
- Plants with bold foliage
- The best leaves for leaf mould
Discover some of the best plants with dark foliage to grow, below.
If you’re after dark-leaved plants that you can eat, purple basil is a good place to start. 1
Purple basil foliage
If you’re after dark-leaved plants that you can eat, purple basil is a good place to start. Varieties to grow include ‘Crimson King’ and ‘Dark Opal’. Other edibles with dark foliage include Chinese basil, red orache and some lettuce varieties.
Dahlia ‘Magenta Star’
Of course, not all dahlias have dark foliage, but there are some notable cultivars that do, including ‘David Howard’, ‘Yellow Hammer’, ‘Tally Ho’ and ‘Magenta Star’ (pictured). Try combining them with green-leaved plants to help the darker foliage stand out.
Actaea ‘Pink Spike’ foliage
Actaeas are gorgeous, shade-lovers producing tall spires of bottlebrush blooms. For dark foliage, go for cultivars like ‘Brunette’, ‘Pink Spike’ and ‘Queen of Sheba’. They enjoy moist, well-drained soil.
Chinese witch hazel, Loropetalum ‘Hot Spice’
Loropetalum chinense is a beautiful evergreen shrub, with deep pink, scented flowers, similar to those of witch hazel, to which it’s related. For dark foliage, go for a cultivar like ‘Fire Dance’ or ‘Hot Spice’ (pictured). Frost hardy, so may require winter protection.
Castor oil plant (Ricinus communis)
Castor oil plant, Ricinus communis
The castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, is a stunning architectural plant, popularly grown in exotic gardens alongside plants like cannas, tetrapanax and persicarias. For the darkest foliage, choose a cultivar like ‘Carmencita’ or ‘New Zealand Purple’.
Smoke bush (Cotinus)
Smoke bush, Cotinus ‘Purpureus’
In the summer months, smoke bushes (Cotinus) are covered in a haze of feathery flowers, giving them their name. Cut them back hard in spring to produce large, vibrant leaves at the expense of flowers. ‘Royal Purple’ and ‘Purpureus’ (pictured) have especially dark foliage.
Dark-leaved elder (Sambucus nigra)
Elder, Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’
Like smoke bushes, dark-leaved elder (Sambucus nigra) varieties like ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘Black Lace’ can be pruned back to ground level in early spring, to produce a fantastic display of foliage and the best-coloured leaves.
Cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’
There are several dark-leaved varieties of the cherry plum, Prunus cerasifera, to grow, including ‘Nigra’ and ‘Pissardii’. The dark foliage provides gorgeous contrast with the pale-pink spring blooms.
Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ foliage
Cercis are grown for the profusion of small, pea-like flowers in vivid shades of pink and purple that open in spring. They look lovely grown at the back of borders. Choose cultivars like ‘Forest Pansy’ and ‘Ruby Fall’ for dark foliage.
Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’
Physocarpus are deciduous shrubs, particularly suited to growing in borders, where they can be surrounded with a tapestry of complementary plants. It also produces pollinator-friendly summer flowers. Try ‘Diabolo’, ‘Diable d’Or’ or ‘Little Devil’ for especially dark foliage.
More plants with dark foliage
Hylotelephium ‘Purple Emperor’ Advertisement
- Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’
- Hylotelephium ‘Purple Emperor’
- Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea ‘Helmond Pillar’
- Heuchera ‘Blackout’
- Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’
- Ageratina altissima ‘Chocolate’
- Canna ‘Russian Red’
Hardy Deciduous Shrubs for Colorful Foliage: Part 2 – Red and Purple Foliage
In part 1 of Hardy Deciduous Shrubs for Colorful Foliage, I discussed the merits of those shrubs with yellow foliage. Part 2 of this 3 part series will discuss the best red to purple-foliaged shrubs for zones 5b and colder. I guess the ultimate shrub in this category would be the various dwarf forms of Japanese maple but because they are just hardy to zone 5b and thus borderline hardy for most northern gardeners, I will not include them here. As with the yellow-foliaged shrubs, it is perhaps easiest to describe the shrubs in alphabetical order, starting with Berberis thunbergii or Japanese barberry. As mentioned in part 1, barberry have only recently been available in the landscape trade. For many years there was a restriction on selling them as they were thought to be an alternate host for wheat rust. As it happens, this particular species is fine (although some barberry are indeed alternate hosts). Even before the ban, there were purple-leaved cultivars of Japanese barberry, the old standard being ‘Atropurpurea’ (purple) ‘Golden Ring’ (purple with thin yellow rim) and ‘Red Chief’ (reddish-purple). All of these can reach 1.5-2 m. Recently there has been a wave of new purple-leaved cultivars. In the 1.5-2 m range are ‘Angel Wings’, ‘Crimson Velvet’, ‘Rose Glow’ and ‘Sheridan’s Red’. In the 1 to 1.5 m range are ‘Monomb’ (aka Cherry Bomb), ‘Royal Cloak’, ‘Admiration’ and ‘Royal Burgundy’. With a narrow, upright habit 1.5 m or taller are ‘Helmond’s Pillar’, ‘Marshall’s Upright’ and ‘Red Pillar’. Dwarf (under 1 m) mounding selections suitable for rockeries and the front of the border include ‘Crimson Pygmy’, ‘Bagatelle’, ‘Bailtwo’ (aka Burgundy Carousel), ‘Concorde’, ‘Goruzam’ (aka Golden Ruby) and ‘Bailone’ (aka Ruby Carousel). These all produce red, tear-drop shaped fruit but they are not really noticeable until leaf drop. Most of these purple-leaved varieties turn orange to red in the fall. They are all rated for zone 4.
Examples of purple-leaved barberries include ‘Royal Cloak’, Rose Glow’, ‘Concorde’, ‘Royal Burgundy’ and ‘Gold Ring’
Smokebush, Cotinus coggygria, is rated for zone 5 with plants known to survive to zone 4b, so it sits on the fence for this article. There are several purple-leaved forms, which can reach 5m. In borderline hardy regions, they will often experience die-back but often will re-flush at the base, resulting in much smaller plants. There are five popular cultivars: ‘Nordine’, ‘Purple Supreme’, ‘Norcutt’s Variety’, ‘Royal Purple’, ‘Velvet Cloak’ and ‘Grace’ (the last one is C. obovatus X C. coggygria ‘Velvet Cloak’). Of these, ‘Nordine’ and ‘Purple Supreme’ are the hardiest and most likely to survive in zone 4b.
Two examples of purple-leaved smokebush are ‘Royal Purple’ and ‘Grace’
Ninebark, Physocarpus opulifolius, was traditionally more well-known for its golden-leaved cultivars, but recently, there have been several purple-leaved selections, the first of importance being ‘Diablo’. The leaf colour of ‘Diablo’ is perhaps best described as chocolate-purple, but looks almost black from a distance. It is certainly not the vibrant purple of purple-leaved sand cherry or purple barberries. ‘Diablo’ can reach 3 m. Crossing ‘Diablo’ to the cultivar ‘Nana’ resulted in ‘Seward’ (aka Summer Wine) which is a 1.5-2 m version of ‘Diablo’. Crossing ‘Diablo’ to ‘Dart’s Gold’ resulted in ‘Mindia’ (aka Coppertina) which is also 1.5-2 m but the leaves are copper-red rather than the darker tones of ‘Diablo’ or ‘Seward’. Ninebark are rated for zone 2-3 and are reasonably drought-tolerant once established.
Illustrated above are the three standard purplish ninebarks; ‘Diablo’, ‘Summer Wine’ and ‘Coppertina’
Perhaps the most popular purple-leaved shrub in cold climates is the purple-leaf sand cherry, Prunus X cistena. The leaves are shiny purple and in spring, they produce contrasting light pink blossoms. This hybrid can reach 2.5 m. A better selection is the compact version ‘Crimson Dwarf’ which matures at 1.2 m. The main drawback of this plant is that it is short-lived and usually start to decline after 10-15 years. Both are rated for zone 3 and are quite drought-tolerant once established.
Many roses have leaves that emerge shiny red but become green once they mature. However, the species rose, Rosa rubrifolia, has unique blue-tinted, purple foliage all season. This rose has single, fragrant, bright pink flowers in early summer which provide a beautiful contrast against the foliage. This rose will reach 2-3 m and is super-hardy, being rated for zone 2. This rose will perform admirably in shade but flowering will be scarce.
Pictured above are Prunus X cistena and Rosa rubrifolia
Black elderberry, Sambucus nigra, is a tall shrub (to 5m) that has some recent purple-leaved selections. The old standard purple-leaved form was ‘Purpurea’ which leafed out purple but turned purplish-green in summer. From ‘Purpurea’ came ‘Guincho Purple’ with darker purple foliage and then ‘Gerda’ (aka Black Beauty), released in the US in 2004, with very dark purple-black leaves on a more compact plant 2-3 m. And most recently (released in 2006) has come the delicate and exquisite ‘Eva’ (aka Black Lace) with finely-cut, purple-black leaves, a wonderful substitute for a Japanese maple in colder regions. All of these purple-leaved selections have pink flowers. Although rated for zone 5a, if heavily mulched, they will survive zone 4 and essentially re-sprout from the base each spring (acting almost herbaceous). Elderberries, as a group, prefer evenly moist soil. Full sun will develop the most intense purple colour.
Illustrated above are Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’ and ‘Black Lace’
The last important group of purple-foliaged shrubs are selections of Weigela florida. Like barberry and elderberries, there has been much work done on improving the purple-leaved forms of this shrub. All the modern day cultivars had their beginnings with the cultivar ‘Follis Purpureis’, also known as ‘Nana Purpurea’ or ‘Java Red’. This older selection has a low spreading habit to about 1 m. The foliage starts off chocolate-purple but becomes more greenish-purple as the season progresses. Plants produce masses of dark pink flowers. Even though ‘Tango’ and ‘Victoria’ have purple-tinted foliage, the best selections are ‘Alexandra’ (aka Wine and Roses), ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Elvera’ (aka Midnight Wine). The former two have glossy, chocolate-purple foliage and rosy-pink flowers on a dwarf shrub 60-75 cm. The latter has similar foliage and flowers but is even more dwarf, a mere 20-30 cm! It is a wonderful addition to the rock garden or front of the border. Weigela are rated for zone 4 and prefer full sun. They are reasonably drought-tolerant once established.
Selections of purple-leaved Weigela include ‘Wine and Roses’, ‘Dark Horse’ and ‘Tango’
In the last installment of this series I will discuss those hardy deciduous shrubs whose leaves are variously edged or splashed with white, cream or yellow on a green background i.e. the variegated shrubs.
I live in Niagara Falls (Zone 6b) and have recently planted a second purpleleaf sand cherry; the first one has been in the ground since 2015. The older shrub is in the back yard and receives full sun, while the newly planted one in the front yard will receive a bit less sun (but still plenty throughout the course of the day, I hope).
My goal with both is to keep them from getting too leggy. What is the best way to prune them to keep them full and bushy? Once they are established, is coppicing an option with these shrubs?
Last year I did some fairly light maintenance pruning on sand cherry #1 and am wondering if I should be more aggressive this year. It’s looking a bit leggy so far this spring. I like the idea of allowing #1 to grow into a small tree (that is, to reach its full stature).
Ideally, I’d like to keep sand cherry #2 to a height of around 4-5 ft, if that’s possible (it’s part of my foundation plantings). I placed it more than 10 feet from the house so it’s not really an issue of space but rather of aesthetics. Again, I like the tree-like, “branchy” look on the bottom but I’d prefer to keep #2 shorter overall.
I’ve read that these shrubs can be fairly short lived and are susceptible to pests and disease (I’ve seen the Japanese beetles attack #1 for the past two years, but it bounced back each time). Given all that, I still love them! They have a beautiful colour and I love their “branchiness” (that is, their sturdy branches, as opposed to the thin, twiggy ones!). I look forward to any advice on how to make the most of these lovely plants over the next decade. Thanks so much.
How to Prune Purple Leaf Plum Trees
Purple-leaf plum trees are easy to grow spring flowering trees, valuable for their purplish pink flowers that contrast with the dark bark of the branches. They aren’t as picky about soil conditions as cherries and are less prone to disease, but they do grow a thicket of small branches that, if left in place, will obscure the graceful shape of the tree.
Choose a time to prune, preferably in spring, either before bloom or after leaves unfold. If you prune before blossoming, you’ll lose some buds, but since purple leaf plums flower so prolifically, you may not notice the loss.
You can also prune in late summer or early fall, but you will also lose buds that would flower next spring.
Plan your cuts before reaching for the pruning shears or lopper. Is the size of the tree about right, but the main branches are obscured by extra sprouts? Or is it too tall or wide and you need to reshape it?
If the tree needs thinning, plan on starting at the center and working outwards, taking out unnecessary branches as you go. If it needs shaping, find the branches that stick out to the side or up to the top, follow them downward to their origin on the trunk or on a branch and plan on taking out the entire shoots. Leave shorter branches to hide the cuts.
Now, make your cuts, starting with the thickest branches. Use a pruning saw if these are more than 1 inch in diameter. Always cut flat against another branch; never leave stubs to sprout again.
Purple sand cherry
Size & Form
An upright, large shrub or small tree reaching 7 to 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide.
Tree & Plant Care
Best in full sun to part shade in average, well-drained soil.
Moderately tolerant of aerial salt spray
Disease, pests, and problems
A short-lived tree because of the numerous insect and disease problems.
Cankers, frost cracks, borers, aphids, scale, Japanese beetles are possible problems.
Native geographic location and habitat
Native to Western Asia and Caucasia
Bark color and texture
Often multi-trunked, young stems reddish-brown changing to gray-brown at maturity.
Leaf or needle arrangement, size, shape, and texture
Alternate, 2-inch, elliptical, serrated leaves. Petiole has 2 glands on the top near the leaf blade.
New leaves emerge reddish-purple and remain crimson red throughout the summer in sunny site, bronzy-green in part-shade conditions.
Flower arrangement, shape, and size
A single, pinkish-white, fragrant flower emerges with the new leaves.
Fruit, cone, nut, and seed descriptions
A single drupe turns blue-black in July.
Prunus x cistena small tree
Purple leaf sand cherry can either be a shrub or a small tree. It is often chosen for its purple foliage. Latin Name: The botanical name of this shrub is Prunus x cistena and it is included as part of the Rosaceae family. Common Names: You will see this shrub named as the purple leaf sand cherry, purpleleaf sandcherry, purple leaf sandcherry and purpleleaf sand cherry. USDA Hardiness Zones: The preferred zones for Prunus x cistena are Zones 2-8. Size & Shape: The purple leaf sand cherry grows 7-10′ tall and wide. When it is young, it has an oval shape. As it reaches maturity, it will become arching with an open center, if not pruned. Exposure: Purple leaf sand cherry should be grown in full to part sun. If it receives too much shade, the leaves will change to a bronze green color. Foliage/ Flowers/Fruit: The leaves are reddish-purple, 2″ long, and elliptical in shape. In fall, they will turn a bronze-green. The flowers are pink or white, and appear in April. A few 3/4″ purplish-black drupes will appear in July. Additional Facts: Purple leaf sand cherry is a cross between Prunus pumila and Prunus cerasifera ‘Atropurpurea’. Design Tips: Use Prunus x cistena as a specimen to provide splashes of purple in the garden. Purple leaf sand cherry is very susceptible to pests and diseases, so plan on a life span of approximately 10-15 years. The small fruits will attract many kinds of birds. Good for drought resistant gardens. Growing Tips: Purple leaf sand cherry can grow in a wide variety of soils and conditions. Well drained soil is best. The stems will be red brown to dark gray, and tend to ooze sap. The roots are close to the surface and if they are damaged, they will make the shrub send up suckers. Propagation is through cuttings. Maintenance/Pruning: Pruning on Prunus x cistena should be done after the flowers come in spring. It should be pruned as needed to keep it in an oval shape, or it will become spreading and open in the center as it matures. Pests & Diseases: Japanese beetles are VERY fond of the purple leaf sand cherry, unfortunately. Other pests include peachtree borer, scale, fall webworm, aphids, mealy bugs,and tent caterpillars. Diseases include honey fungus, verticillium wilt, black knot, cankers, powdery mildew, leaf spot, bacterial leaf scorch, and frost cracks.
Ericaceae Vaccinium corymbosum