Some plants with yellow foliage just look sick. Others look great through the cooler spring, but fade horribly in the heat of summer. In any case, I suppose that yellow foliage should be used in moderation, and certainly there are superb gardeners who would not stoop to plant anything with a yellow leaf. On the other hand, I am not too good to plant anything that catches my eye, and if it’s overdone, what do I care? So long as it suits my eye, I’m happy.
The Golden Full Moon Japanese maple is the aristocrat of plants with yellow foliage. I see that it is warned to keep it out from direct sun, but this is planted with slight late afternoon protection without a problem.
Though the list of plants with yellow foliage in this garden is long, they are spaced far enough apart that I don’t think it’s distracting or overly bright. You might, but it’s not your garden, and you should choose as many or as few as you prefer in your space. No doubt, there are many more plants with yellow foliage than I’ve planted, but you’ll agree that this is an excellent start.
Sun King aralia is extraordinary for the shade garden, though the gardener should be prepared for it to grow surprisingly large (to 3 feet tall and wide). While many yellow foliage plants fade without sunlight, Sun King keeps its color and is troubled only by too much sun. Even if you despise yellow foliage, this is one to consider since it works magically to bring brightness into the shade.
There are several common yellow leafed Blue Mist shrubs. This, I think is Worcester Gold, which holds its summer color as well as many of the newer introductions (and all fade to some extent).
Ogon spirea has recently been given a trade name Mellow Yellow, but it’s the same plant that’s been around for years. Ogon flowers early in spring, and then the narrow leaves remain colorful through late summer. Ogon is not a well mannered shrub, so it must be maintained regularly or relegated to the back of the shrub border.
Sunshine ligustrum retains its bright yellow through the year. In one severe winter it remained nearly evergreen, and the next it dropped every leaf. While it is not considered cold hardy below zero, this has proven not to be a problem in my garden.
Canyon Creek abelia fades a bit in summer, and there are superior varieties available that remain more compact, with better coloration. Its flowers are superior to most abelia varieties.
Ogon winter hazel is an early flowering oddity that offers an alternative to the green leafed version. It flowers a week earlier than the green leafed shrub that is a few feet away.
Aucuba works well in shaded spots, though it grows best win deep, moist soil rather than in dry shade. I must remember to spray to protect it from deer through the winter months.
There are countless (I think) yellow leafed coral bells (Heuchera). Many are very good, though some coral bell introductions (red and yellow leafed) have proved not to be as sturdy.
‘Little Honey’ is a yellow leafed Oakleaf hydrangea. Its foliage spots more readily than most green leafed varieties. The jury is out whether this will be a good choice, other than as a novelty, which is okay by me. Deer will go far out of their way to nibble this foliage which must taste much better than green leafed hydrangeas.
Japanese Forest grass is slow to get started, but after a few years it is likely to be a favorite. I have grown tired of many grasses, but not the graceful Forest grass. Occasionally, I’ve planted Hake grasses with other foliage colors which I’ve not been as impressed with. I think that the yellow Forest grass is one that even haters of yellow foliage will enjoy.
Sweet Kate spiderwort comes and goes through the summer. The foliage will fade horribly on occasion, and if deer don’t eat it I cut the foliage to the ground and it quickly regrows.
Alternately, I consider this seedling hosta horrid and sometimes a treasure. I cannot imagine what combination of the garden’s hostas produced this result, but other seedling hostas in the garden are blue-green.
In shade the large leafed Sum and Substance is not quite as yellow as when it has a bit of sun. This is also in dry shade, so leaves are a bit smaller than in richer ground.
‘Celestial Shadow’ dogwood has variegated green and yellow foliage. It is far superior to the yellow variegated native dogwood ‘Cherokee Sunset’ which is not worth the bother.
There are several golden cypresses in the garden, and the brightness of all vary through the year.
There are more, but now, I suspect this is quite enough yellow for one sitting.