Golden Foliage: A Radiant Splash of Sunshine in the Garden

I have an undeniable affinity for the mesmerizing beauty of golden foliage in the garden. While yellow flowers undoubtedly offer their own allure with their vibrant color and warmth, there’s something truly captivating about the extended presence of chartreuse to deep gold foliage. It can effortlessly infuse a radiant splash of sunshine into any garden space.

The fleeting but powerful display of golden foliage in the fall or the winter coloration of certain conifers may come to mind, but it is the deciduous varieties that truly shine as visual powerhouses throughout the growing season. These remarkable plants become indispensable, infusing substantial texture, depth, and contrast when combined with other colors in the garden.

Yellow, when thoughtfully incorporated throughout the garden, has the potential to unify and enliven the space. However, it’s important to strike the right balance to avoid overwhelming the senses. The repetition of yellow, when properly moderated, can offer a punctuation of warmth that breathes life into the surroundings.

As the seasons change and sunlight availability fluctuates, the degree of yellow may vary in some woody plants. Nonetheless, the impact remains substantial. The realm of golden foliage options for Midwest gardens is abundant, encompassing both deciduous and coniferous selections. Here, we present a curated assortment to inspire your garden design:

Tiger Eyes® Golden Staghorn Sumac

Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’ (Zones 3-8)
Size: 10 to 15 feet tall and 15 to 30 feet wide
Conditions: Full sun; moist but well-drained, moderately fertile soil

Further reading:  The Enigmatic Ocean Spray Plant

The Tiger Eyes® golden staghorn sumac is undoubtedly one of the most impressive native shrubs available. While this variety is known to spread through suckers, its textural golden foliage and striking orange fall color easily outweigh any concerns. Diligent sucker removal can help maintain control, but if left unchecked, this showy plant will flourish, adding glory to any landscape.

Tiger Eyes golden staghorn sumac

Princeton Gold® Norway Maple

Acer platanoides ‘Prigo’ (Zones 3-7)
Size: 50 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

While Norway maples may be a common sight, the Princeton Gold® selection boasts a remarkable feature: solid, bright gold foliage that persists throughout the entire season. The initial intense gold gradually transitions to chartreuse in the heat of summer, ensuring a mesmerizing display until the arrival of hard frost. These majestic trees, reaching impressive heights, serve as remarkable focal points in any landscape. However, do exercise caution, as the species can be invasive in certain areas. Always check your state’s invasive plant list before introducing new plants to your garden.

Princeton Gold Norway maple

‘Golden Sunshine’ Willow

Salix sachalinensis ‘Golden Sunshine’ (Zones 4-10)
Size: 16 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

If you seek a plant with fine-textured foliage, look no further than the ‘Golden Sunshine’ willow. Its narrow leaves feature a striking bright gold color that demands attention. To control its height, pruning in winter is recommended, allowing for vigorous new growth that can be maintained between 6 and 8 feet. Though this variety may be challenging to find, its radiant presence in the landscape is well worth the effort. Be sure to establish your desired height through regular renewal pruning.

Further reading:  Identifying Vines with Five Leaves

Golden Sunshine willow

Lemon Candy™ Ninebark

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Podaras 3’ (Zones 2-7)
Size: 5 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full sun; moist, well-drained soil

Lemon Candy™ ninebark is an outstanding selection known for its brilliant golden foliage upon leaf emergence. While there are numerous golden ninebarks in the market, this particular variety stands out due to its intense yellow color, medium height, exceptional hardiness, and uniform shape. The white flowers may be somewhat overshadowed, but the remarkable foliage on gracefully arching stems demands attention.

Lemon Candy ninebark

Gold Bullion™ Pagoda Dogwood

Cornus alternifolia ‘Bachone’ (Zones 3-7)
Size: 15 to 20 feet tall and wide
Conditions: Full to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

The Gold Bullion™ pagoda dogwood, with its layered branches adorned with bright gold foliage, is truly enchanting. This native dogwood species thrives in shady locations, adding a vibrant touch to these less illuminated spots. However, it may experience some leaf scorching during the hot summer months. Nevertheless, the spring gold and summer chartreuse-yellow foliage create a dynamic display that is nothing short of captivating. Light pruning is recommended to maintain the layered structure, but be mindful of the common golden canker issues associated with this species.

Gold Bullion pagoda dogwood

‘Sutherland Gold’ Elderberry

Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’ (Zones 3-7)
Size: 6 to 10 tall and wide
Conditions: Full to partial sun; moist, well-drained soil

Among the many years I’ve spent utilizing the ‘Sutherland Gold’ red elderberry, I have found it to be an exceptional shrub. Its vivid golden, textural foliage steals the spotlight, and with a simple winter cutback, established plants can produce 5 to 6 feet of vibrant new growth come spring. Although this pruning technique prevents the development of white flowers and red berries, it allows you to control the ultimate size of the shrub. Another noteworthy selection is Lemony Lace® (S. racemosa ‘Smnsrd4’), offering all the same merits and deserving of further exploration.

Further reading:  A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Sewage Treatment Plants

Sutherland Gold elderberry

‘Sungold’ Falsecypress

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Sungold’ (Zones 3-7)
Size: 8 feet tall and 12 feet wide
Conditions: Full to partial sun; moist, well-drained soil

The ‘Sungold’ falsecypress, with its brilliant yellow foliage, has secured a special place in my heart. This dazzling conifer can be effortlessly maintained at any desired size, making it incredibly versatile. Its fine texture and consistent color contribution throughout the year ensure a lengthy presence in the garden. While some conifers only exhibit intense gold during particular seasons or transitions, ‘Sungold’ remains consistently beautiful, making it a delightful choice for year-round visual appeal.

Sungold falsecypress

Incorporating the enchanting allure of golden foliage into your garden design is an incredible way to infuse warmth and vibrancy into the space. With these carefully chosen selections, you can effortlessly transform your garden into a botanical masterpiece that radiates pure sunshine.

Images: Mark Dwyer

To discover more inspiring plants and gardening tips, visit the Ames Farm Center.