Some Golden Plants Have Midas Touch

Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A.  |  4/19/2005 10:28:55 PM

Get It Growing

Get It Growing News For 05/14/04

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

One of my favorite poems by Robert Frost is "Nothing Gold Can Stay."

Nature's first green is gold,

Her hardest hue to hold.

Her early leafs a flower;

But only so an hour.

Then leaf subsides to leaf.

So Eden sank to grief,

So dawn goes down to day.

Nothing gold can stay.

I’m sure this short poem has many meanings on various levels, but I most enjoy the reference to the incredible beauty of new spring growth and how swiftly it passes. It certainly speaks to me now as summer’s heat makes spring just a fading fond memory.

It dawned on me recently, however, that horticulturists have made this poem inaccurate. The brilliant golden green of new spring foliage can stay. Through the selection of cultivars with foliage that stays a brilliant yellow-green all summer, horticulturists have developed plants that extend the spring feeling through the growing season.

As time goes by, more and more plants with chartreuse, yellow-green or golden foliage have become available. For some gardeners it takes a little getting used to. The yellow-green plants that some gardeners find beautiful may simply look anemic and starved for nutrients to others.

Still, the foliage of these uniquely colored plants can provide a bright note in the landscape, and they furnish a wonderful contrast to the medium-green to dark-green foliage of most plants. It seems you see more of these plants available at area nurseries and from mail-order catalogs these days – indicating a growing popularity for plants with chartreuse foliage.

Using them in the landscape does require some thought and even some restraint, however. A whole bed of the more brilliant of these plants could be overwhelming. But when used as accents, for contrast, brightening shadier areas or complementing other plants in a carefully considered combination, these uniquely colored plants can add real zip to your landscape.

It is amazing how many categories of plants have cultivars with golden or chartreuse foliage. If you look in specialty catalogs, there are trees, shrubs, vines, ground covers, perennials and annuals available.

I have to admit to being a little leery of using a large tree that stays gold-green, since it could be a little overwhelming. But I have seen shrubs, vines, ground covers, perennials and annuals all used in landscapes with great results.

One of the plants leading the way is the Margarita ornamental sweet potato, a perennial ground cover or bedding plant that grows through summer and is dormant in the winter. It is widely available at nurseries and is becoming fairly common in landscapes. In full sun, the foliage is a brilliant gold-green, while with a little shade the color softens to a chartreuse. This is common with the golden foliage plants. The color often softens and becomes somewhat greener in shady areas.

Back in the early ‘80s, the golden euonymus (Euonymus japonicus ‘Aureo Marginata’) was all the rage. Landscape architects and horticulturists, in general, despised the plant as being loud, garish and plastic-looking in the landscape.

I have to admit it was somewhat over-planted and often not used to its best advantage. Golden euonymus, however, can make a great accent plant when combined appropriately with other plant materials and pruned properly. And the color is softened when it is planted in a shadier location.

Do consider the use of gold, gold-green and chartreuse foliage plants in your landscape. In combinations with other colorful foliage plants (such as the purple foliage cultivars of Chinese witch hazel – Loropetalum chinensis), they can do a lot to brighten a landscape without the high maintenance involved with many flowering annuals and perennials.

The following list includes a small sampling of the plants you might consider using in Louisiana.

–Trees: Gold Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides ‘Aurea’), Sunburst Locust (Gleditsia triacanthos ‘Sunburst’). Deodar cedar (Cedrus deodara ‘Aurea’), Golden Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Sekkan Sugi’)

–Shrubs: Golden barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea’), Golden mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’), Golden euonymus (Euonymus japonicus ‘Aureo marginata’), and several spireas, such as Spirea japonica ‘Golden Princess.’

–Vines: Buttercup English ivy (Hedera helix ‘Buttercup’), Golden hops (Humulus lupulus ‘Aureus’)

Perennials: Kingswood Gold jewels of Opar (Talinum paniculatum ‘Kingswood Gold’), numerous hostas, such as ‘Wogon,’ Sum and Substance,’ ‘Guacamole’ and ‘Golden Prayers,’ Golden sedum (Sedum acre ‘Aureum’) and Ogon acorus (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’).

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.

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Contact:  Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor:     Tom Merrill at (225) 578-2263 or tmerrill@agcenter.lsu.edu

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