14 Shrubs With Red Leaves All Year

Are you looking to add some colourful shrubbery to your landscape? If you’re like most gardeners, your first instinct is probably to reach for ornamentals with big, bold flowers. But I think coloured foliage can be just as impactful when used in the right design!

There are countless different shrubs that develop red leaves for a short part of the year — normally in autumn — but far fewer that maintain their unique colouring 24/7. Fortunately, those that do exist come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and temperaments.

In this article, I’ll share 14 of my favourite shrubs with red leaves all year and offer some expert advice on how to incorporate them into your own landscape.

Why Do Some Shrubs Have Red or Purple Leaves?

Most plant leaves are green due to the presence of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is a natural pigment that’s crucial to the photosynthesis process.

Shrubs with red or purple leaves also contain chlorophyll — without it, plants are unable to survive for very long. But they also contain large amounts of anthocyanin. 

Anthocyanin is another naturally occurring pigment that, in some plants, is concentrated enough to cover up the colour of the leaves chlorophyll. To the human eye, this pigment appears red or purple.

According to Michigan State University, adequate light is often needed for red-leaved plant species to produce the best colours. This is because anthocyanins likely play a role in protecting foliage from excess sunlight, so plants are driven to produce more of the pigment when exposed to bright light.

Types of Shrubs With Red Leaves

Botanically speaking, shrubs are perennials (meaning they live for several years) with woody stems. A shrub is essentially a smaller, bushier tree. 

When it comes to selecting plants for your garden or landscaping, however, I find that the term ‘shrub’ is often extended to mean pretty much any perennial that is as wide as it is tall. 

Herbaceous Perennials

Herbaceous perennials are plants that live for several years but that die back to the ground each winter. Their root systems survive under the soil’s surface until new stem and leaf tissue sprouts in the spring.

While these plants aren’t technically shrubs, they work much the same in terms of landscape design. Just keep in mind that herbaceous perennials only offer visual interest for about half of the year.

There are also some woody perennials that become herbaceous in cooler climates. These plants will naturally stay much smaller than their warm-climate counterparts and may never truly thrive.

Woody Perennials

Woody perennials are plants with woody stems that survive above the ground year-round. It’s normal for new growth on these plants to be green and tender but it will turn woody as it ages.

Since woody perennials retain growth year-to-year, they often get quite big. Many shrubs can be 10 feet tall or more at maturity but this process usually takes many years. You can use regular pruning to curate the general size and shape of most species.

These plants can generally be placed into one of two categories based on their annual life cycle:

Evergreen Shrubs

Evergreen shrubs keep their leaves all year. We tend to think of evergreens as pine trees and other conifers but there are also countless broadleaf shrubs that fall within this category.

The obvious benefit of planting an evergreen shrub is that you get to enjoy the foliage year-round. Several of the varieties I’ve highlighted below also boast seasonal flowers.

Even if a shrub is technically an evergreen, it may still drop its leaves due to stress, drought, or cold temperatures. There are many evergreen species that lose their leaves annually when grown in the cooler part of their hardiness range, so I recommend doing a little research if you have your heart set on an evergreen shrub with red leaves.

Deciduous Shrubs

Deciduous shrubs shed their leaves annually. This is normally a natural response to decreased day length and sun exposure in the fall. Brand new leaves replace the lost foliage the following spring.

Some of the most attractive shrubs are deciduous. Unfortunately, some homeowners are turned off by the bare stems left behind in the winter.

14 Shrubs With Red Foliage All Year

In my personal and professional opinion, the shrubs listed here represent some of the most attractive in terms of red foliage that lasts for more than a single season. But that doesn’t mean each one will be well suited to your garden.

It’s important to also look at characteristics like recommended USDA hardiness zones, ideal light exposure, and mature height when selecting a new shrub for your property.

Diablo Ninebark

1. Diablo Ninebark

Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Monlo’

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 3-7
  • Mature Size: 8-10’

The Diablo Ninebark is a tough, cold-hardy shrub belonging to the rose family. It can be planted alone as a landscape accent or en masse to create a dense privacy hedge or living fence.

The leaves of this shrub start out dark red in spring. As the season progresses, the foliage tends to darken to a more purplish colour but you might still see hints of red depending on how the light hits it!

My favourite thing about Ninebark shrubs is the summer flowers. This variety has pink flower buds that open into clusters of white blossoms. In the fall, the flowers are replaced by small, red berries.

Royal Purple Smokebush

2. Royal Purple Smokebush

Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-10
  • Mature Size: Up to 15’

Sometimes marketed as a small tree, the Royal Purple Smokebush is an attractive ornamental shrub that thrives in an impressive range of climates. 

When the leaves of this shrub first emerge, they range from bright red to pink. They then naturally fade into a reddish-purple throughout the summer and into fall. You’ll sometimes see a beautiful gradient appear as the oldest foliage begins to change colour while new leaves remain vibrant.

This shrub gets its common name from the wispy flower plumes that open up in mid-summer. From a distance, the plumes look a lot like red smoke rising up from the bush.

If you want to enjoy the delicate flowers each summer, keep in mind that these shrubs only bloom on new growth. Prune at the end of the growing season to avoid damaging the flower buds.

Ruby Loropetalum

3. Ruby Loropetalum

Loropetalum chinense ‘Ruby’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 7-9
  • Mature Size: 4-5’

The Ruby Loropetalum, also known as a Chinese Fringe Flower, belongs to the witch hazel family. It’s a lovely, compact shrub that produces sweet-smelling, pink flowers in springtime.

The leaves of this evergreen start out bright red but naturally turn green during the summer months. You can encourage new, red growth by lightly pruning throughout the growing season. Any green foliage will return to a deep burgundy colour in the fall.

Note that Loropetalums are generally not drought-tolerant and may require extra protection in cold weather, even within their recommended hardiness zones.

Crimson Fire Loropetalum

4. Crimson Fire Loropetalum

Loropetalum chinense ‘Crimson Fire’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 7-9
  • Mature Size: 2-3’

The Crimson Fire Loropetalum is another variety of Chinese Fringe flowers worth considering if you love red evergreen shrubs. This cultivar is even more compact than the one above, capping out at just 2 to 3 feet tall in most environments.

This shrub has many things in common with the Ruby Loropetalum — i.e., growth habit, flower characteristics, and hardiness. But one of the best things about this variety is that it holds its red-burgundy colouring all year.

I know of several nurseries that recommend planting Crimson Fire Loropetalum in place of Boxwood because it is naturally pest-resistant and doesn’t require pruning.

Flirt Nandina

5. Flirt Nandina

Nandina domestica ‘Murasaki’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 6-10
  • Mature Size: 1-2’

There are many types of Nandina that boast new, red growth each spring. But the Flirt Nandina stands out as having some of the best longevity when it comes to leaf colour, even in the heat of summer.

Flirt Nandina leaves turn dark green when fully mature. With a bit of careful pruning, however, you can encourage this shrub to put out new growth from spring through fall. By the time the newest leaves fade over winter, it will be time to jump back into the growing season again!

While my area is slightly too cold to plant Nandina in my own garden, I’m a big fan of the gradient effect that these shrubs tend to have. 

Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple

6. Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Inaba Shidare’

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 5-9
  • Mature Size: 4-8’

Since the Inaba Shidare Japanese Maple grows from a single, central trunk, it is technically a tree. However, it still manages to check off many of the same boxes as an ornamental shrub.

The leaves of this Japanese Maple start out a reddish-burgundy and maintain their colour through all of spring and summer. In the fall, the leaves transition into a crimson red.

This tree remains quite short throughout its life, so it functions in the landscape much like a true shrub would. Many people even consider it to be one of the most attractive Japanese Maples because of its graceful, ‘weeping’ growth habit.

Burning Bush

7. Burning Bush

Euonymusalatus

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-8
  • Mature Size: 10-15’

The Burning Bush is an Asian shrub that develops incredibly bright red foliage in the fall. In the summer, the leaves are green.

Unfortunately, Burning Bush has been categorized as invasive in much of North America. According to Purdue University, these shrubs produce seeds that are rapidly spread by birds and new plants can easily outcompete native undergrowth species for resources. Some states outright ban the selling or planting of this species. 

While Burning Bush is one of the most famous examples of a shrub with red leaves, I strongly suggest going with a more sustainable option for your landscape.

Velveteeny Smokebush

8. Velveteeny Smokebush

Cotinus coggygria ‘Velveteeny’

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-8
  • Mature Size: Up to 4’

The Velveteen Smokebush is a dwarf shrub perfectly suited to smaller foundation beds and hedgerows. Most specimens grow to be only 4 feet tall and wide.

These shrubs have reddish-purple foliage in the spring and summertime that brightens to a deep red in the fall. Like other Smokebush varieties, this plant sets out smoke-like flowers in the spring and early summer.

Overall, the Velveteeny Smokebush is easy to maintain and can even be planted in a large container if desired. 

Peach Flambé Coral Bells

9. Peach Flambé Coral Bells

Heuchera ‘Peach Flambé’

  • Type: Herbaceous
  • Ideal Position: Sun or shade
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Mature Size: Up to 2’

Peach Flambé Coral Bells is an example of a herbaceous perennial that I like to use as a small shrub within my landscape designs.

You can find these plants with all different colours of foliage — I’m a fan of mixing and matching various cultivars in a single bed.

While they typically die back to the ground each winter, Coral Bells make wonderful ground cover during the rest of the year. In addition to their large, vibrant leaves, Coral Bells produce tall, delicate flower stalks in the summertime. 

In milder climates, Coral Bells may grow as evergreens, providing colour year-round.

Ever Red Loropetalum

10. Ever Red Loropetalum

Loropetalum chinense ‘Chang Nian Hong’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 7-9
  • Mature Size: 6-9’

The Ever Red Loropetalum is yet another Fringe Flower shrub with stunning burgundy foliage that lasts all year.

This Loropetalum has crimson-red flowers that bloom off and on throughout the year. You’ll probably see the highest concentration of flowers in early spring. 

While this shrub needs a moderately warm climate to thrive, it’s drought-tolerant and requires minimal maintenance overall. It adapts easily to a variety of soil compositions and rarely needs pruning to maintain an attractive shape.

Mountain Fire Pieris

11. Mountain Fire Pieris

Pieris japonica ‘Mountain Fire’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 5-8
  • Mature Size: 6-10’

The Mountain Fire Pieris is another of my favourite shrubs with red-to-green gradient foliage. New leaves are incredibly vibrant and red, then slowly fade to green as they age.

You may lose sight of your Mountain Fire’s red leaves in the summertime as new growth slows. Rest assured, however, that the foliage will turn red once again as soon as fall sets in.

While most of the shrubs I’ve mentioned in this article are prized for their leaves, this variety also has some pretty stunning flowers. The white flowers grow in dense, drooping clusters somewhat reminiscent of a Bleeding Heart.

Best Red Crape Myrtle

12. Best Red Crape Myrtle

Lagerstroemia indica ‘Best Red’ 

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 6-10
  • Mature Size: 10-12’

In the right light, the leaves of the Best Red Crape Myrtle appear almost black. But, I promise you, there’s a hint of red in there as well.

Where the name of this cultivar really comes from is the bright red flowers that bloom for most of the summer.

The Best Red Crape Myrtle can be trained as either a multi-stemmed shrub or a tree. These plants are relatively pest- and drought-resistant and work well as tall privacy hedges in warmer climates.

Purpleleaf Sand Cherry

13. Purpleleaf Sand Cherry

Prunus x cistena

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 2-8
  • Mature Size: 6-10’

The Purpleleaf Sand Cherry is a cold-hardy shrub or tree that produces small harvests of edible fruit in the summertime. However, it is primarily grown as an ornamental.

Purpleleaf Sand Cherries have reddish-purple foliage that retains its colour throughout the growing season. They also boast delicate white flowers in the spring.

Traditionally, this species is prone to disease and pest damage but more resilient cultivars are regularly hitting the market. So if you’re interested in planting one of these shrubs — I plan to add one to my own front landscaping very soon — be sure to first research the most recommended cultivars for your region.

Red Japanese Barberry

14. Red Japanese Barberry

Berberis thunbergii f. Atropurpurea

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 5-8
  • Mature Size: 6-10’

The Red Japanese Barberry is another extremely popular ornamental that has, sadly, earned itself the status of ‘invasive species in parts of the United States. 

It’s easy to see why this shrub became so beloved. It has fragrant, yellow flowers, and reddish-purple leaves that last all season, and rarely fall victim to pests or disease. The only potential downside for the average gardener is the plant’s thorny stems.

While countless nurseries sell Japanese Barberry shrubs, I strongly suggest checking if your area lists it as an invasive plant before purchasing one yourself. Even if these plants are permitted in your region, it might be best to opt for one of the other shrubs I’ve recommended above instead. 

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.