Top 10 Container Foliage Plants

Small space gardening is a cinch when you use these colorful foliage plants to make all your containers perfect 10s.

Foliage plants are the ultimate accessories for container and small space gardens. Sure, you can still have a lovely little display with blooms alone, but adding striking leaves and grasses here and there really gives your containers new life. Try a few of these Top 10 foliage plants in your containers this season.

Rob Cardillo
Fountain grass
(Pennisetum setaceum, Zones 8-11)

Fountain grass

(Pennisetum setaceum, Zones 8-11)

Fountain grass is grown mostly as an annual and peaks in midsummer to early autumn. It has pinkish spikes and narrow panicles. Growing up to 3 feet tall, it prefers full sun.

Why we love it: The fine foliage adds texture to the garden and comes in green, reddish-purple and new colorful varieties like Fireworks (shown here).

Rob Cardillo
Peacock plant
(Calathea, Zones 10 and 11, annual elsewhere)

Peacock plant

(Calathea, Zones 10 and 11, annual elsewhere)

Here’s a case of an indoor plant moving outside. Peacock plant has striking 4- to 8-inch leaves; the plant can eventually grow up to 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. It grows best in warm areas with partial to full shade.

Why we love it: We admit the name won us over right away. But any plant that likes shade and looks this good is OK in our book.

Rob Cardillo
Golden creeping Jenny
(Lysimachia nummularia, Zones 3-9)

Golden creeping Jenny

(Lysimachia nummularia, Zones 3-9

Creeping Jenny, also known as moneywort, includes the cultivar Aurea, with golden leaves and yellow late-spring-to-early-summer flowers. It does fine in either sun or shade, though it prefers a mix. Do watch where it spreads, however: It might try to creep into your lawn.

Why we love it: A little goes a long way. You don’t need much creeping Jenny to make a big impact.

Banana plant
(Musa, hardiness varies with species)

Banana plant

(Musa, hardiness varies with species)

Even though it would be an annual in many parts of North America, most people don’t buy a banana plant to have for just one year. Use it to add drama to your containers in summer and then to bring a burst of green to the inside of your home in winter. It thrives best in warm conditions, in sun to partial shade.

Why we love it: The height—up to 6 feet—is wonderful for containers. You can grow a lot of plants beneath it.

Rob Cardillo
Sweet potato vine
(Ipomoea batatas, annual)

Sweet potato vine

(Ipomoea batatas, annual)

A close relative of morning glories, sweet potato vines have the same climbing habit, growing up to 20 feet. You’ll easily find a cultivar to meet your needs: Blackie comes in near-black shades that go with every other color, Sweet Caroline Bronze (pictured here) sports gorgeous caramel tones and Tricolor boasts shades of green, white and pink.

Why we love it: The foliage complements a wide range of flowers, and the robust nature of many varieties means that one plant goes a long way toward filling out a container.

Rush
(Juncus, Zones 3-9)

Rush

(Juncus, Zones 3-9)

Gardeners have been using rush in containers for decades, and it’s not hard to see why: It’s a bit grassy and a little thready, and it seems to have a mind of its own. Rush is a perennial that thrives in wet areas. It grows up to 2 feet tall and likes sun to partial shade.

Why we love it: Corkscrew rush is a must-try plant for containers. Its wild foliage is guaranteed to add personality to your space.

Rob Cardillo
Solomon’s seal
(Polygonatum, Zones 3-9)

Solomon’s seal

(Polygonatum, Zones 3-9)

A perennial favorite in the garden, it’s now an elegant choice for containers as well. This plant has beautiful arching foliage with tiny flowers that peek out from under the leaves. It grows 6 inches to 3 feet in partially shaded areas.

Why we love it: Even though the flowers are short-lived, they have a delicate look that’s hard to resist. For pink blooms, try Polygonatum stewartianum. For the traditional white blossoms and variegated foliage, pick Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’.

Papyrus
(Cyperus papyrus, Zones 9-11)

Papyrus

(Cyperus papyrus, Zones 9-11)

With its wild, bushy heads on stately stems, papyrus adds something special to a container. This tropical plant loves heat and humidity. The dwarf variety (Cyperus profiler) grows in Zones 7 or 8 to 11, while most others can be outside year-round only in warm climates. For these, grow as an annual, or winter them indoors.

Why we love it: Whether you grow the dwarf variety, which reaches 3 feet, or the taller ones that can get up to 6, papyrus makes an eye-catching centerpiece for containers.

Croton
(Codiaeum, annual)

Croton

(Codiaeum, annual)

While it’s technically a perennial in warm climates, most of North America grows croton as an annual in containers. You won’t find a more colorful foliage option, often with six or more hues on a single plant. This tropical favorite grows up to 4 feet and does best in sun to partial shade.

Why we love it: What’s not to love? The colors are -stunning, and you can bring it indoors in colder months. Look for it in the tropicals section of your nursery.

Rob Cardillo
Vinca
(Vinca, Zones 4-11)

Vinca

(Vinca, Zones 4-11)

Our list wouldn’t be complete without vinca. The ultimate trailing container plant, it looks good with just about anything. Grow it in sun to partial shade for best results, and expect it to reach 3 to 6 feet. While vinca is sometimes grown as an annual, look for information on specific varieties. Also note that vinca is invasive in some areas.

Why we love it: It’s easy to find. With some container plants, it can be hard to track down the right variety or cultivar, but vinca is readily available at most nurseries.

Stacy Tornio
Stacy Tornio is a freelance writer and author with more than 15 gardening and outdoorsy books. She tries to get as much sunshine as possible and is currently on a quest to see all the national parks in North America.