Yard & Garden Report


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Purple Power

Do you want to make a dramatic statement in your landscape? Think PURPLE!

Purple plants
Figs 1-3. 'Deborah' Norway maple is the most majestic purple-leaf tree for landscapes in North Dakota; 'Schubert' chokecherry is an eye-catching small tree; and 'Center Glow' ninebark is a tough, beautiful shrub.
Give a child a box of crayons and ask them to draw a leaf. They’ll open the box and look for a green crayon. Leaves are GREEN, right?

Not always. Some plants have purple leaves. Purple plants are distinctive. Purple plants are showy. Purple plants are flamboyant!

Do you want to add something dramatic to your landscape? Think PURPLE.

Start with shade trees. The most magnificent purple-leaf shade tree is ‘Deborah’ Norway maple (Fig. 1). ‘Deborah’ originated in Canada and is hardy to Zone 4. Its new foliage is brilliant purple-red, later developing shades of bronze over summer. Norway maple grows fast and is more adaptable to harsh soils than sugar and red maples. ‘Deborah’ grows up to 50 feet tall.

Chokecherry is the most common purple-leaf tree in North Dakota (Fig. 2).  This small tree tolerates dry, infertile soils and is often planted along streets. Its spring green foliage turns purple over summer. ‘Canada Red’ is reported to be a branch sport of Schubert’, with faster growth and brighter leaves.

‘Newport’ plum is beloved for its light pink flowers, among the first flowers of spring. Its foliage is deep red to purple and it will produce small, 1-inch purple plums. ’Newport’ originated in Minnesota and is hardy to Zone 4.

Bear in mind that chokecherry and ‘Newport’ plum are short-lived plants, often declining after 20 years.

On the other hand, ninebark is one of the toughest, longest-lived plants. The shrub is hardy and tolerates our dry, alkaline soils. ‘Diablo’ is an award-winning plant that develops into a 10-foot mound of arching canes. ‘Center Glow’ has brighter foliage and lime-green centers on its new leaves (Fig. 3).

Purple-leaf cultivars of Japanese barberry are popular as accent plants and hedges. Both barberry and ninebark resist deer.

Written by , Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report, June 30, 2016. Photos were made available under Creative Commons licenses specified by the photographers: GotWild; shirley-agardenerslife.blogspot.com; and Bailey Nurseries, Inc.

Contributing source: Dirr, M.A. 2009. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants. Sixth edition. Stipes Publishing: Champaign, IL. 

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