Fantastic Foliage for Fall

  • Difficulty Rating: Beginner
Fantastic Foliage for Fall

Whether it is handsome heuchera or colorful coleus, these four plants have fantastic foliage for late-summer and early-fall containers and garden beds.

Colorful Coleus: From hot pink and orange to black and purple, coleus comes in nearly every color combination imaginable, as you can see from this display at my local independent garden center. A member of the Lamiacea (mint) family, coleus was previously used mainly as a shade or house plant. But recent coleus varieties introduced since the 1990s can stay brightly colored in sun and shade. Coleus grows best in rich, moist, well-drained soil.


Here’s a close-up of some colorful coleus plants, which would look terrific in pots with mums or ornamental grasses in late summer and fall. Older plants can get leggy, so I prune out center stems with my Fiskars PowerGear® Bypass Pruner so the plants grow more bushy. With proper care, coleus will look great outdoors until the first frost.


This charming container, spotted at my local garden center, features several small pots of ‘Wasabi’ and ‘Dipt in Wine.’ The plants have fused together so there are now two varieties in each little pot. Personally, I’m crazy about the cool green mixed with the hot wine colors in this combination. Wouldn’t this container brighten a dark corner in the garden?


Handsome Heuchera: It’s hard to beat the range of foliage colors and textures on these cold-hardy perennials. In fact, heuchera is the National Garden Bureau’s 2012 Perennial of the Year, the first-ever to receive this distinction. Above is a striking ‘Caramel’ heuchera that brings out the green of this neighboring calendula in my garden – but would look very appropriate with black mondo grasses (Ophiopogon planiscapus) in a Halloween-themed container. Hardy to Zone 4 (sometimes Zone 3 with protection), these long-lasting plants are among the first plants to pop out in late-winter and last well into fall.


Whatever your color scheme, there is aheuchera (orheucherella) just for you. At my local gardening center, I spotted these diverse examples. The light variegated variety on the left is Heucherella ‘Alabama Sunrise; the red one is Heuchera ‘Cherry Cola;’ and the darker variegated foliage isHeuchera‘Hollywood.’

Althoughheucherablooms with small flowers on upright stems in late-spring or summer, the perennials are really beloved for the striking foliage, which comes in every color imaginable. While many heuchera prefer shade and partial-sun, others can tolerate more sun and heat. ‘Alabama Sunrise,’ for instance, is said to be more heat and drought tolerant than many heucherella, because the hybrid has H. villosa genes. Your local garden center is a good source for varieties that will grow well in your area.

Sweet Potato Vines are Super ... And So Are Stipa arundinacea ‘Sirocco’


Two other beauties are ornamental sweet potato vines (Ipomoea batatas)and Stipa arundinacea ‘Sirocco’, shown above on my front step. Sweet potato vine is a tropical plant primarily grown for its foliage, which comes in colors from black to chartreuse green.

This sweet potato vine variety is ‘Sidekick Black Heart,’ which is semi-compact so it doesn’t crowd out other plants like this ornamental grass. Heat tolerant, the fast-growing vine thrives in full sun or shade until the first frost. Before the weather turns cold, take a cutting and stick in water. The plant will grow vines quickly. Transplant in a container, and grow in a bright warm place away from direct sun. Voilá: An instant houseplant for winter, which you can move outside after the last frost in spring.


I’m also a fan of this attractive ornamental grass called Stipa arundinacea ‘Sirocco’ – which has strong four-season interest. The easy-care grass has survived temperatures down into the low-20s, along with blasting hot sun, drought and outright neglect. In fact, don’t overwater this plant; it grows best in well-drained, slightly dry potting soil.


During the cold month – while the sweet potato vine grows indoors – the stipa’s arching foliage turns from green to shades of blush, copper and pink. Here are photos from December in my Zone 6b garden.

Whether you have hot, sunny conditions or shady, moist areas, one of these four colorful plants will provide fantastic foliage for long-lasting beauty into the fall.