16 Silver-Foliage Plants to Brighten Your Landscape

16 Silver-Foliage Plants to Brighten Your Landscape

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Plants with silver foliage are often very attractive in their own right, but they work especially well in combination with flowers, serving as a backdrop that highlights colorful blooms. The silver leaves of dusty miller combined with the red flowers of salvia is one example.

Silver leaves can also serve to brighten the shady areas of a garden where dark greens tend to get lost. When planted in combination with other greens, silver foliage offers a helpful contrast. Silver-foliage plants are especially useful for “moonlight gardens” that are meant to be enjoyed at night.

These reasons explain why so many silver-leaved plants are highly prized, even when they produce no remarkable flowers. Here are some examples of how silver-foliage plants can work effectively in a landscape.

Silver King Artemisia (Artemisia ludoviciana 'Silver King')

‘Silver King’ artemisia grows two to three feet high. A rapid spreader, this plant may be a bit too vigorous for those worried about harboring aggressive plants. But if you want them to take over and fill in an area, you can divide artemisia in spring.

The attractive silvery foliage has become the base or accent for many a fall wreath. In the example shown here, notice how nicely the silvery foliage of ‘Silver King’ artemisia complements the yellow black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) in the background. But color is only part of the appeal of ‘Silver King.’ The foliage’s fine texture is also useful in providing contrast within a planting bed. Another popular artemisia cultivar is ‘Silver Queen,’ a more compact form.

Artemisia is suitable for USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9.

Lavender (Levandula angustifolia)

Gazing on the silver foliage of lavender (Levandula angustifolia) in winter is a delight. In cold climates, foliage plants such as this offer visual interest when colorful flowers, including lavender’s delicate indigo blooms, have long since vanished.

Levendula angustifolia, a member of the mint family, can be grown as a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8, but it is sometimes grown as an annual in colder climates. It grows one to three feet in height.

Russian Sage (Perovskia)

Russian sage (Perovskia) is a perennial flower. In the case of Russian sage, it’s the stems, even more so than the foliage, that inject silver color into your landscape design. The profusion of delicate flowers, its gray-green leaves, and its silver stems all work to give Russian sage an airy look.

Russian sage is perennial in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9, although zone 4 may require some winter protection. It grows up to four feet in height but often tends to sprawl.

Yellow Archangel (Lamium Galeobdolon)

Yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon) is a type of lamium with variegated foliage (silver flecks on a green background) and a yellow flower. Lamium plants are well suited for shade gardens. Although it is also known as dead nettle, don’t confuse lamium with the common weed, stinging nettle.

As shown here, the leaves of this ground cover are variegated, but the color that stands out is the silver. This plant is also known to be deer resistant. Lamium galeobdolon can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9. It is typically a ground cover plant but may grow as high as two feet.

Licorice (Helichrysum petiolare)

You can grow licorice plants (Helichrysum petiolare) as perennials in zones 9, 10, and 11. But further north than that, these viny, silver-leafed plants are treated as annuals. For this reason, it’s common to see licorice plants used in containers. The licorice plant is also called “trailing dusty miller.”

Licorice grows to no more than nine inches in height. It has white flowers, but they are not showy. This plant is almost exclusively grown as silver-leafed ground cover.

Silver-Leaved Poplar (Populus alba)

Silver-leaved poplar trees (Populus alba) derive their name from the silvery look of the underside of their foliage, which contrasts to the dark green on ​the top surface of the leaves. Unfortunately, silver-leaved poplar trees are considered invasive in North America, so planting them is not recommended. Poplar trees with more typical foliage color include Lombardy poplar and quaking aspen.

Silver Mound Artemisia (Artemisia schmidtiana 'Silver Mound')

Silver mound artemisia plants (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Silver Mound’), plants grow to about one foot high. The foliage is dense and silver-gray.

Silver mound is suited for USDA hardiness zones 3 to 7. The plant doesn't always keep a tightly mounded form, but it can be useful when planted in masses or in informal rock gardens.

Spotted Dead-Nettle (Lamium maculatum)

The spotted dead-nettle displays attractive silvery foliage, and a variety of different cultivars offer blooms of purple or white (such as ‘Purple Dragon’ and ‘White Nancy’). Most often grown for its silver foliage, spotted dead-nettle is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8. 

Most spotted dead-nettle cultivars remain less than one foot in height but spread as much as three feet, making them ideal as a ground cover. These plants are highly resistant to deer.

Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum)

The Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) are shade plants that have silver foliage punctuated with a purplish color. Unhappily, these plants are susceptible to rabbit damage. If you have bunnies turning your garden into a salad bar, they’ll definitely be heaping their plates with these beautiful ferns.

Japanese painted fern can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8. It grows to about 18 inches in height and does best in partial shade to deep shade environments.

Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum)

Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) has silvery foliage that is just as impressive as its snow-white blooms, which appear in June. This flow is an eye-catching addition to any garden.

Snow-in-summer can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 7. It grows no more than one foot high and is most often used as a ground cover in sunny areas or in rock gardens.

Siberian Bugloss or Jack Frost Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla)

Jack Frost Brunnera (also commonly called Siberian bugloss) is named for the frosty appearance of its silver leaves. The much taller Italian bugloss, incidentally, is an entirely different, though related, plant.

Brunnera macrophylla is a perennial plant with blue flowers that bloom in spring. The blue flowers are reminiscent of those on forget-me-nots, but the green and silver leaves of the plant make a statement throughout the growing season.

Siberian bugloss is perennial in zones 3 to 8. It grows to 18 inches in height and is usually planted in groups as a ground cover in partially shaded areas.

Wooly Thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus)

Wooly thyme’s Latin name, Thymus pseudolanuginosus, refers to the wool-like feel of its leaves. The leaves are gray-green, but the silver hairs on the foliage also give wooly thyme a silvery, fuzzy look.

This is a creeping ground cover plant, growing to only about three inches high. Pale pink flowers appear in June and July. It is perennial in USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8.

Lamb's Ears (Stachys byzantina)

Lamb’s ear is so named for the shape of the leaves—large, oval, and fuzzy. This plant can spread quite a bit—a virtue if you seek a ground cover, a problem if you see it as invasive. Lamb’s ear is valued primarily for its interesting leaves, not its flowers. But for those interested, it sends up tall flower spikes with small purple blossoms from May to July.

Lamb's ears can grow as high as 18 inches with a similar spread. It is perennial in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8 and grows best in full sun.

Mullein (Verbascum thapsis)

Bearing tall spikes of yellow flowers, common mullein (Verbascum thapsis), has silvery leaves. You’ll often see mullein plants growing wild along roadsides. It grows well in poor soils where other landscape plants struggle. The yellow flowers, although not terribly showy, appear from June to September.

Mullein can grow as high as seven feet in the right location. It is perennial in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9. It is most commonly used in sunny borders and cottage gardens.

Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria)

Rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) is named for its blooms, but its silver leaves are also an asset. Rose campion tops out at about three feet in height. It is perennial in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8.

Rose campion is often planted in masses and may be used as a ground cover on large properties. It also makes a good specimen plant in mixed gardens, where it provides contrasting color.

Dusty Miller/Silver Ragwort (Senecio cineraria)

Dusty miller (also called silver ragwort) sometimes is identified by one of its popular cultivars— (Senecio cineraria 'Silver Dust'). Whether known as dusty miller, silver ragwort, or silver dust, this plant has striking silver-white foliage but is equally valuable for the delicate texture it lends to a garden. The fern-like leaves have deep indentations along the edges, contrasting strikingly with plants with smooth-edged leaves.

Dusty miller is perennial in USDA hardiness zones 7 to 10 but is often grown as an annual in colder climates. It grows to a maximum height of 18 inches with a spread of about 12 inches. It is most often used in mixed garden beds or as a border in sunny or partially shady areas.

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