Nicolette Goff is a watercolourist, writer, and dedicated gardener. Her books, articles, and paintings reveal her love of nature.
Add some elegance and contrast to your flower beds this year by including plants with silvery, blue or gray foliage. Interspersed among the brighter greens and colorful blossoms, these plants seem to harmonize the garden elements. Many of the silvery plants come into their own in September and October as perennial flowers and foliage fades.
Why Do Some Plants Have a Silvery Sheen?
Their leaves seem smooth, but have minute hairs that make a downy covering, giving them a greyed or silvery tone. The presence of these hairs has helped them survive in hot and dry conditions, preserving moisture and trapping any rain or dew. They also reflect more of the sun's heat.
Many of these silvery-leaved plants have been adapted to our home gardens, and are great xeriscape plants. However, they will thrive in flower beds as well, as long as the soil has good drainage.
12 Silvery Foliage Plants for Your Garden
|Common Name||Botanical Name||Characteristics|
hairy gray-green foliage, blue flowers
silvery gray fleecy leaves
Snow in summer
small silvery leaves and masses of white small flowers
showy magenta flowers and silver green foliage
Fine white hairs give the leaves a fuzzy silver appearance
gray aromatic foliage, lavender blue flowers
similar foliage to lamb's ear, but with tall flower spikes
filigree silvery foliage, sprawling character
fine silvery green foliage, bright yellow button flowers
foliage variegated with lime green, yellow or white
spiky thistle like flowers, prickly stiff greyblue foliage
narrow silver scented gray-green leaves.
Artemisias have a huge variety of species, from low ground covers to tall bushy plants. Typically they have a fine filigree foliage, silvery or frosty green. The dwarf spreading ones are good rock garden or edging plants, while other tall species can fill in the back of a bed.
Sometimes referred to as wormwood, the taller A. absinthium grows 3 feet tall and wide. Its shrubby branches do not die back over winter, but may look tattered. Cut back the whole plant in spring to reshape it. As it grows throughout the summer, it may need pruning or even tying up to keep it from sprawling.
Another artemisia, 'Powis Castle' has a bushy mass of foliage that spreads 2 feet tall and wide. Prune it hard in either fall or spring, and it will come back every year.
Silver King artemisia also grows two to three feet tall, and can spread aggressively. It is a good variety if you need to fill an area fairly quickly.
Artemisias can be easily divided in spring.
Stachys or "Lamb's Ears"
Stachys species are commonly referred to as lamb's ears, with velvety leaves shaped like a lambs ears, and growing on opposing sides of the square stem. The spikes of tubular flowers can be white, yellow, or shades of red.
These plants require well-drained soil and full sun to thrive. They can be propagated from greenwood cuttings in late spring.
The hybrid specie (Stachys byzantina) is generally smaller, with short spires of flowers that open to show rosy-purple color. The variety named 'Silver Carpet' is a good edging plant, covering large areas fairly quickly. Its silvery foliage stays dense and compact all season.
Wow Factor With Majestic Verbascum
Verbascum species, relatives of the tall common roadside mullein, have the typical upright spires of flowers rising out of a rosette of silvery and furry leaves. The giant silver mullein (bombyciferum), has silvery-white felt-like leaves that form a large rosette the first year. In the following summer, a tall spire of irregularly blooming yellow flowers rises from the leaves. This is a spectacular specimen plant.
Be warned that the fine seeds can sprout quickly and take over.
Verbascum stems bear many flowers, ranging in colour from white, yellow, pink, red or even purple. The profusion of flowers appear over a long period, even though the individual blossoms are short lived.
Like most fuzzy leaved plants, verbascum prefer sunny spots to partial shade. They do best in less fertile and well-drained soil.
Beautiful Edging With Russian Sage
Perovskia, or Russian sage, looks a bit like a cross between lavender and artemisia. It has fine gray green scented leaves and a profusion of small lavender-blue flowers. The long stems are almost white, and show feathery silver-green leaves.
Over the course of the summer, it will form a loose shrub that can spread three to four feet. Planted as a specimen, it may need support to prevent it from sprawling over. Judicious pruning in spring or early summer will keep the size in check.
Be warned that Russian sage spreads by runners, so can take over an area. If new plants spring up they can simply be pulled up or dug up and replanted.
These plants thrive in any well-drained soil, and once established can tolerate short periods of drought. In colder climates, mound soil over the base to protect the plant each fall, and in spring cut the branches back to about 8 inches.
Bright Sunny Santolina
Santolina is another silver-gray foliage plant to consider for the garden. It forms an aromatic bush of fuzzy silver-white foliage and mustard-yellow buttons of flowers that contrast well with dark green or purplish foliage plants.
It is often used as an edging, hedge, or in a knot garden. It has a strong camphor aroma when brushed against, so deer and rabbits will avoid it.
Like other silvery plants, santolina does not tolerate heavy over-watered soil. It is drought tolerant, and needs little watering once established.
Santolina is short-lived, and will need replacing after about five years. However, it is easily propagated by taking 3–6 inch cuttings in fall and potting them over winter in a temperate spot. It can also be propagated by layering—staking a branch to the soil so that roots can form, creating a new plant.
Cut the branches back in fall or early spring to keep them from splitting. The branches dry well, and can be woven into aromatic wreaths.
Sea Holly: No, It's Not a Thistle!
Sea holly (Eryngiums) bear small spiky thistle like flowers on sturdy upright stems from July to September, and have grey/blue prickly foliage. Eryngium giganteum ‘Silver Ghost’ is especially silvery. Their unique shapes, texture, and colors and long lasting purple to blue flowers make them a favourite for many gardeners. Most are started from seed, and young seedlings are easily transplanted
These plants are useful plants for rock gardens, areas with poor soil, and little precipitation but full sun. They are drought tolerant, as the plants have a long taproot. Choose to plant them in the spots in the garden where the hose won’t reach.
They will add contrast and textural interest in large herbaceous borders with well-draining soil. Their silvers and blues blend well with many colours, especially yellow and orange, so pair sea holly with zinnias, coreopsis and cosmos.
Dusty Miller: A Perfect Container Plant
Dusty Miller or Senecio cineraria ‘Silver Dust’ is a tender shrub, usually grown as a half-hardy annual foliage plant. Its young leaves are slightly lobed, a bit like oak leaves, but as the plants mature they become deeply cut, much paler in colour and are covered in a silvery grey fleece.
This plant, sometimes referred to as silver ragwort, is perfect for growing at the front of a border. As part of a container display, it works particularly well with bold-coloured plants, as its foliage contrasts well.
For best results grow Dusty Miller in moist but well-drained soil in full sun. To encourage new foliage growth, prevent flowering by regularly removing the stems. Senecio cineraria is easily raised from seed and is best treated as an annual—alternatively growing in containers which you can move indoors in autumn.
Dusty Miller is perennial in USDA hardiness zones 7–10 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.
Rose Campion: Magenta and Gray
Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria) is a rather leggy, short-lived perennial with clumps of silver felty leaves and long-lasting magenta flowers. It is popular with pollinators, and both the brilliantly coloured flowers and the long silvery stems are outstanding in a flower bed. It does well in most well-drained soils but produces the best leaf colour in dry soil.
Rose campion is easy to grow, attractive, and generally trouble-free. You’ll want to dead-head this plant frequently as it self-seeds prolifically. Once flowering has finished, cut back the plant so only the basal foliage remains.
Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) has silvery foliage that is just as impressive as its snow-white blooms. This plant is an eye-catching addition to any garden.
Masses of small white flowers appear in June, giving it the common name of snow-in-summer. Cut the flower heads off after flowering is done, and clean up to prevent seeding in areas you may not want it. You will be left with a pretty carpet of silvery foliage.
Snow in summer grows no more than a foot high and is most often used as a ground cover in sunny areas or in rock gardens. It prefers well-draining soil and can tolerate short periods of drought.
A List of Silver Foliage Plants
Silvery foliage plants can take on many roles in a garden. They can add light and brightness to an otherwise monochromatic area. They can stand alone as interesting specimen plants. Others can bring contrast to colourful baskets and containers.
Make this your year to add these interesting plants to your garden.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Nicolette Goff