Not all plants are grown for flowers or to eat. A large group of plants are known as foliage plants and are enjoyed for the beauty of their leaves – even though many also flower. Popular are shrubs and groundcover plants with interestingly shaped, coloured or variegated leaves. Variegated leaves are usually green patterned with white, yellow, light green or grey markings. Some variegated leaves are multi-coloured. Plain green-leaved plants may have variegated forms.

Another group of foliage plants develop spring or autumn leaf colour. Maples are often selected for their leaf colour alone. Others are evergreen (for example variegated conifers) so hold their interesting leaves all year.

The art of using foliage plants in gardens, containers or indoor plant displays is to select a balance of colour, leaf shape and texture. Often a foliage plant is selected to complement an adjacent flowering plant or the colour of a permanent feature such as a path, fence or even the house.

Foliage plants can also be selected to brighten a dull location. Clump forming foliage plants such as ornamental grasses or succulents with a strong vertical growth are used as accent plants.

Growing conditions

Aspect Most foliage plants need a sheltered and partly shaded location depending on the variety selected (check the cultivation recommendations on the plant tag). While some foliage plants easily cope with full sun such as coloured leaf forms of coprosma (for example Coprosma ‘Pacific Sunset’ which have vibrant, burgundy red leaves) others may be damaged with too much hot sun.

Soil Foliage plants grow in a wide range of soils but as with most plants do best in soil enriched with organic matter such as compost or Seasol Super Compost before planting. Most also need good drainage.

Climate There are foliage plants for every climate. In tropical, subtropical, and frost-free zones traditional choices include crotons, which have vibrantly coloured and patterned leaves, acalypha and many indoor plants such as epimediums and philodendrons, which thrive outside in warm conditions. In cooler zones look for variegated or golden leaf forms of many popular shrubs such as variegated choisya and berberis as well as perennials such as hostas and begonias, which are collected for their fascinating leaf patterns.

General care

Watering Adequate and regular watering is important, especially, in spring as conditions warm and where plants are in containers – especially in hanging baskets. As summer hits and temperatures rise, check plants daily, especially those in containers, which may require watering morning and night.

Feeding and mulching Foliage shrubs can be feed via your preferred method, either liquid or granular food or a combination of both, depending on your plant variety. Keep plants lush and leafy with a granular fertiliser such as Seasol plus Nutrients All Purpose including Natives during the growing season. If you prefer liquid feeding apply PowerFeed All Purpose including Natives every 2 to 4 weeks during the growing season.

Pruning Most foliage shrubs benefit from a light trim to shape and encourage new growth. Foliage plants that have colourful new growth such as Photina ‘Red Robin’, which is a popular hedge plant, benefits from a regular prune to help promote its colour. Also, groom leafy plants to remove damaged or spent leaves. Some, such as grasses can be cut back hard annually. In some cases, variegated plants develop non-variegated stems or branches. These should be pruned out.

Watch for Generally watch for leaf-eating pests such as snails, slugs and grasshoppers. Also check foliage plants for aphids or scale and spray with the appropriate product such as EarthCare Enviro Pest Oil insect spray or EarthCare Natural Pyrethrum insect spray. Remember to spray both sides of the foliage and repeat 14 days later if necessary.