Plants with red leaves: the most beautiful varieties for garden & balcony


As a horticulture student I mainly studied crops and cultivation techniques. It fascinates me how many diverse plants can grow from small, nearly identical seeds.

Favourite fruit: blueberries, grapes, raspberries, pears
Favourite vegetables: mushrooms, peppers, kohlrabi, onions, garlic

Both the flowers and leaves of certain plants create a magnificent display of colours in the garden. Red colours certainly stand out and there is a reason these red-leaved plants are in demand.

red leafed plant in rain
Red leaves stand out in the garden, especially before autumn [Photo: TNMDesign/]

Everyone knows the charming, orange and red colours of the leaves of some trees and shrubs in autumn. But that is not what we are talking about here – rather, we want to introduce you to plants that delight with red leaves in the garden the rest of the year.

Tip: the red leaf colour is caused in plants by so-called anthocyanins. This group of dyes covers the green chlorophyll and shields it from excessively strong, harmful radiation. The radiant energy is thereby converted into heat. Red-leaved plants are somewhat less able to photosynthesise in low sunlight than green-leaved plants because the chlorophyll is covered. In very strong sunlight, the heat generated at the anthocyanin can in turn cause cell damage. Red-leaved plants are therefore best placed in partial shade.

Red Japanese maple (Acer palmatum varieties)

One of the best known red-leaved woody plants is the Japanese maple. Its delicate leaves and autumn colours alone have a high ornamental value, and then there are even cultivars that turn red at budbreak: for example, the red-leaved Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ˈAtropurpureumˈ) or the red Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ˈBloodgoodˈ). Together with its beautiful growth habit, the hardy, red-leaved tree is very suitable for planting individually in the garden or in a pot on a balcony or terrace.

Japanese maple with red leaves
Japanese maples are available in varieties that have red leaves when they shoot [Photo: Milosz Maslanka/]

ˈBlack Pearlˈ strap flower

The strap flower (Loropetalum chinense) of the ˈBlack Pearlˈ variety belongs to the red-leaved plants, which also have a beautiful flower. This appears as early as March or April and its pink colour provides a beautiful contrast to the dark to black-red leaves. The strap flower can be planted in the garden in a sheltered location in sunny to partial shade in regions with mild winters.

Leaves of the Loropetalum Chinense Black Pearl
The leaves of the Loropetalum chinense ˈBlack Pearlˈ variety have a very dark red colour [Photo: Furiarossa/]

Coral bells

Coral bells (Heuchera) are herbaceous evergreen perennials that have attractive foliage. Depending on the variety, the colour of the leaves ranges from light green to white tones and pink to dark red or purple. Many different red-leaved varieties can now be found, such as:

  • Heuchera villosa ‘Berry Smoothie’: pink to bright red foliage
  • Heuchera micrantha ‘Molly Bush’: dark red to purple foliage
  • Heuchera micrantha ‘Cappuccino’: reddish brown foliage
  • Heuchera micrantha ‘Obsidian’: very dark red, almost black-red foliage
  • Heuchera micrantha ‘Purple Petticoatsˈ: purple foliage underneath, brown-purple above.

Coral bells tolerate frost well and prefer a sunny to semi-shaded location with well-drained, nutrient-rich soil.

Alum root 'Obsidian' plant
The Heuchera variety ˈObsidianˈ is a plant with dark red leaves [Photo: Gardens by Design/]

Red barberry species and varieties

If you are looking for a shrub with red leaves, you are sure to find it among the barberry. Popular cultivars include Berberis thunbergii ˈAtropurpureaˈ with purple-red leaves or Berberis thunbergii ˈBagatelleˈ with brown to black-red leaves. The so-called Gagnepain’s barberry (Berberis gagnepainii var. lanceolata) bears green as well as red leaves. Its name probably comes from its narrow, lance-shaped leaves. Barberries are generally considered hardy, robust and uncomplicated plants that can cope even in somewhat drier locations. They can also be planted as a barberry hedge. We have described in detail what you need to pay attention to in a special article.

Purple Japanese barberry plant
Berberis thunbergii ˈAtropurpureaˈ has beautiful purple leaves [Photo: Olga Vasilek/]

Canadian redbud tree ˈForest Pansyˈ

Another red-leaved woody plant is the Canadaian redbud tree (Cercis canadensis ˈForest Pansyˈ). The leaves are still bright red when budding and later turn dark to brown-red. They keep their colour until autumn. The red-leaved tree can grow up to 8 m tall and displays purple-pink butterfly flowers in short racemes from April to May. The Canadian redbud tree prefers a nutrient-rich soil with a high lime content and should be planted in a sunny location.

Redbud 'Forest Pansy' leaves
The variety ˈForest Pansyˈ shows pink flowers in spring in addition to the red leaves [Photo: simona pavan/]

Japanese clove cherry

Japanese clove cherry (Prunus serrulata ˈRoyal Burgundyˈ) is a large shrub with red leaves and a growth height of up to 7m. Its pointed elliptical leaves are purple to purple-red and turn purple-reddish to bronze-orange in autumn. Its densely double, pink flowers from late April to early May are also a reason why the small tree is popular as an ornamental. You can plant it in your garden or grow it in a large container. Clove cherry prefers a location in full sun.

Cherry 'Royal Burgundy' leaves and blossoms
The red-leaved ‘Royal Burgundy’ flowers from late April to early May [Photo: ANGHI/]

Photinia ˈRed Robinˈ

The red photinia (Photinia fraseri ˈRed Robinˈ) is an evergreen shrub with red leaves that can get through winter without damage in mild areas. The new shoots in spring are a striking fire to crimson red colour and then the leaves turn green over time, unlike most woody plants which usually make the colour change in the other direction. At 2 to 3 m it remains relatively small, making it very suitable as a hedge plant with red leaves. The frost-sensitive shrub should be planted outdoors only in areas with mild winters.

Christmas berry 'Red Robin' leaves
The evergreen or rather the ever red Christmas berry ˈRed Robinˈ [Photo: okazaki hayato/]

Purple-leaf plum

Purple-leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera ˈNigraˈ) not only stands out with its red leaves but also thanks to its pink flowers and delicious fruits. The dark red, glossy leaves decorate the purple-leaf plum of the ˈNigraˈ variety, which grows up to 4 m high. Purple-leaf plums are generally considered undemanding, hardy large shrubs. After flowering in March-April, it develops sweet, juicy cherry plums, which grow up to 3 cm. These can be harvested from July.

Black cherry plum leaves and blossom
The black cherry plum has delicious plums as well as red leaves and pink flowers [Photo: Marinodenisenko/]

Red basil

Another plant with red leaves that not only has ornamental value but can also be used as food is red basil (Ocimum basilicum). This can be planted in the summer, both in the bed and in a pot to make your vegetable patch or balcony a little more colourful. Basil, by the way, can be cultivated perennially and grows quite large. The red-leaved, “valuable” varieties are definitely worth a try. A nutrient-rich and durable substrate, such as our Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost is particularly important for perennials. It is structurally very stable and easy to re-wet after drying out – so you will not have to repot as often as with conventional potting soil.

Red leaved basil plant
Red basil is very dark and rather purple [Photo: romiri/]

These red-leaved plants are not just striking outside. Various houseplants with red leaves can also be found.

Subscribe to the Plantura newsletter