Colorful foliage plants enhance late-summer, fall landscapes
By ALLEN OWINGS
LSU AgCenter horticulturist
HAMMOND — Popular foliage landscape plants from the 1970s and 1980s are being brought back again with the introduction of great new varieties. They include the once-popular alternantheras, also called Joseph’s coat, and copperleaf or copper plants.
New varieties of Joseph’s coat show up every year. Some are best for shade, and some are best for sun. Foliage colors generally are red, yellow, pink or white, often combined with green. Short varieties include the very popular Little Ruby (a Louisiana Super Plants selection), Red Threads, Summer Flame and the white-and-green variegated Snowball. You also can find some dwarf chartreuse varieties for full sun.
Taller varieties include the popular Brazilian Red Hot along with Purple Knight and Gail’s Choice.
The more popular group now is the Party Series from Itsaul Plants in Georgia — Party Time, Crème de Menthe, Mai Tai, Grenadine, Cognac, Raspberry Rum and Mimosa.
Copperleaf plants are typically tall and shrubby, thriving in full to partial sun. These can persist through the winter in lower portions of south Louisiana. The foliage shows shades of chocolate, reddish orange, red, green, pink, yellow or chartreuse. And the leaves may be fringed or crinkled, depending on the variety. This tough plant grows 3 to 5 feet tall and will perform all summer with little care.
Copper plants are great foliage plants for the landscape. They really put on a fantastic show in late summer and fall. You can choose from a tremendous number of varieties — some old, some new. Proven Winners has introduced several the past few years, and we also have a number that are industry standards in Louisiana, such as Louisiana Red and Opelousas Red.
The LSU AgCenter is collecting and evaluating copper plants. We have more than 30 varieties thus far. Some that you’ll see in garden centers include Bourbon Street, Jungle Dragon, Tahiti, Curly Q and Bronze.
Copper plants planted early in the year can be in 4-inch pots. If you plant them now, however, try to get 1- to 3-gallon containers.
In addition to copper plants and Joseph’s coat, foliage from coleus can add abundant color to your warm-season sun or shade garden. Brilliant colors are available these days, and today’s coleus outperform the coleus of yesterday.
Shade varieties include Wizard, Rainbow and the Kong series. The smaller-growing and less flowering prolific Kong Jr. will be on the market in 2014. Magilla perilla is a great companion plant for coleus in the summer and fall landscape.
For late summer through the fall, add ornamental peppers to your landscape beds and containers. These are a unique, specialty-type plant. They are mostly sold in the fall and have appealing characteristics such as colorful berries and foliage. Ornamental peppers produce colorful fruit — which actually are peppers — in a wide range of sizes, forms and colors. Purple, orange, yellow, red, brown, blue and white are common. Multiple colors can appear on the same plant.
Flowering on ornamental peppers is not obvious — the fruits are the desirable feature. Plants can reach heights from 8 inches to 3 feet, depending on the variety. Green foliage is common, but variegated foliage and purplish-black leaves are also available.
Popular varieties of ornamental peppers available at garden centers in late summer and early fall include Chilly Chili, Purple Flash, Black Pearl and the Explosive series. These are not cold-hardy. They are warm-season annuals usually used for three to four months of foliage and berry color in landscapes, containers or patio gardens.
Other great foliage plants for the fall landscape include the new fountain grasses. Varieties include Fireworks, Sky Rocket and Cherry Sparkler. Also, the many new varieties of caladiums, canna, gingers, Persian shield and ornamental sweet potatoes make for attractive landscape beds whether planted on their own or in combination with annual and perennial flowers.
You can see more about work being done in landscape horticulture by visiting the LSU AgCenter Hammond Research Station website at www.lsuagcenter.com/hammond.