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Colorful foliage has started to grow on me

KENNEWICK -- I've found that over time personal likes and dislikes can change. I used to dislike any plants with "abnormally" colored foliage.

In my opinion landscape plants were supposed to have dark green leaves during the growing season, not chartreuse, yellow, purple, brown, red or orange leaves. Now I'm starting to change my mind.

Except for repeat bloomers, flowering shrubs provide color interest in the landscape over a relatively short period of time. The rest of the season they don't provide much pizzazz unless they have a contrasting leaf color, interesting texture or bright fall color.

Last year, I planted a Sutherland Gold elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) with bright golden yellow, finely dissected leaves. It's on the northeast side of the house and it seems to glow in the shade with it's cheery foliage.

An elderberry with dark purple leaves or a Japanese maple with red leaves would not light up the bed like that cut-leaved golden elderberry does. This plant was developed in Canada and will probably perform best in our area if protected from afternoon sun and heat. I can't wait for it to get a little larger and start producing bright red berries.

In another bed with full sun and a southwestern exposure, I have a number of plants with plain green leaves. To liven it up a bit, I planted one Emerald 'n Gold wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei) with green and gold variegated leaves. For more contrast in the bed, I'm replacing a plant that died over the winter with a new spirea, Double Play Big Bang (Spirarea japonica). When it first leafs out in the spring the leaves are tinted orange, turning to bright yellow in the summer and then to gold in the fall. It also produces large pink flower clusters in summer.

Hopefully, Double Play Big Bang (2 to 3 feet) will be able to endure the heat and sun in that location. There's also the smaller Double Play Gold (16 to 24 inches) with yellow leaves and pink flowers that I could consider.

These are two of the newest additions to a number of other yellow to gold leaved spiraea already available, such as Golden Elf, Golden Globe, Goldmound, Goldflame and Golden Sunrise.

I considered planting a yellow leaved Caryopteris (Caryopteris incana), aka bluebeard or blue mist, but I have two other Caryopteris in the same landscape bed. They have green leaves and their bright blue flowers add a note of color to the landscape late in the season.

They're very easy care plants with pruning them back almost to the ground every spring. Sunshine Blue (3 to 4 feet) and Lil' Miss Sunshine (3 feet) with bright yellow leaves and deep blue-purple flowers are the newest of the yellow leaved Caryopteris, improvements over the older Worcester Gold.

There are other shrubs and perennials which can liven up landscape and garden beds with yellow, golden or chartreuse foliage. Check to see which ones at your favorite local nursery appeal to you. Before you buy,

I have two cautions for you. First, some of these plants may not bear the intensity of exposure to full sun in our area. Check with the nursery to see if the plants you're considering fit well with your situation. Second, a little splash of yellow can go a long way. Too many yellow, chartreuse, or differently colored plants will create a busy landscape that looks a little sick.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.

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