Big, Bold, Tropical Foliage Plants

Brilliant crotons and cascading Scaevola aemula ‘Blue Fan’ look striking in this container planting.

Big, bold, tropical plants look amazing in summer gardens and large containers and drink up the summer heat and humidity. Ornamental bananas, exotic elephant ears, upright sansevierias, strappy cordyline, and colorful croton are typically grown only indoors or way down South, but they thrive in any place that’s steamy. Placing them in the right spot in summer with the bedding plant companions is part of the fun.

Big Leaves

Codiaeum variegatum

The multi-colored visual pop of croton (Codiaeum variegatum) leaves look good in any bold planting. The Southeast Asian shrub likes it as hot and humid as it gets and looks great in partial shade or sun. Provide it with quality, well-drained potting soil (Black Gold All-Purpose Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE®) and regular water, it will perform well. There are many varieties with leaves that vary in color and size. (Visit the Croton Society webpage to learn more.) The manageable size of croton makes it a good plant to pair in containers with colorful bloomers, such as Lantana camera, cascading Scaevola aemula ‘Blue Fan’, and tropical Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, which has brightly colored disc-shaped flowers.

Cordyline fruticosa 'Kiwi'
Cordyline fruticosa ‘Kiwi’

Tropicals with bold, strappier leaves include the West Pacific native Cordyline, African Sansevieria, and corn plant (Dracaena fragrans). Plant these in beds or large pots for a dramatic impact. The more colorful the foliage, the better. Cordyline fruticosa ‘Kiwi’ has a soft but notable color with its pink-, cream-, and green-striped foliage. For pretty gold and green variegated foliage, choose Dracaena fragrans ‘Golden Coast’ with its leaves striped with gold, dark green, and medium green. The nearly vertical leaves of the drought-tolerant Sansevieria trifasciata look great on their own in a pot or paired with a cascading accompaniment of plants at the base, like Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’ or creeping sedums. 

Bigger Leaves

Elephant ear or ornamental taro (Colocasia esculenta), originates from Southeast Asia and has big leaves that come in lots of attractive colors. Choose extra colorful purple-black cultivars and cheerful chartreuse or gold variants. Bicolors, such as the green-leaved, purple-speckled ‘Mojito’, also make a big garden statement.

Colocasia esculenta ‘Mojito’

Elephant ears are moisture-loving and grow well in wet soils if given the opportunity. They make excellent container specimens and should be planted in an ultra-organic potting soil with a high water-holding capacity, such as Black Gold® Moisture Supreme Container Mix with RESiLIENCE.


Biggest Leaves

Gigantic-leaved plants require tons of space but look spectacular and fun if properly placed in the landscape. Add one plant to a single pot. Abyssinian red banana (Ensete maurelii), with its broad, reddish green leaves, or the massive giant elephant ear (Colocasia gigantea), with its 5-6′ leaves, command visual attention and are best planted where big, focal statements are needed. An open patio area or broad, open

Ensete maurelii

fence line or border would be perfect. The 6-8′, banana canna (Canna ‘Musifolia’), which has reddish leaves much like those of Ensete maurelii, is another impressive easy-to-grow garden plant. Grow these in full to partial sun alongside finer-leaved, colorful companions. Tall amaranths, purple-red-leaved Hibiscus acetocellus, and formidable ornamental grasses are all great choices.

Grow these bold ornamentals if you are seeking to fill space fast and want your garden to feel like a tropical paradise. Once the threat of frost has passed you can plant them outdoors, but don’t expect them to take off until the warm, humid weather of the summer months begins. Then, watch the magic!

Colorful Foliage Plants for Elegant Autumn Designs


Coleus Low - Maureen Gilmer
Coleus: Use annual coleus for incredible color and variegation in fall compositions.
Shield Low - Maureen Gilmer
Shield: My favorite, the Persian shield is the best purple foliage pant for fall and winter color.

Now that the humidity has passed and it’s okay to go outside, why not spice up your patio or entry with some cutting edge color. This time forget the flowers and try colorful foliage plants that bear beautiful leaves with vivid designs. These are bright and brilliant without waiting for blooms, and when the cold of winter sets in they are easy to bring indoors to brighten rooms during the dark days to come.

So dump out those worn out summer pots and lay in some bags of Black Gold Natural and Organic Potting Soil Plus Fertilizer and start turning your patio or front entry into an elegant autumn design statement. The controlled-release fertilizer in this soil will keep your fall-planted compositions carefree and well-fed for the next few months.

Persian Shield

I’ve fallen in love with Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus), my favorite new plant with its rich purple leaves and dramatic venation. These are truly fabulous in low light or bright sun and can develop into large plants in a short time. While not particularly frost tolerant, they make a superior interior accent too, so I’m inclined to spend more for a strong houseplant later one. You can plant this one alone or combine it with succulent sanseveria, the old mother-in-law’s tongue. The two together are decidedly modern in sleek containers or look exotic and tropical in a bamboo basket cachepot.


Persian shield can also be grouped into a large color bowl with coleus. This is one annual that has exploded from a few colors to a whole rainbow in just a few years. When you choose an exotic pink to match that purple shield leaf, you’ve got an outstanding focal point for the patio. Later on it comes in to winter over in that sunny corner by the window.

Heuchera Low - Maureen Gilmer
Heuchera: Buy brightly colored heucheras today, then plant them into the spring garden later.


Whenever you can buy a perennial that performs as well as an annual, you get top value for your dollar. Heucheras are another plant that’s exploded as a foliage accent. These small mounts of brightly colored leaves in a rainbow of hues are equally fabulous in pots as they are in the border. They are renowned for retaining their leaves throughout mild winters, so in pots they give you a long span of performance. Plant vivid heuchera varieties into your fall foliage compositions and you’ll have much larger specimens by spring to transplant into the garden.

Dwarf Fountain Grass

A final option that adds fine texture and animation to larger autumn pots is dwarf purple fountain grass varieties. These smaller hybrids with their maroon foliage will be in bloom by early fall, and their arching stems that bear fuzzy lavender-tone blooms sway and nod in the autumn breezes. Use one as the center piece of a rusty, iron pedestal urn with the dark beauty of heuchera, coleus and Persian shield for an upscale, eye popping display to welcome visitors over holidays and special occasions. Plant a pair of them to flank your front door, sheltered under the porch or at your entry steps to create dynamic symmetry.

No matter how you mix and match, these colorful bedding plants provide fabulous foliage and are always a winner. They’re all pest and disease resistant so they don’t need coddling. There are no flowers to snip off so just enjoy the foliage until nights become too cold. Then bring these mature creations into your home to keep those vivid leaves happy and healthy all winter long.

Grass Low - Maureen Gilmer
Grass Low: Dwarf purple fountain grass makes an outstanding center point for pedestal urns.