By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice®
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners® ColorChoice®
I know, you’re thinking, black foliage? How can that be something I want in my garden?
First, when I say, “black foliage,” what I really mean is a very dark green or dark burgundy. I’m talking about deep, saturated leaves that stand out against green and chartreuse foliage, and the bright, colorful flowers of spring and summer. Black (or dark) foliage provides depth and contrast to gardens and in some cases, it even makes great cut stems for bouquets!
Let’s take a look at seven bold, black shrubs and their uses in gardens and landscapes.
Winecraft Black® smokebush (Cotinus) is a delightfully dusky shrub that starts the season with rich purple foliage that becomes deeper in color until it’s nearly black. Then in the fall, the foliage turns brilliant orange.
Early summer brings wispy red flowers that become the beautiful, hazy-violet “smoke” that gives this plant its name. A rounded 4-6’ habit offers a more compact presentation than conventional smokebush.
Winecraft Black smokebush branches are beautiful when used in cut flower arrangements, and this shrub is a perfect addition to mixed borders and dramatic hedges. Hardy down to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4 and heat tolerant to zone 8.
Kodiak® Black Diervilla is a showy selection of this native species. Burgundy-black new growth in spring turns dark green in summer, and then purple in fall.
But that’s not all this durable, dark shrub has up its sleeve. Yellow summer flowers support pollinator populations, plus it’s one of the few plants that tolerate dry shade, making it an adaptable, reliable choice for landscapes. Kodiak Black diervilla will grow to 3-4’ tall and wide and is hardy in zones 5-7.
Looking for a crapemyrtle that doesn’t disappear in the crowd? This is it! The Center Stage® crapemyrtle series (Lagerstroemia) was developed to have very disease-resistant dark foliage and super stunning flower color. This plant is perfect for the sizzling south as it’s hardy down to zone 6b and heat tolerant to zone 10.
Center Stage® Red crapemyrtle is especially striking with dark black foliage and vivacious cerise-colored blooms that adorn the plant in summer. Every plant in the Center Stage series will tolerate clay soil, and are deer resistant, too! They are all stunners when used as a specimen plant, reaching heights of 6-12’ and widths of 8’.
Another dark and dazzling choice for southern gardens is some of the members of the Jazz Hands® series of Chinese fringe flower, or Loropetalum. There are six shrubs in the series, but Jazz Hands® Mini Chinese fringe flower is especially unique for its very dwarf habit. At just 10-12” tall and 3’ wide, it’s a distinctive choice for use as a groundcover or mass planting. Showy pink flowers contrast with the deep, rich foliage.
This is a wonderful little plant for the front of the border or a container garden in zones 7b-9. Once established, these easy-to-grow plants will also tolerate some drought.
Deep purple-black foliage, which is the darkest of any ninebark we’ve seen, gives Summer Wine® Black Physocarpus a dramatic presence in the landscape. Late spring flowers attract pollinators and the straight branches make it a great choice for cuts.
With its semi-dwarf, compact habit (5-6’ tall and wide), and disease-resistant foliage, it offers outstanding potential for landscapers and homeowners alike. Finally, because it’s native, Summer Wine Black ninebark can tolerate alkaline and clay soil, and is drought tolerant.
If you have 6-8’ in your garden to devote to a showy specimen plant and are looking for drama and texture, Black Lace® Elderberry will not disappoint. This lacy, cutleaf elderberry is reminiscent of Japanese maple but is much more adaptable.
Big, pink flowers will produce black fruit in fall that can be used for jams or wine or left for songbirds to enjoy.
If cut back in early spring it can be used like a perennial for foliage interest, but note that flowers appear on old wood, so rejuvenation pruning will compromise flowers and fruits for the year.
This durable plant can be used as a specimen in mixed borders or rain gardens, plus it will tolerate clay soils, black walnut, and occasional dry conditions. It is also deer-resistant! Hardy in zones 4-7.
Don’t have space for an 8’ wide elderberry? Laced Up® Sambucus brings the same dark and dramatic foliage and pink spring flowers but on a fastigiate, 6-10’ tall, 3-5’ wide habit.
Finally, Spilled Wine®Weigela is cold hardy (zones 4-8) and compact, with a 2-3’ tall and 3-4’ wide, spreading habit. Distinctive dark red, wavy leaves contrast with late-spring, hot pink-magenta flowers, creating a cascade of color in foundation and mass plantings. The trumpet-shaped flowers attract pollinators, but not deer! Easy to grow, Spilled Wine® weigela is a dark and delightful addition to landscapes and gardens and can tolerate clay and alkaline soil.
For an even darker presentation, look for the new Midnight Wine Shine™ weigela which was grown especially for its attractive dark, glossy foliage on a compact 1-1.5’ tall and 2-2.5’ wide habit.