Best 6 plants with silver foliage – for a shimmering and drought-tolerant garden border

Plants with silver foliage add contrast and interest to the backyard while also thriving in hot and dry weather

Plants with silver foliage in a garden border
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Plants with silver foliage can transform a garden border in any backyard. Silver-grey plants are both striking and attractive, working well in combination with brightly-colored flowers, contrasting effectively against pops of pinks, reds or yellows. Indeed, for those looking for flower bed ideas this year, plants and shrubs with silver-grey foliage can enhance your backyard aesthetic. 

In addition to the uniqueness of silver-grey foliage, many of these shrubs and perennials are effective when used as drought-tolerant planting. Silver or grey foliage is an evolutionary adaptation, helping the plant to reflect sunlight and reduce water loss. Thus, for those considering how to plan a dry garden this year, plants with silver foliage are a suitable option. 

For those fond of Mediterranean garden ideas, both in terms of look and drought tolerance, plants with silver foliage must surely be a consideration. Fortunately for gardeners, many of the most popular flowering shrubs for full-sun and other popular perennials produce silver-grey leaves. Here, experts share some of the best plants with silver foliage that will illuminate your yard this year. 

Lamb's ears with silver foliage

(Image credit: Getty Images/joannatkaczuk)

Best plants with silver foliage

Drought-tolerant planting has gained popularity in recent years, with many gardeners determined to reduce the amount of water needed to maintain borders and backyards. Plants with silver foliage provide an interesting contrast when planted alongside verdant perennials and shrubs, and are proven to be resilient during the summer months when the weather is hot and dry. 

1. Russian Sage

Russian sage 'Little Spire'

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Often considered one of the best perennials for both the silver color of its foliage and the purple color of its blooms, Russian sage, or Perovskia atriplicifolia, is a popular and hardy plant. 

'This perennial is a superb plant for pollinators,' says Gail Pabst, plant expert and Marketing Director for the National Garden Bureau. Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Bluesette' has a 'controlled, smaller habit and bursts into flower earlier than typical perovskia.'

Perovskia 'grows superbly in a patio container or in mixed combinations with other sun-loving plants in the borders,' Gail adds. What's more, 'perovskia produces a pleasing sage fragrance and attracts bees and butterflies to the backyard, while also proving to be resistant to hungry deer,' Gail says.  

Russian sage is a hardy perennial, growing well in US hardiness zone 4 and up. Importantly, this plant requires very little maintenance, other than cutting back Russian sage in the early springtime, typically around March or April. Doing so at this time will improve flowering for the season ahead. 

Gail Pabst
Gail Pabst

Gail is a passionate horticulturist with over 25 years' experience in the industry. She is an avid home gardener too and loves to try out the newest varieties and techniques. Gail is the Marketing Director for the National Garden Bureau and her work has helped her to continue their mission of inspiring, teaching and growing in gardening with others.

2. Dianthus

A red perennial dianthus 'passion'

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Dianthus are easy-to-grow plants that should be considered by gardeners seeking low-maintenance garden border ideas. Dianthus plants produce attractive 'bold blooms in bright colors and stunning silver-blue foliage,' Gail says. 

Dianthus are considered prolific bloomers, flowering for much of the spring and summer months. They also have 'strong stems, therefore they are useful for gardeners looking to plant a cutting garden and cultivate armloads of colorful cut flowers for the house,' Gail continues.

Growing well in US hardiness zone 5 to US hardiness zone 9, this perennial requires only minimal maintenance, with occasional deadheading of dianthus blooms helping to prolong flowering. Once established, and in warmer zones, dianthus clumps can grow as evergreen plants, with their silver-grey foliage illuminating the garden borders all year round. 

3. Lamb's Ears

Stachys byzantina (lamb's ears)

(Image credit: José María Barres Manuel/Alamy Stock Photo)

Popular with gardeners seeking Mediterranean plants, lamb's ears, or Stachys byzantina, can be grown as a groundcover and a flowering perennial in the garden border. 

Growing well in US hardiness zone 4 to US hardiness zone 10, this evergreen plant is a must-have in any water-wise garden. 

'This plant is a great hardy perennial that we love to use on mass when planted as a ground cover,' says Bert Bast, garden expert and owner of Bast Brothers Garden Center. Indeed, drifts of stachys are often used as a drought-tolerant groundcover plant, requiring limited amounts of water once established. 

'The silvery foliage compliments just about any flowering perennial,' continues Bert. 'We love lamb's ears with catmint, particularly the 'Cat's Pajamas' variety,' Bert adds, with dark purple blooms contrasting beautifully against the silver-grey foliage, which is striking when planted under established shrubs or large trees. 

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Bert Bast

Bert Bast is a garden expert and owner of Bast Brothers Garden Centre. Established in 2014 and nestled in the heart of Mullica Hill, NJ, Bast Brothers Garden Center is a destination for all things garden. 

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4. Senecio 'Angel Wings'

Senecio 'angel wings' with silver foliage

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Senecio candidans 'Angel Wings' is an unusual evergreen perennial with striking silver-white foliage. The leaf texture is soft, almost velvety to the touch, making this a unique planting addition to any yard. 

'Angel Wings is a perennial in warmer hardiness zones, but in US hardiness zone 7, where we are based, we love it as an annual,' says Bert Bast. 'It can be grown as a showy filler that will provide interest all season long and can be used as a go-to for foliage displays and for those looking for flowers for pots in full sun.' 

Xeriscaping has become increasingly popular in recent years, as more gardeners seek to minimize water usage and garden in a responsible and resource-efficient way. Plants such as Senecio candidans 'Angel Wings' prove to be both attractive and useful, particularly for those considering xeriscaping and seeking drought-resistant planting. 

5. Sagebrush

Sagebrush with silver foliage

(Image credit: Getty Images/sagebrush_gardener)

Sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata, is a spectacular and durable silver foliage perennial. Forming small mounds, this shrub can be used as a filler in backyard borders or as a foliage plant in containers. 

'Being from the high desert of Central Oregon, I love the evergreen, blue-grey, velvety foliage of sagebrush,' says Jennifer Curtis, plant expert and nursery manager at Schilling's Garden Market, Oregon. 

'It is highly drought tolerant and does well in nutrient-poor, well-draining soils,' Jennifer adds. Growing best in US hardiness zones 4 to 9, this shrub thrives in a full-sun position. 

'I love the way sagebrush smells following the rain,' says Jennifer. 'They are wonderfully aromatic plants with a pungent sage scent.' Indeed, sagebrush will provide year-round interest and is perfect for those homeowners looking for plants that make your patio smell nice

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Jennifer Curtis

Jennifer Curtis is a plant expert and nursery manager at Schilling's Garden Market, Bend, Oregon. Schilling's Garden Market is a boutique plant nursery specializing in specimen-quality dwarf confers, Japanese maples, the highest-quality of shrubs and unique perennials for your landscaping needs. 

6. Snow-in-summer

Snow-in-summer plant with silver foliage

(Image credit: Getty Images/Laila Whitaker)

Snow-in-summer, or Cerastium tomentosum, is an attractive perennial with silver foliage. 'Forming a silver carpet, this low-growing plant will reach 6 to 12 inches tall, producing white 5-petalled flowers with yellow centers,' says Jennifer. 

'Growing well in US hardiness zone 3 to zone 7, snow-in-summer requires full sun and good drainage,' Jennifer adds. 

Snow-in-summer should be considered by those gardeners looking for rock garden ideas. 'This plant is perfect for rock gardens,' says Jennifer. 'You can trim the flowering heads off after flowering to prevent reseeding and to keep a tight, compact habit.' 

'I enjoy this plant for its soft appearance and all-season interest,' says Jennifer. 'The silver foliage remains interesting through the winter and regrows in the spring.' 


Can all silver-grey plants survive direct sun and hot weather?

Most plants with silver foliage do well in full sun positions and can tolerate hot weather, making them perfect for xeriscaping or gardeners looking for drought-tolerant planting. 

While this is generally the rule for most silver foliage plants, it is important to check the specific requirements for individual plants as this does not apply to every plant. Brunnera, for example, has attractive silver foliage but has a preference for shade and does not like to be in dry soil or direct sunlight.

Plants with silver foliage will add interest and impact to any garden borders or container display in the backyard. While many of these plants do not produce flowers of note, the attractive silver-white foliage helps to add contrast to most planting schemes. 

Alternatively, many of the best xeriscaping plants do produce colorful blooms, including lupins and poppies, which will brighten up any yard while also helping to conserve water. Why not use a mixture of plants with silver foliage, punctuated by colorful, flowering shrubs? 

Thomas Rutter
Content Editor

Thomas is a Content Editor within the Gardens Team at Homes and Gardens. He has worked as a professional gardener in gardens across the UK and in Italy, specialising in productive gardening, growing food and flowers. Trained in Horticulture at the Garden Museum, London, he has written on gardening and garden history for various publications in the UK.