Many gardeners add color to their landscape with blooming annuals or perennials, but another way to spice up the garden is by incorporating dark red foliage plants. Certainly there aren’t as many red leaf plants as their green leaved relatives, but there are plenty of red foliage perennials and shrubs to use as accents or primary pops of color in the garden.
About Red Leaf Plants
The color of red foliage plants is due to the pigment anthocyanin. Anthocyanin absorbs green and yellow light which makes them appear red (or purple) to the human eye. Red foliage plants still photosynthesize, and thus contain chlorophyll which is responsible for the green coloration of most foliage, but the anthocyanin masks the green hues.
Red Foliage Perennials Varieties
- Sweetspire ‘Henry’s Garnet’ (Itea virginica) is a red foliage perennial shrub that is suited to USDA zones 6-10. Primarily a deciduous shrub, this beauty flaunts glossy burgundy leaves year round on graceful, arching branches that may grow up to 3-4 feet (about a meter) in length and 4-6 feet (1-2 m.) across. In the spring, Sweetspire produces aromatic blooms.
- If you are looking for more of a red leaf tree, the gorgeous Grace smoke tree is an excellent selection. Grace smoke tree produces unique feather plumes in varying shades of red depending upon the season for multi-season interest. This smoke tree does well in rocky and infertile zones in USDA zones 4-8.
- Another option for a red foliage perennial shrub is Coryus avellana ‘Red Dragon’ or European fig, hazelnut or cobnut. ‘Red Dragon’ is a grafted specimen notable for its purple leaf color and edible nuts. To maintain ‘Red Dragon’ and prevent thicket formation, prune out any root suckers and any stems that have lost their purple leaf color or twisting form. C. avellana can be grown in full sun to partial shade in moist, rich, well-draining soil.
Additional Red Foliage Plant Options
- Heuchera is a low growing, clumping perennial available in a multitude of colors. The cultivar ‘Fire Chief’ is multi-blooming, choral bell hybrid bred for its wine red leaves. This dark red foliage plant requires a shaded area with rich, well-draining soil and a medium amount of irrigation. Remove spent blooms to encourage flowering and mulch around the plant in cooler winter climates.
- Lastly, the gorgeous Rex begonia ‘Ruby Slippers’ is a real eye catcher with large, glossy, ruby red foliage accented with a black center and a ruffle of black around the edges of the leaves. Rex begonias can be used as houseplants or in shaded areas of the garden. Can be grown as a perennial in mild regions.