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20 Silver Plants to Make Your Landscape Sparkle

Silver garden at longwood

By Larry Hodgson 

Plants with silver and gray leaves have long been popular in landscaping. Whether trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals or biennials, they add an interesting contrast to other plants, most of which have green foliage. And they seem to go with everything, even the harshest colors, toning down overly bold reds, yellows and oranges, yet harmonizing beautifully with softer whites, pinks and blues.

Of course, all “silver” plants are really green underneath: after all, green is the color of chlorophyll that plants need to carry out photosynthesis. However, silver plants hide the green under a coating of white hairs, white wax or light-reflecting cells and thus appear to our eyes to be silver or gray … especially when compared to entirely green leaves nearby.

Here are just a few silver or gray leaved plants you might want to try in your garden.

1. Pearly Everlasting

Anaphalis margaritacea

Pearly Everlasting
Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). Photo; KENPEI, Wikimedia Commons

Native to much of Asia and North America, this perennial with narrow silvery leaves is better known for its clusters of tiny white flowers that are easily dried (whence the name “everlasting”), but the flowers only make the whole plant seem that much silverier. It’s an easy-to-grow perennial adapted to sun or partial shade and most soils, even poor, dry ones. It can self-sow a bit, so keep an eye on it. And it not only feeds adult butterflies with the nectar of its flowers, but hungry caterpillars too, as it is a host of the beautiful painted lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui).

Height: 1 to 3 ft (30 to 60 cm)
Spread: 1 to 2 ft (30 to 60 cm)
Hardiness zones: 4 to 9

2. Silver Wormwood 

Artemisia ludoviciana

Silver Wormwood 
Silver wormwood (Artemisia ludoviciana  ‘Valerie Finnis’). Photo: farmyardnurseries.co.uk

There are several cultivars of this upright silvery groundcover, with simple or cut leaves. The flowers are insignificant, but the leaves make up for their lack of appeal. It needs full sun and does best in dry to medium soil of any quality. Also, it’s rabbit and deer resistant. It is a spreader, though, and you’ll likely have to contain it. 

Height: 2 to 3 ft (60 to 90 cm)
Spread: indefinite
Hardiness zones: 4 to 9

3. Maui Wormwood

Artemisia mauiensis

Maui Wormwood
Maui Wormwood Makana™ Silver (Artemisia mauiensis ‘TNARTMS’). Photo: TERRA NOVA® Nurseries, Inc

 The only cultivar on offer is ‘TNARTMS’, sold as Makana™ Silver, and it certainly is a stunning plant, with extremely deeply cut, feathery, soft-looking silver leaves and a mounding habit. Insignificant greenish-yellow flowers may appear in late summer. It’s a shrub native to Hawaii and needs to be grown as an annual in temperate climates, although you can easily bring it indoors over the winter where it makes a lovely houseplant. Drought resistant. For full sun and well-drained soils. 

Height: 2 ft (60 cm)
Spread: 3 ft (90 cm)
Hardiness zones: 9 to 11 or annual

4. Silver Mound

Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’

Silver Mound artemisia.
Silver mound (Artemisia schmidtiana ‘Nana’). Photo: http://www.perennialresource.com

A charming classic garden perennial, long used in borders and rock gardens for its perfect little mound of deeply cut, silvery leaves. Like the other artemisias, the flowers are insignificant. It tends to collapse suddenly in midsummer, but chop it back to near ground level and it quickly grows back. For sunny spots and well-drained soil. 

Height: 1 foot (30 cm)
Spread: 1 ½ ft (45 cm)
Hardiness zones: 2 to 8

5. Japanese painted Fern

Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’

Japanese painted Fern
Japanese painted Fern (Athyrium nipponicum ‘Pictum’). Photo: http://www.perennialresource.com

A popular plant, this was the first fern ever to be named a Perennial Plant of the Year (that was in 2004) by the Perennial Plant Association … and also the only one. There aren’t many silvery ferns around and this one isn’t silver all over, but green and burgundy heavily overlaid with silver. Just charming in the garden! There are no flowers, of course (ferns never bloom). It’s a slow-growing plant, so it might be wise to buy a mature specimen rather than a young plant. It is slow to come up in spring, but very permanent once it’s established. For partial shade to shade in evenly moist soil.

By the way, there are many selections and hybrids of this fern with crested fronds or different frond colors, like ‘Ursula’s Red’ and ‘Ghost’. So, take your pick!

Height: 12 to 18 in (30 to 45 cm) 
Spread: 18 to 24 in (45 to 60 cm
Hardiness zones: 4 to 8

6. ‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera

Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’

‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera
‘Jack Frost’ Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla ‘Jack Frost’). Photo: http://www.perennialresource.com

Yet another Perennial Plant of the Year winner, this time for 2012! It really is a dual-purpose plant. In the spring, it produces small, silvery, green-edged leaves that you scarcely notice because it blooms so attractively with tiny, true-blue forget-me-not flowers. When they fade, the summer leaves take over. They are much larger, clearly heart-shaped and almost entirely silver except for the edges and the veins. With those leaves and its mounding habit, it looks like a silver hosta! It will do fine in sun in a cool, moist climate, but it is otherwise a partial shade plant for evenly moist, fairly rich soil. 

And there are now several brunneras with even more silvery color in their leaves, like ‘Queen of Hearts’ and ‘Alexandria’.

Height: 12 to 18 in (30 to 45 cm)
Spread: 12 to 18 in (30 to 45 cm)
Hardiness zones: 3 to 8

7. Snow-in-Summer

Cerastium tomentosum

Snow-in-Summer
Snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum ‘Yo-Yo’). Photo: http://www.perennialresource.com

A small, creeping groundcover or rock garden plant with narrow silvery leaves, it’s at its best in spring when it is covered in hundreds of small white flowers that make it look even more silvery. It tends to be a bit floppy and can self-sow, so cut the plant back harshly after it blooms (or even run the lawn mower over it) and it will bounce back and maintain its silver groundcover appearance. For sun and fairly dry conditions. 

Height: 6 in (15 cm)
Spread: indefinite
Hardiness zones: 2 to 7

8. Cardoon

Cynara cardunculus

Cardoon
Cardoon (Cynara cardunculus). Photo: outsidepride.com

Here’s a silvery plant that is also a vegetable.

Cardoon is a tall, silvery thistle, grown for its edible leaf petioles and now, more and more, for its ornamental qualities. Under cultivation, it has lost the spines that covered the wild cardoon while still maintaining its large deeply cut thistlelike leaves. Look for especially cultivars announcing their coloration, like ‘Silver Leaf’ or ‘Blanco Inerme’.

All are easily grown from seed. It’s a big plant, both when in leaf and in bloom, and quite impressive. It tends to grow as a biennial, producing a huge rosette of foliage the first year, with a tall stalk bearing a huge violet-purple thistle flower the second … then it dies! 

If cardoon reminds you of a silvery artichoke, you’ve got it! The globe artichoke (C. cardunculus scolymus) is derived from the wild cardoon.

Height: 3 to 6 ft (90 to 180 cm)
Spread: 2 to 3 ft (60 to 90 cm)
Hardiness zones: 6 to 9 is usually given, but it will often do fine in zones 4 and 5 as well. Or grow it as an annual.

9. Silver Nickel Vine

Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’

Silver Nickel Vine
Silver nickel vine (Dichondra argentea ‘Silver Falls’). Proven Winners

A very low-growing tropical groundcover bearing long creeping stems of small, coinlike, shiny, silvery leaves. It’s usually grown as a container plant and allowed to drip down 4 ft (1.2 m) or more. Stunning! The tiny flowers are scarcely even noticed.

It likes full sun and well-drained soil, tolerating considerable drought. It can be overwintered indoors in temperate climates. Buy plants in spring or grow it from seed.

Height: 2 in (5 cm)
Spread: 3 to 4 ft (90 to 120 cm)
Hardiness zones: 10 to 12, but generally grown as an annual in colder climates. 

10. Licorice Plant 

Helichrysum petiolare

Licorice Plant 
Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare White Licorice). Photo: Proven Winners

Although grown as an annual in temperate climates, the licorce plant is a creeping perennial groundcover in the tropics, grown for its silvery, densely felty leaves and stems. In hot weather, it gives off a scent like licorice, whence its name. It rarely blooms the first year and the flowers are not really attractive. It can be overwintered indoors if you want to save it from the cold.

Give it full sun to partial shade and well-drained soil. Cultivars with variegated and chartreuse leaves are also available.

Height: 6 to 8 in (15 to 20 cm)
Spread: 6 to 36 in (15 to 90 cm)
Hardiness zones: 9 to 11 or annual

11. Dusty Miller

Jacobinia maritima, formerly Senecio cineraria

Dusty Miller
Dusty miller (Jacobinia maritima  ‘Silver Dust’). Photo : David J. Stang, Wikimedia Commons

This is a classic garden annual, long used in carpet bedding and containers, where its silvery, woolly leaves bring out all the surrounding colors. The leaves vary in shape according to the cultivar: most are deeply cut and corallike, but others are entire with deep lobes. However, dusty miller isn’t really a true annual and in fact can live several years in a mild climate or if well covered in snow for much of the winter. Overwintered plants produce attractive clusters of long-lasting yellow flowers. You can also overwinter this “annual” indoors quite readily. It prefers full sun, but, if grown as an annual, will tolerate considerable shade. Water moderately. 

Height: 6 to 24 inches (15 to 60 cm), although usually pruned back if it grows more than 1 foot (30 cm) tall.
Spread: 8 to 12 in (20 to 30 cm)
Hardiness zones: in theory, 7 to 11 … but it has been known to overwinter in zone 4!

12. ‘Hermann’s Pride’ Yellow Archangel

Lamium galeobdolon ‘Hermann’s Pride’

‘Hermann’s Pride’ Yellow Archangel
 ‘Hermann’s Pride’ Yellow Archange (Lamium galeobdolon ‘Hermann’s Pride’). Photo: Proven Winners

I simply can’t recommend ordinary yellow archangel (Lamium galeobdolon ‘Florentinum’ or ‘Variegatum’): it’s just too invasive. I mean, really, it quickly takes over just about any garden! But ‘Hermann’s Pride’ is a special selection with no creeping stolons at all. (An even smaller and equally non-invasive choice is ‘Petit Point’.) It stays put until you divide it or take cuttings. 

‘Hermann’s Pride’ forms a clump of upright stems bearing fairly narrow, pointed, toothed leaves that are entirely silver except for the contrasting green veins. Evergreen in milder climates, they take on a purplish cast in fall and winter. It produces whorls of abundant butter yellow flowers in the spring partly mixed into the foliage. It is easy to grow in shade or partial shade, even sun in cooler climates, although it does appreciate rich soil and even humidity. 

Height: 12 to 15 in (30 to 38 cm)
Spread: 18 in (45 cm)
Hardiness zones: 3 to 8

13. Spotted Deadnettle

Lamium maculatum

Spotted Deadnettle Pink Chablis
Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum ‘Pink Chablis’). Photo: Proven Winners

This cousin of the previous plant comes in a whole range of cultivars, some with mostly green leaves and just a spot of silver in the center, but most of the more modern varieties, like ‘White Nancy’, ‘Beacon Silver’, ‘Purple Dragon’, and ‘Pink Chablis’, have leaves entirely covered in silver except for a green margin.

The plant forms an irregular mound of semi-evergreen foliage (evergreen in mild climates, but not in cold ones) highlighted by flowers of various colors (white, pink, red, purple, etc.) in spring and early summer. It prefers partial shade or shade and evenly moist but not soggy soil. In hot, humid climates, it can melt out by patches in midsummer but will fill in again if pruned back. It’s essentially a groundcover and, like most groundcovers, can be a bit invasive. You may be better able to keep it better under control if you grow it as a container plant.

Height: 6 to 14 in (15 to 40 cm)
Spread: 1 to 2 ft (60 to 90 cm)
Hardiness zones: 3 to 8

14. Texas Sage or Silver Bush

Leucophyllum frutescens

Texas Sage
Texas Sage (Leucophyllum frutescens): Photo: depositphotos

A delightful shrub for dry, mild climates or container growing. It has an open, upright, multibranching habit that can be made denser by pruning. It bears numerous small silvery-gray leaves that are essentially evergreen, although some leaf loss occurs in fall in climates in the cooler part of its range. It also has charming little purplish pink flowers that appear sporadically throughout the late summer and fall, usually following rainfall, which has led to yet another common name: barometer bush. 

From the deserts of Northern Mexico and the American Southwest, this plant clearly needs full sun and excellent drainage. It will usually do fine with little to no watering other than rainfall, even tolerating long droughts. 

Height: 5 to 8 ft (1.5 to 2.5 m)
Spread: 4 to 6 ft (1.2 to 1.8 m)
Hardiness zones: 8 to 10

15. Rose Campion

Lychnis coronaria

Rose Campion
Rose Campion (Lychnis coronaria). Here you can see the normal magenta flowers with a few white ones mixed in. Photo: Udo Schröter, Wikimedia Commons

This short-lived heritage perennial maintains itself by self-sowing. It’s primarily grown for its brilliant rose magenta flowers (some cultivars have pink, white or bicolor blooms) that appear in early summer, but they are highlighted by its fuzzy silvery leaves, forming a rosette of larger ones at the base with smaller ones on the equally silvery stems. Cut it back after blooming to prevent it from spreading and to create a groundcover effect. 

It needs full sun and well-drained, even dry soil of any type. 

Height: 2 to 3 ft (60 to 90 cm)
Spread: 12 to 18 in (30 to 45 cm)
Hardiness zones: 3 to 8

16. Lungwort hybrids

Pulmonaria cultivars

‘Silver Bouquet’ Lungwort
‘Silver Bouquet’ lungwort (Pulmonaria ‘Silver Bouquet’). Photo: TERRA NOVA® Nurseries, Inc

There are dozens of cultivars of lungwort, most with some sort of silvery markings, but that can only be a few well-spaced whitish spots, as in P.  saccharata, the species behind many of the cultivars. However, for a real silvery treat, try one of the modern cultivars like ‘Majesté’ or ‘Silver Bouquet’ whose leaves are often mottled at bloom time, but turn almost entirely silver with only a thin green edge afterward. 

The leaves form a dense, ground-hugging rosette, while upright, short-lived stems carry stunning flowers, most going from pink buds to purple or blue blooms, in early spring. Lungwort will grow in either partial shade or shade, even sun in cooler climates, and adapts to most soils as long as they are well drained. Dimensions vary considerably, depending on the variety.

Height: 6 to 18 in (15 to 45 cm)
Spread: 8 to 24 in (20 to 60 cm)
Hardiness zones: 3 to 8

17. Iceberg Alley® Sageleaf Willow

Salix candida ‘Jefberg’

Iceberg Alley® Sageleaf Willow
Iceberg Alley® Sageleaf Willow (Salix candida ‘Jefberg’). Photo: First Editions

One doesn’t expect willows to be small shrubs and even less, to be small silvery ones, but here’s an exception. It forms an upright, naturally rounded mound of dense foliage, attractive all summer. In the spring, it bears little silver catkins with red stamens that can be harvested for decorating. It’s a full sun plant adapted to most soils. This species is best adapted to colder climates.

The dimensions given are pretty much what you could expect if you let it grow on its own, but it can be maintained at a smaller size by pruning.

Height: 5 ft (1.5 m)
Spread: 5 ft (1.5 m)
Hardiness zones: 2 to 6

18. Angel Wings Senecio

Senecio candicans ‘Senaw’ 

Angel Wings senecio
Angel Wings senecio (Senecio candicans ‘Senaw’). Proven Winners

Probably the silveriest plant I have ever seen. Large spoon-shaped, brilliantly silver leaves with scalloped edges are produced on short, thick petioles. Run your fingers over them: they’re sturdy on the bottom, but soft and silky on the top. The plant occasionally produces yellow flowers in the summer, but still, it’s the foliage that counts. For full sun in any well-drained soil, both in the ground and in containers. Drought resistant and salt tolerant (it originally comes from stony beaches in Patagonia).

Although usually sold as an annual in cooler climates, it actually makes a decent houseplant. Just don’t push it to grow indoors over the winter, as that leads to weak growth. So, keep it cool and on the dry side and don’t fertilize until it’s outdoors in full sun. 

Height: 10 to 16 in (25 to 40 cm)
Spread: 10 to 16 in (25 to 40 cm)
Hardiness zones: 8 to 11

19. Lambs’ Ears

Stachys byzantina

Lambs’ Ears
Lambs’ ears (Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’). Photo: :Carl Lewis, Flickr

A popular, old-fashioned garden plant and groundcover, with large, soft, downy, silvery, terribly caressable leaves forming a ground-hugging rosette that surrounds itself by offsets, thus creating a carpet. In early summer, it sends up an equally silvery-fuzzy flower stalk with pink blooms. The problem is that, after stems bloom, the original rosette dies, leaving a hole that takes some time to fill in. Some cultivars, like ‘Big Ears’ and ‘Silver Carpet’ rarely bloom and thus avoid the problem. 

It does best in sun, but tolerates partial shade. It adapts well to most well-drained soils, but soggy ones, especially in the winter, can lead to rot. 

Height: 16 in (40 cm
Spread: 16 in (40 cm)
Hardiness zones: 3 to 8

20. Silver Mullein 

Verbascum bombyciferum

Silver Mullein 
Silver Mullein (Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Polar Summer’). Photo: perennialle.com.au

Many mulleins have at least somewhat silvery foliage, but silver mullein is by far the most striking. Leaves, stems and even flower buds are so covered in white wool they seem to be wrapped in cotton! It’s a biennial, forming a large rosette of giant silvery paddle-shaped leaves the first year, then a tall silvery stalk of yellow flowers the second. Then you have to start it again from seed. 

It’s a full sun plant for well-drained soils of any quality. 

Height: 5 to 6 ft (1.5 to 1.8 m)
Spread: 3 ft (90 cm)
Hardiness zones: 3 to 9


So, if silver is your thing, the above plants should give you plenty to try. And if that’s not enough, well, you’ll discover there are many others, plants for every climate from arctic to tropical and every growing condition except perhaps bogs and ponds. 

Warning. Some of the above plants are invasive in some regions. 

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

9 comments on “20 Silver Plants to Make Your Landscape Sparkle

  1. Nice list of plants. Salvia officiinalis is also one I have come to appreciate over the years. It does very well in my zone 4b Ontario garden, plus I can use some at Thanksgiving -lol. It comes back reliably every year and the deer seem to leave it alone. Mine is now 20” tall, 27” diameter.

    • In my 4b climate, it has never proved hardy. Probably just too humid where I live (Quebec City).

      • Mine does get A LOT of snow coverage (minimum 4 feet) right beside my walkway where I throw the snow, full sun all afternoon. It looks quite terrible in the Spring but I just leave it and somehow it beautifies itself again. It’s taken 10+ years to get to this size. I was using Canadian zone guide (Muskoka 4b). I almost froze to death in Quebec City the last time I was there (-40 c) for the Quebec Winter Carnival. Beautiful city!

  2. When you give hardiness zones, are these the U.S. zones or the Canadian (which I guess would mean that a U.S. zone 4 would be zone 3 in Canada ?

  3. Susan Otto

    Lovely selection of silver plants, you have given me ideas for dry areas of my garden, so many of these plants tolerant dry conditions like Nevada.

  4. Some species of Agave are silvery in harsh exposures. Bismarckia nobilis is exquisitely silvery!

  5. You could also include Didelta “Silver Strand” and Helichrysum “Silver Threads.” I believe they are both annuals. I took photos of the plant profile/ID that comes with any nursery plant just for future reference but haven’t actually used them myself. Both are for full sun. Never saw rose campion before so this is a bookmark-worthy post.

  6. A couple of months ago I was visiting a Kelowna plant nursery and came across a stunning ‘Silver Gumdrop’ heuchera. It survived in the backseat for a few days and stayed perfectly healthy during the long drive back to Eastern Canada where I planted it in my holding bed where it has had plenty of time to settle. I’m hoping it survives the winter; first snow on the ground this morning.

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