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Container Plants You Can Grow For Their Foliage

Updated: Aug 2, 2023

Did you hear? Foliage is in!

With the rise in popularity of container gardening, we’re looking at how plants beautify our spaces in a whole different way.

ferns up close

Gardening used to be all about flowers (not that we don’t love flowering plants, we do) but one of the trends for this year we’ve seen is more gardeners leaning into plants with colorful foliage for decoration.

That makes perfect sense – flowering plants usually need more sun and bloom inconsistently, which can be frustrating for indoor gardeners (who are usually beginners).

Foliage plants are long lasting, low maintenance plants that have decorative, colorful and interesting leaves. They can create beautiful garden spaces, introducing a range of textures, shapes, sizes and contrasting colors for aesthetics.

A black woman hanging flowers in a nursery

Foliage plants are not just decorative – they can be used as hedges/fences. Some foliage plants are herbs and veggies too.

Here are 9 interesting containing plants to grow for their foliage:

1. Sweet potato vine

Sweet potato vine in a garden

Potatoes are one of the most delicious and versatile plants on earth. Yep, we said it.

Did you know that you can grow potatoes in containers or even purely for decoration in water? They produce a beautiful cascade of purple, bronze, gold or ultraviolet foliage. You could plant it as an accent plant, to display contrast between two plants, or as a standalone ornamental with space for the leaves to trail.

Sweet potatoes will grow anywhere, from full sun to full shade, but if you’re planting them for food, they have to get at least 6 hours of sun every day. If you are growing in full sun, ensure that the soil doesn’t dry out. If growing in full shade, take extra care to regulate moisture as too much moisture will make plants rot and die.

For growing the vines in water, change out the water every week to keep it fresh and prevent any smells.

2. Coral bells (heucheras)

Coral bells (heucheras)

These plants can be found in a variety of colors like purple, green, bronze and ultraviolet. They grow well in shade and require moist, well-drained soil, enriched with compost or an organic fertilizer. Water often and deadhead blooms to encourage them to get bushier.

The ones in ultraviolet shades do very well as accent plants.

3. Boston ferns

Boston fern in front of a white brick wall.

Boston ferns are minimalistic, but striking for a modern touch to your indoors to a homely porch plant. It does well in containers and overwinters well indoors.

The trick with ferns is to start with an airy soil mix and maintain humidity during the hotter months. In winter, bring Boston ferns indoors and expect some dormancy or leaf drops.

4. Coleus

Green and purple varieties of Coleus

Coleus is probably one of the easiest decorative plants to grow in containers – and they come in a stunning variety from yellow, green, russet, red to vibrant oranges. It grows fast and is the perfect foliage plant for your container.

They are perennials, which means that they do not go dormant during the colder months so you can still have some color in your garden when most plants are dropping leaves. What’s more, they’re ridiculously easy to propagate and care for!

5. Ornamental kale

Ornamental kale up close

Yes, you read right-ornamental kale!

Get the goodness of kale with the decorative effect of a rainbow of colors that will add drama to your vegetable garden. Ornamental kale is hybridized to look flowery. These usually have a green color with hints of different shades of red, purple and a creamy white. Their rosette shaped leaves grow wide and are showstoppers in any garden.

6. Rex begonias

Rex begonias

These beautiful plants are ideal for shady spots, their silvery russet leaves pop in the shade. They should not be planted in full sun so the leaves don’t burn. They’re one of the rare ornamental plants that will grow under fluorescent lights.

For their care, they are slow growers that appreciate consistent moisture and humidity, but don’t like being wet.

7. Persian shield

Beautiful Persian shield up close

Persian seeds are stunning, easy to grow plants, low maintenance and look good in any kind of container arrangement.

Their almost iridescent ultraviolet color are show stoppers, especially when paired with bright colored flowers. Plant in partial sun and keep soil consistently moist.

8. Caladiums

Red, green and white Caladiums

Also known as angel wings, these summer bulbs grow big, bold, luscious and waxy leaves in a variety of stunning colors, pink, lilac and silver on green.

They prefer a moderate, shady spot with partial sunlight, high humidity and regular watering. Caladiums have a dormancy period, but if you keep the bulbs and store them properly, you can replant them when the season gets warmer.

9. African violets

An African violet plant

These are one of the easiest plants to grow, and their small violet flowers and large leaf clusters make a statement on elevated surfaces. They require indirect to bright light and watering whenever the soil feels dry to touch.

What are your favorite foliage plants? Share with us!


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