Annuals for Nebraska Landscapes
II. Foliage, Grasses, Fruit and Vines

This NebGuide describes those annual foliage, grasses, fruits and vines that can be grown in Nebraska for use by the home gardener in landscape design.

Dale T. Lindgren, Extension Horticulturist
Anne M. Streich, Extension Horticulture Educator
Kim A. Todd, Extension Landscape Horticulture Specialist
Steven N. Rodie, Extension Landscape Horticulture Specialist

While most annual plants for Nebraska landscapes are grown for their flowers, some can be grown for their foliage, fruit and trailing growth habit. Like the annuals grown for their colorful flowers, these other annuals can be used in beds, borders, rock gardens, window boxes, hanging baskets and containers. Annuals used for their foliage contribute texture, form, size and mass characteristics to the overall effect.

Herbs such as basil, sage and fennel are often used in landscape designs for their foliage and fragrance rather than their flowers. Ornamental grasses and grass-like plants such as ornamental corn, millet and sedge can be planted as annuals. Grasses are usually planted as perennials but several annual grasses are available for Nebraska landscapes. Vegetables, such as peppers, make excellent landscape annuals. Additional maintenance on this group of annuals may be required, such as occasional trimming and harvesting fruit. Irrigation and fertilization requirements for annual plants, especially during initial establishment, should also be considered in light of maintenance commitments.

When designing with all annuals, consider site conditions and the preferred growing requirements. Evaluate the planting site’s sun exposure, wind patterns, water requirements, soil type and fertility, and then choose plants that will perform in these conditions.

The following list of plants contains suggestions for annuals that are often grown for landscape traits other than their flowers.

Common Name(s) Botanical Name Site Height Flower/Foliage Color Comments

Annuals for Foliage

Asparagus Fern Asparagus officinalis
var. pseudoscabar
Sun 48-60” White Grown for airy foliage, small white flowers
Cabbage, Ornamental;
Flowering Cabbage;
Flowering Kale
Brassica oleracea Sun 12-24” Purple, pink, white,
green, red, blue-green
Biennial grown as an annual, grown for foliage, best in fall, control cabbage looper and cabbage worm
Caladium Caladium bicolor Shade, part shade 12-24” Greens, reds, pinks,
Planted outside as a tuber in early summer, foliage dig and store tubers for winter
Calico Plant
‘Purple Knight’
Alternanthera dentata Sun, part shade 6-9” Burgundy foliage Trailing
Castor Oil Plant;
Castor Bean
Ricinus communis Sun 120” Red; foliage
is also red
Deeply lobed leaves, highly toxic, grown for foliage
Coleus Coleus x hybridus Part shade 12-24” Green, purple, red,
variegated foliage
Grown for foliage, easily propagated by cuttings, remove flower spikes
Coleus, Giant Exhibition Coleus x blumei Shade, part shade 12-16” Assorted foliage Prefers moist, well-drained soils
Dusty-Miller Senecio cineraria Sun 12-18” Gray foliage Excellent edging plant, grown for foliage, tolerates drought, remove flowers that develop
Geranium, Scented Pelargonium x hybrida Sun 10-18” White, green Grown for their scented foliage, good house plants
Hibiscus ‘Red Shield’ Hibiscus acetosella Sun 48-60” Red, white, pink Rarely blooms, grown for deep red maple-like leaves
Iresine Iresine herbstii Sun, part shade 12-18” White Inconspicuous flowers, bronze-green, burgundy, variegated foliage
Kochia; Burning Bush; Summer Cypress Kochia scoparia
var. tricophylla
Sun 12-30” Green foliage Hedge, border, accent, grown for foliage, changes to red upright bush form in the fall
Millet, Purple
‘Purple Majesty’
Pennisetum glaucum Sun 48-60” Purple A vertical plant in the grass family, purple foliage and seed heads
Polka Dot Plant Hypoestes phyllostachya Sun 6” Assorted Foliage has red, pink or white markings, keep soil slightly moist
Swiss Chard Beta vulgaris Sun, part shade 12-18” Assorted Popular cultivar is ‘Bright Lights’, bright foliage colors, an edible ornamental
Elephant Ears
Colocasia esculenta Part shade 18-30” Pale green Produces heart-shaped, large leaves, green to purple, container suited, moist soils, propagate by tubers

Annual Herbs

Basil Ocimum basilicum Sun 12-18” White flowers Grown for an array of foliage types
Fennel, Bronze Foeniculum vulgare Sun, part shade 48-60” Yellow flowers Attracts butterflies, remove old flowers to promote flowering, licorice-scented, reseeds aggressively
Fernleaf Dill Anethum graveolens Sun 24-36” Yellow foliage Small flowers on umbrella-like heads, attracts butterflies
Oregano Origanum rotundifolium Sun, part shade 6-12” Violet, white,
cream, purple
Aromatic, trailing or vining form
Rosemary Rosmarinus officinalis Sun 15-30” Pink, blue Semi-prostrate, scented foliage, herb
Sage, Garden Salvia officinalis Sun 9-18” Blue, lilac, white Aromatic, gray-green or multi-colored leaves, leaves rough

Annual Ornamental Grasses

Bunny Tails;
Hare’s Tail Grass
Lagurus ovatus Sun 12-18” Cream/tan Soft, fur-like flower heads, heads can be dried and colored
Fiberoptic Grass
‘Live Wire’
Isolepsis cernua Sun 6-24” Silvery A sedge, flower heads on end of green stems, moist conditions
Fountain Grass, Purple Pennisetum setaceum Sun 48-60” Red foliage Propagated by division, not winter-hardy
Lemon Grass Cymbopogon citratus Sun, light shade 20-36” Non-flowering Uniform moisture, strongly scented leaves
Pony Tails,
Mexican Feather Grass
Stipa tenuissima Sun 18-30” Tan Delicate, fine, flexible, bright-green leaves
Ruby Grass;
Pink Paintbrush
Melinus nerviglumis Sun 8-18” Ruby-pink Blue-green foliage that turns purple-red in the fall, with 3-4” ruby-red blooms

Annuals for Fruit

Corn, Ornamental Zea mays Sun 3-7’ Husk green to
Grown for stalk, husk and leaf colors, also for kernel color(s)
Pepper, Ornamental Capsicum annuum Sun 12-25” Fruit, red, black,
yellow, orange, purple
Grown for colorful fruit, some cultivars have colorful foliage

Annual Vines

Black-eyed Susan Vine Thunbergia alata Sun, part shade Vine Red, orange,
yellow, white
Suitable for growing indoors
Cardinal Climber Ipomoea multifida Sun Vine Red Deeply fringed foliage, attracts hummingbirds
Licorice Plant Helichrysum petiolatum Sun 9-12” White, chartreuse
or silver foliage
Trailing plant for use in hanging container, everlasting, fuzzy, foliage use
Mandevilla Mandevilla x Sun, part shade Vine Pink Leathery, dark green leaves, used as an indoor plant, container plant
Moon Flower Vine Ipomoea alba Vine Sun, part shade White Flowers open at night, funnel shaped, fragrant
Morning Glory Ipomoea spp. Sun +72” White, pink, red,
blue, purple
Screens, trellis plant, soak seed overnight before planting, vining plant, tolerant of dry soils, readily self-seeds
Scarlet Runner Bean Phaseolus coccineus Sun Vine Red Support with trellis or string, colorful seeds
Silver Pony-foot Dichondra argentea Sun 6”,
Pale green, silver Groundcover, silver-gray foliage, drought foliage tolerant
Sweet Pea Lathyrus odoratus Part shade 18-60” White, purple,
lavender, pink
Grows best in cool, moist conditions, not well suited to Nebraska’s climate
Sweet Potato Vine Ipomoea batatas Sun, part shade Vine Lavender flowers,
green, purple
Heart-shaped leaves on a trailing plant, foliage green to burgundy or variegated, rarely flowers


The authors would like to thank Susan Schoneweis for her work on an earlier version of this publication.

Visit the University of Nebraska–Lincoln Extension Publications Web site for more publications.
Index: Horticulture
Issued October 2007