Three Silver Perennials and One Annual Light Up the Garden

Up close look at tiney lavendar flowers of Lamb's Ears.
Fuzzy leaves, soft to the touch and tiny flowers of Lamb’s Ear.

What’s not to like about a silver plant? Its pale grey sheen catches your eye. Blurred by the brilliance you don’t really see the plant’s details. Magically the silvery sheen moves your eyes to nearby plants.

See how the silver emphasizes pale colored flowers? See how it tempers the brightly colored ones? A silver plant harmonizes well with its neighbors.

On its own a silver plant is striking: a vivid glow by day, a soft gleam by night.

Sun turns on the silver color. Under grey skies it stands out providing relief from the dullness of the day.

In the light of the moon or in the floodlight of a street lamp it glows. While other plants fade into the darkness, a silver plant beams in the light that shines from a window or open door.

Many are drought tolerant due to their light reflective properties. A silver leaf or stem may have a waxy coating or tiny hairs that sends the sun’s light away from the plant.

Reflecting light away helps slow water evaporation from the plant. It survives the heat because it holds onto water longer.

There are many silver plants to suggest. Here are four of my favorites: perennials Artemisia schmidtiana, Lamb’s Ear, Russian sage and the annual, Dusty Miller.

What they have in common is silvery stems. Three also have silvery leaves. They’re known more for their foliage than blooms. They are drought tolerant and easy to grow.

The Three Perennials:

Artemisia "Silver Mound" shows its featery leaves.
Artemisia “Silver Mound” is a plant of close-growing feathery leaves.

Artemisia schmidtiana

Features

Native to: Japan

Name refers to:  A queen named for the Greek goddess Artemis.

Zones:  4-8

Leaves:  Grey green, soft, small and ferny growing close together to form the plant. Its scent reminds me of licorice.

Blooms:  Very small yellow flowers.

Height:  12”

Width:  18″

Grows from:  Seeds, division of plant or cuttings.

Care

  • Sunlight:  Full sun.
  • Soil:  Well drained, average.
  • Water:  Average weekly watering.
  • Fertilize:  No need.

Problems/Pests

Overwatering causes plant rot.

Uses

Low borders. Good in front of plants to showcase their color or disguise their legginess.

Leaves and emerging flower stalk of Lamb's ear.
Blanket-soft fuzzy leaves and emerging flower stalk of Lamb’s Ear.

Lamb’s Ear or Stachys byzantina

Features

Native to:  Southwest Asia.

Name refers to:  They look similar to and feel like the ears of a lamb.

Zones:  4-8

Leaves:  Grey silver or blue green, soft to the touch, 6” long. Forms a mat of soft stems and leaves.

Blooms:  Tall torches with tiny pink-purple flowers. They resemble a rangy candelabra. Often removed because they take away from the look of the low growing silvery leaves.

Height:  6-12″

Width:  1 foot to 4 feet wide.

Grows from:  Seeds, and division.

Attracts pollinators especially bees.

Care

  • Sunlight:  Full sun.
  • Soil:  Average, well drained.
  • Water:  Average. Overwatering causes stem and leaf rot.
  • Fertilize:  No need.

Problems/Pests

Low maintenance plant that quickly forms a mat wherever you need to cover ground. Cut back to keep in bounds. In late winter/early spring clean up the area by pulling up dead leaves allowing new ones to grow.

Uses

Ground cover, borders. Cut flowers can be used immediately in vases or dried for fall bouquets.

Pale purple flowers climb stem of Russian sage.
Russian sage leaves look pale green. Its stems are silver.

Russian Sage or Perovska atriplicifolia

Features

Native to: Himalayas.

Name refers to:  Botanical name honors a Russian general.

Zones:  4-9

Leaves:  Pale green, stems are silver. Leaves have a scent when you brush by them or crush them.

Blooms:  Very small lavender flowers climbing up the stem summer to fall.

Height:  3-4 feet.

Width:  2-3 feet.

Grows from:  Seeds, division and stem cuttings.

Care

  • Sunlight:  Full sun.
  • Soil:  Average.
  • Water:  Average.
  • Fertilize: No need.
  • Cut back to 6” in late winter/early spring to keep from growing too tall. If a single plant flops over support it with a plant ring. Planting several close to each other gives support and makes a strong display.

Problems/Pests

Low maintenance plant. Deer and rabbit tolerant.

Uses

Mid to back of flower bed because of height and spread. Against the background of evergreen shrubs in winter, its silver stems stand out.

The Annual

Yellow flowers of annual Dusty Miller.
Dusty Miller sometimes produces yellow daisy-like flowers.

Dusty Miller or Jacobea maritima

The name Dusty Miller is given to many plants with similar characteristics. Here Jacobea maritima is the focus.

Features

Native to:  Mediterranean region.

Name refers to:  The botanical name has apparently changed a few times so it’s unclear what the exact name and origin is.

Zones:  7-10

Leaves:  Silver, hairy lobed or lacy, up to 2” long.

Blooms:  Yellow, small daisy-like flowers in clusters. Many varieties don’t show flowers during the growing season.

Height:  12-18”

Width:  Up to one foot.

Grows from:  Seeds or cuttings.

Care

  • Sunlight:  Full sun.
  • Soil:  Average, well drained.
  • Water:  Average. Water when dry.  Too much water causes roots and stem to rot.
  • Fertilize:  No need.

If blooms appear you can cut them off. If plant gets leggy trim it back.

Problems/Pests

Low maintenance plant as long as you don’t overwater. Deer resistant.

Uses

Sunny borders, containers. Add a silver accent to flower arrangements by using cuttings.

Perennials Artemisia, Lamb’s ear and Russian sage and the annual Dusty Miller are silver standards in the garden. They are the graceful companions who show off the best in other flowers and plants. Stand out moments belong to them too.

When other plants wilt in the heat, find them thriving. And how they glow in the dark! Add these undemanding and beautiful silver plants to any garden.

References

Better Homes and Gardens

University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

Utah State University Extension

Copyright 2020 Juli Seyfried

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juli

Juli is a writer and serious gardener. She gardens a small yard in an older suburban neighborhood. Lots of problem-solving and fun on a small property. Always something new to try!

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