Color in the home landscape during the summer months is usually supplied by perennials and annuals. However, gardeners can add color to the green landscape by planting yellow- or gold-leaved shrubs. The yellow- or gold-leaved shrubs are excellent accent or specimen plants, but should be planted in moderation. Large numbers of yellow- or gold-leaved shrubs in the landscape become distracting.
Golden Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii 'Aurea') is a dense, slow-growing shrub that grows 3 to 4 feet tall. The foliage is a bright, golden-yellow in full sun. In shady sites, the leaves are a yellow-green.
Golden Privet (Ligustrum x vicaryi) is a vase-shaped shrub that commonly grows 4 to 6 feet tall, but can reach a height of 10 to 12 feet. Golden privet has bright yellow foliage when grown in full sun. Plants grown in the shade have yellow-green leaves. Golden privet is hardy in USDA hardiness zone 4.
Hillside Golden Privet (Ligustrum x vicaryi 'Hillside') is a cold hardy strain from Minnesota. The vase-shaped shrub has yellow-green foliage and reaches a height of 4 feet.
Golden Mockorange (Philadelphus coronarius 'Aureus') is a compact 3 to 6 foot shrub with gold leaves and fragrant white flowers in June.
Dart's Gold Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius 'Dart's Gold') is a hardy, adaptable shrub that grows well in difficult sites. The shrub has yellow foliage and grows 4 to 5 feet tall. It also produces white flowers in spring and reddish fruit in the fall.
Golden Elder (Sambucus canadensis 'Aurea') is a hardy, rapidly growing shrub which eventually reaches a height of 8 to 10 feet. The foliage retains its yellow color throughout the spring and summer. Plants produce white flowers in flat-topped clusters in June or July and cherry red fruit by late summer. Elders do well in wet soil, but will also tolerate dry conditions. Plants do sucker. Goldflame Spirea (Spiraea x bumalda 'Goldflame') is a small 2 to 3 foot shrub. Spring foliage consists of shades of red, copper, and orange that gradually changes to yellow-green and finally to green by summer. Fall leaf color is copper-orange. Plants also produce pink flowers in summer.
Goldmound Spirea (Spiraea x 'Goldmound') is a 2 to 3 foot, low-mounded shrub with golden-yellow foliage and pink flowers in May and June.
There are also several evergreen shrub varieties that possess yellow or gold foliage.
Gold Coast Juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Gold Coast') is a compact, spreading shrub. It grows approximately 2 to 3 feet high with a spread of 4 to 6 feet. New growth is a golden yellow.
Old Gold Juniper (Juniperus chinensis 'Old Gold') is similar in size to the Gold Coast juniper but the gold foliage is more extensive.
Rheingold Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Rheingold') is a slow-growing, globe- to cone-shaped shrub with deep gold foliage. In winter, the foliage turns copper to brownish yellow. Plants grow approximately 4 to 5 feet tall. Rheingold arborvitae is hardy in zone 5.
Golden Globe Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Golden Globe') is a dense, globe-shaped shrub with bright golden yellow foliage. It grows about 3 to 4 feet high.
The yellow- or gold-leaved shrubs develop their best color in full sun. The foliage often becomes yellow-green in shady sites. All of the aforementioned shrubs are hardy throughout Iowa except those with specific hardiness zones.
This article originally appeared in the May 11, 1994 issue, p. 69.