Captivating Coprosmas

Coprosma 'Roys Red' winter foliageWhen spotting the smooth and shiny foliage of a colorful Coprosma, it’s only a matter of seconds before my client asks ‘What IS that plant?’

Commonly known as a ‘Mirror Plant’, a Coprosma’s foliage looks like someone meticulously shellacked each perfectly shaped oval leaf.  Yes, they’re that shiny.

Finding foliage with smooth and reflective surfaces isn’t always easy, which is just one of the reasons why I’m such a fan of these evergreen shrubs.

Contrast the mirror-like foliage with a nearby rough and crinkly Leatherleaf Viburnum or Rodgersia, and the result will be a textural delight.

Coprosma 'Pink Splendor' in the shade

But besides the unusual texture, the colors are what really get me excited.

Mirror Plants have variegated leaves with colors that change dramatically throughout the seasons.  This kaleidoscope of colors is what makes them indispensable for creating wow-factor color combinations that shine (no pun intended) throughout different times of the year.

Alas, they’d be perfect if they were just a little hardier, able to survive cold, cold winters.

But they’re not, preferring instead to live where winters are mild (20 degrees and warmer).  But in my Zone 9 garden, they’re perfect.  Especially since they’re drought tolerant once they’re established, relying on very little supplemental water during our dry summer months.

Oh, and they’re deer resistant, too!

Here’s a few of my favorite varieties and how I like to use them in the garden.

Coprosma ‘Pink Splendor’

Coprosma 'Pink Splendor' and potThis is my go-to shrub when I want something to put on a colorful performance throughout the year.

Topping out at about 5×5 (though I usually see it closer to 3×3 in my area) this variety is at its best in colder temperatures and full sun, turning the foliage into a colorful kaleidoscope.

With shades of pink, orange, green and cream contained within each leaf, the foliage begs to be paired with a terra cotta pot.

However, if you’d like to tone down the warm colors just a bit, all that’s needed is a little manipulation!

Coprosmas will grow just as happily in partial shade as they will in the sun, however the colors in their foliage will be muted.   So, if you want softer shades, give the Coprosma more shade.  In my own garden, I like the soft peach tones that develop in the leaves and how they highlight the nearby fall colors of the Viburnum, Hydrangea, and Eupatorium.Coprosma 'Pink Splendor' - shadeCoprosma 'Pink Splendor'

Coprosma ‘Roy’s Red’

'Roy's Red' winterAnother colorful chameleon, the winter foliage of ‘Roy’s Red’ is tinged with silky chocolate, bronze and olive green colors.

In mid-summer, however, the tawny colors give way to deep olive green.  This lush color is such a welcome site in the glaring summer sun, providing a ‘visually cool’ element to the garden.

‘Roy’s Red’ is a taller variety, topping out at about 6’x3′.

I love plants with dimensions like these (taller than wide) as they’re ideal for placing along the back of the border in tight spaces when you want height but not width (see below).Coprosma 'Roy's Red' - summerCoprosma 'Roy's Red'

Coprosma ‘County Park Red’

Coprosma 'County Park Red'-winterNow this coprosma definitely deserves to have ‘red’ in its name as it puts on a very long-lasting fiery show once cold winter temperatures hit.

Whereas the ‘Roy’s Red’ (above) loses most of its color mid-summer, ‘County Park’ retains much of it throughout the year.

It’s compact 3×3 size make it perfect for anchoring the middle of a border, which I’ve done below.  Coprosma 'County Park Red' in winter

With the goal of creating a colorful bed lasting well into January, I combined ‘County Park Red’ (top right) with Grevillea ‘Superb’ (left) and Creeping Plumbago (bottom).

I love the long-lasting color echoes provided by the foliage, flowers, and fall colors.

Coprosma ‘Karo’s Red’

Coprosma 'Karos Red'

It seems red is a favorite color among Coprosma breeders, even though the colors are more chocolate brown than anything. But hey – who am I to say anything.

‘Karo’s Red’ grows to a tidy 3×3 mound and has smaller oval leaves than the ones mentioned above.

These dimensions give it a more dense and compact appearance, perfect for the mid-border.

Coprosma 'Karo's Red'

Here in my client’s garden, we planted ‘Karo’s Red’ along the base of this stucco wall in the hopes that it will soon fill out to create a colorful and ‘shadowy’ ribbon while waiting for the taller plants to fill in.

Though the garden is just a little over a year old, the Coprosmas are filling out nicely.

**(exciting news – I just found out that this garden will be featured in the upcoming October issue of Sunset Magazine!)

Coprosma ‘Tequila Sunrise’

Coprosma 'Tequila Sunrise'

Anytime the word ‘tequila’ is in a plant’s name you know it’s gonna be a party.  This Coprosma is no exception.

Another variety with smaller leaves, the bright orange and red colors definitely make a statement in the garden, especially when combined with a coral colored Diascia.

Over time, this Coprosma will grow to about 4′ tall with an unusual pyramidal shape.  I like to keep mine pruned to a smaller size, however, as shown in the photo to the left.

Coprosma 'Tequila Sunrise'- close up

I realize there are many more Coprosma varieties of there so I’d love to know some of your favorites.  I always have room in my garden for ‘just one more’.

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  • Hi Rebecca, No live in NC! Whaddya think? will they survive? I am think I might know the “Color Guard”, is it variegated yellow and green?

    • Ohhhhh – yes, NC is much warmer than NY! ha! If you don’t have temps that dip too far down into the low 30’s I’d say you should be fine. Even when our winters drop into the 29-30 degree range my phormiums are okay. And yes, the yucca is a really pretty shade of gold and green and looks fantastic when backlit by the sun.

  • Hi, I am originally from Zimbabwe now living in Brevard NC. LUV coprosmas and have never seen them for sale in nurseries in my area. Anyone out there who can tell me where or who I can buy from. Tried contacting Monrovia with no feedback!

    • Hi Linni! I think you’re having difficulty finding them because they’re tender in your zone and are most likely considered annuals. However, I bet you could bring them indoors for the winter? How frustrating that you can’t find them – I tried my usual sources with no luck as well. If I were you I’d try and ping Monrovia again, but in the meantime if I see a catalogue with them I’ll definitely keep you and mind and let you know!

      • Thanks so much Rebecca appreciate it. I saw that it was able to be grown in Zone 9 which is me so wondered. Had originally assumed it was perhaps tender. Th one that really aught my eye was Tequila Sunset(Sunrise???). I am a sucker for variegated plants! Could certainly bring it indoors with the rest of my plants Our home looks like a jungle in the winter! Ha ha

          • Terrific thanx Rebbeca will give it a go and let you know if I am successful. Loving your Gossip in the Garden column!

          • Thank you, Linni. If you’re looking for other plant ordering sources check out Margaret Roach’s blog, ‘A Way to Garden’ – she has a fantastic list of sources there. Her blog rocks!

          • Than again Rebecca. The other species I am interested in is the Phormium Tenax (New Zealand Flax)” great for floral art and I am sure they would be hardy. Also wonderful for contrasting texture in the garden. Are you familiar with them?

          • Hi Linni – phormiums are one of my favorite plants and I’d be lost without them! But didn’t you say you live in NY? They’d be very sad in such a cold climate. Though I do know a few gardeners who don’t mind hauling theirs into the greenhouse for the winter (in containers, of course). Have you tried ‘Color Guard’ yucca? It has a similar form yet is hardy down to zone 4.

  • I love coprosmas too and, reading your post, it occurred to me that ‘Karo’s Red’ might look very nice with the Agonis ‘After Dark’ I’m considering for a new bed in my side yard (after I get rid of some more lawn). My current favorite among the coprosmas is ‘Plum Hussy’ of which I have several. The oldest got a bit tall and sparse before I became vigilant about cutting it back on a regular basis but my other 3 are behaving themselves well (so far at least).

  • I agree, they are such good shrubs. In fact, just brought another one home yesterday, ‘Plum Hussy.’ Size and shape of leaf is very similar to ‘County Park Red,’ but just a little deeper in color. The grower Native Sons lists the size as 4-8 feet high by 3-4 feet wide. Looking forward to seeing more of that garden in Sunset — looks fabulous.

    • Denise – thanks for letting me know about ‘Plum Hussy’ (LOVE the name as much as the color!) I’m going to have to snoop around to see if I can find one for my garden! 🙂

  • I have a couple of the ‘Karo Red’ in pots. I keep them clipped into elegant cones, and place them on either side of the front steps. As the weather gets colder I move them up the steps until they’re on the porch. I can bring them inside over night if I have to. I like them very much.

    • That’s such a great idea, Deirdre! They’re a great alternative to the more common boxwood, providing such a pop of color on either side of the door. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • I do love Coprosma’s, the colors and the shiny leaves always intrigue me, but unfortunately they have to be happy being used as an annual in my container gardens. Denver is more than a tiche too cold for these beauties. I did try to overwinter one in the upstairs ‘nursery’ last year… it was not happy and croaked after a few weeks.

    Congrats on one of your gardens being in the Oct. Sunset mag… Yay!!!

    • Oh, I’m so sorry to hear they’re terrible at overwintering. Boo! 🙁 And thanks for the congrats – fingers crossed it still happens!!

  • HI, What an interesting article. My son is a grower here in San Diego and he has had many comprosma varieties. I agree they are beautiful plants and I am glad you are featuring them. They are slow sellers to the nurseries, so maybe this will let people know how great they are! If we don’t use them we will loose them.

    • Hi Bette, please tell your son that there’s a whole legion of us who adore coprosmas and to keep up the good work! How lucky for you – I bet you’re the first to get some of the latest varieties!!!

  • Congrats on sneaking (!) into Sunset again! Love the coprosmas! Especially County Park Red.

    • Thanks, Jo! It’s very exciting to have a garden featured in one of my favorite magazines (knock on wood I don’t jinx myself!!)

  • One of my favorite plants when was in San Diego as a much younger, aspiring landscape architect! The uber-glossy leaves always captivating, but I like the (new-to-me) reddish varieties. Oh, to be milder…

    • Ah yes, David. I was a little hesitant about writing about such tender beauties for everyone who can’t grow them but I just had to share them! I wonder if they’d overwinter well inside the house? I’ve never tried it….


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