16 Stunning Shrubs With Yellow Leaves

Shrubs are often used as filler around more colourful plantings and garden decor. If you ask me, however, there are more than enough interesting shrubs out there worth giving a turn in the spotlight.

A shrub doesn’t need to have vibrant flowers to catch your eye. In fact, some of the most colourful and attractive shrubs are grown for their foliage above all else.

In this article, I’ve highlighted 17 of my favourite shrubs with yellow leaves and offered some tips on how to include them in your own landscape.

Why Are Some Plant Leaves Not Green?

For most plant species, yellow leaves are a sign that something is wrong. But, as I’m about to exhibit below, there are also some plants with naturally yellow leaves.

Plants get their colour from concentrated pigments within the leaf tissues. Chlorophyll, which appears green to the human eye, is the primary pigment in most leaves.

Other leaf pigments include carotene (orange), anthocyanin (purple), and flavone (yellow). These pigments exist in nearly all plant foliage but are usually hidden by chlorophyll.

Shrubs and other plants with yellow leaves may have higher concentrations of yellow-toned pigments in comparison to their chlorophyll content. This gives the foliage a chartreuse or golden appearance depending on the plant.

17 Shrubs With Yellow Leaves

The list below is just a sampling of the many shrubs that boast yellow foliage for all or part of the year. In my opinion, though, these shrubs represent some of the very best Mother Nature has to offer.

When selecting shrubs for your own landscape, be sure to pay close attention to factors like hardiness, ideal positioning, and size. These are the details that will ensure your new plantings are a success.

Golden Mop False Cypress

1. Golden Mop False Cypress

Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-8
  • Mature Size: 2-5’

The Golden Mop False Cypress is a relaxed alternative to more manicured evergreens. It’s frequently featured in rock gardens and East Asian-influenced landscaping.

As the name somewhat implies, this shrub forms a loose mound of thread-like foliage where it grows. The leaves tend to present their best yellow hues when exposed to full sunlight throughout most of the day.

This shrub performs best in well-draining soil and is sensitive to harsh winds, both factors that should be taken into account before planting. It is also slow-growing and can take more than a decade to reach its full size.

Golden Euonymus

2. Golden Euonymus

Euonymus japonicus ‘Aureo-marginatus’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 6-9
  • Mature Size: 6-12’

The Golden Euonymus is a perky, upright-growing shrub with variegated foliage that lasts all year. It’s super adaptable to poor soil conditions and — likely as a direct result — is very popular in both commercial and residential landscapes.

The leaves of this shrub are typically green with yellow variegation. It’s normal for the degree of variegation to differ and some leaves may emerge completely yellow. 

An established Golden Euonymus requires little maintenance and can be pruned at practically any time. Just keep in mind that it takes about 10 years for this shrub to reach a decent size.

Goldflame Spirea

3. Goldflame Spirea

Spirea x bumalda ‘Goldflame’

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-9
  • Mature Size: 3-4’

While most of the shrubs I’m highlighting are planted primarily for their showy foliage, the Goldflame Spirea is a shrub that also offers gorgeous flowers.

The leaves are reddish-orange when they emerge in the spring but quickly transition to a yellow-green colour. They turn orange again in the fall. In the summertime, the Goldflame Spirea produces clusters of bright pink flowers. 

This shrub is very easy to grow and makes a great offering for your local pollinators. I personally like to use Spirea to create loose privacy hedges.

Edmee Gold Boxleaf Honeysuckle

4. Edmee Gold Boxleaf Honeysuckle

Lonicera nitida ‘Briloni’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Partial sun or shade
  • Hardiness Zone: 5-9
  • Mature Size: 2-3’

The Edmee Gold Boxleaf Honeysuckle is one of the only yellow-leaved shrubs that can grow in significant shade. (I still recommend a planting location with partial sun for the best results.)

This evergreen shrub boasts tidy foliage that grows along gentle, draping stems. The end result is a plant that looks equally at home in a formal garden as it does in a cottage-style one.

In addition to its yellow-green foliage, this bush produces spring flowers that attract pollinating insects and hummingbirds.

Kaleidoscope Abelia

5. Kaleidoscope Abelia

Abelia x grandiflora ‘Kaleidoscope’

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 5-9
  • Mature Size: 2-3’

The Kaleidoscope Abelia is much more than just a yellow shrub. This bush produces a bonafide rainbow of foliage that constantly changes as the season progresses.

New spring leaves are yellow-green and mature to a golden yellow in the summer. The foliage then transitions to red and orange in the fall. But it’s also not uncommon for a single Abelia shrub to boast all of these colours at a single time.

While this shrub is technically deciduous, it grows as a semi-evergreen in the warmest parts of its hardiness range. In colder climates, the shrub’s woody growth may die back during the wintertime.

Florida Sunshine Illicium.

6. Florida Sunshine Illicium

Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 8-9
  • Mature Size: Up to 5’

The Florida Sunshine Illicium is an upright shrub or small tree with yellow foliage that varies in intensity depending on the time of year. Its leaves tend to be brightest in the fall but immediately grow pale as temperatures cool.

According to North Carolina State University, this Illicium cultivar grows best in part sun. It’s likely to suffer scorch damage if grown in direct sunlight.

While this plant is related to the Chinese Star Anise (Illicium verum), it is not edible. The leaves and seeds of this shrub are mildly toxic to humans if ingested.

Katsura Japanese Maple

7. Katsura Japanese Maple

Acer palmatum ‘Katsura’

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 5-9
  • Mature Size: Up to 12’

The Katsura Japanese Maple is a tall shrub or small tree that has a rounded, low-branching shape overall. 

I think this is one of the prettiest Japanese Maples to encounter in the spring. The leaves emerge a vibrant yellow colour with thin, red margins. In the summer, the foliage transitions to a chartreuse hue. It gets a second flush of yellow and orange in autumn.

The growth habit of this shrub is well suited for use as an unobtrusive privacy screen. Plant in full sun if you live in a cooler climate, or in partial shade if you live somewhere hotter.

EverColor Everillo Sedge

8. EverColor Everillo Sedge

Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Partial sun or shade
  • Hardiness Zone: 5-9
  • Mature Size: 1-2’

The EverColor Everillo Sedge is a compact, ornamental, grassy plant with foliage that ranges from lime green to golden yellow. It can be added to seasonal outdoor containers for height or planted in the landscape as a perennial groundcover.

This sedge is cold-hardy, deer-resistant, and generally low-maintenance once planted. I highly recommend it for any shady areas that you want to keep looking great while also being hands-off.

You don’t need to prune this plant but it is a good idea to clean up spent foliage as it dies back. Be sure to provide moderate water throughout the year for healthy, vibrant foliage.

Firefly Heather

9. Firefly Heather

Calluna vulgaris ‘Firefly’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-6
  • Mature Size: 1-2’

The Firefly Heather is generally regarded as one of the most colourful Calluna shrubs out there. It’s also received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit for overall quality.

This compact, evergreen shrub changes colour throughout the year. The leaves are chartreuse and yellow in the spring and summer, then turn mauvish in the fall. As fall transitions into winter, the foliage once again changes to a deep red.

Heather is most often associated with the UK but actually originated in parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It also performs quite well in cool and temperature regions of the United States.

Golden Spirit Smokebush

10. Golden Spirit Smokebush

Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’

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

The Golden Spirit Smokebush is definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a shrub with interesting foliage and flowers. This plant is hardy in a variety of climates and can tolerate relatively poor growing conditions as long as it has well-draining soil.

Smokebushes are known for their colour-changing leaves, and this variety is no exception. Despite these seasonal colour changes, the circular leaves are golden yellow the majority of the time.

This shrub gets its name from the large, wispy flowers that emerge in the summertime. From a brief distance, the blossoms look like plumes of smoke rising from the branches.

Golden Spreader Nordmann Fir

11. Golden Spreader Nordmann Fir

Abies nordmanniana ‘Golden Spreader’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-6
  • Mature Size: 2-3’

The Golden Spreader Nordmann Fir has light green or chartreuse foliage throughout most of the year. In the winter, though, the needles turn a bright shade of yellow.

This evergreen shrub is easy to care for when grown in fertile, well-draining soil. Note that the foliage is sensitive to intense sun exposure, so planting in partial shade is advised for the best year-round colour.

The Golden Spreader Nordmann Fir usually grows wider than it does tall. Excessively tall growth can be pruned back as needed to maintain the sprawling shape.

Sundance Mexican Orange Blossom

12. Sundance Mexican Orange Blossom

Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 7-10
  • Mature Size: 5-6’

If you live in a particularly warm climate, then the Sundance Mexican Orange Blossom is one of my top recommendations. It boasts golden yellow new growth and showy, fragrant flowers that last from mid-spring through summer.

The leaves turn greener as they age, so you’ll often see this shrub with a gradient effect. But even the mature foliage is more chartreuse than true green.

According to Washington State University, this subtropical evergreen performs best in partial shade, especially during mid-day. Excess sunlight can bleach the colourful foliage.

Golden Barberry

13. Golden Barberry

Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea’

  • Type: Deciduous
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 4-7
  • Mature Size: 3-4’

The Golden Barberry is a beautiful, hard-to-kill shrub with yellow foliage that lasts almost the entire year. Sadly, however, it’s not the best option for most home landscapes.

My understanding is that this yellow cultivar is less invasive than other forms of Japanese Barberry because it produces fewer seeds. But I still don’t recommend planting this shrub anywhere that considers Japanese Barberry to be problematic.

In addition to having thorny stems, I also want to point out that Barberry shrubs are mildly toxic. So think twice about planting Golden Barberry in areas where pets or children play.

Sunshine Ligustrum

14. Sunshine Ligustrum

Ligustrum sinense ‘Sunshine’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 6-10
  • Mature Size: 3-6’

The Sunshine Ligustrum is a compact, hedge-forming shrub that thrives in warm, sunny areas. It’s normally regarded as an evergreen but does tend to drop foliage seasonally in the northern part of its hardiness range.

One thing I really like about this shrub is that it can easily be customized to the space. It responds well to pruning if you prefer a manicured aesthetic but can also be left to grow organically.

Another major benefit of planting this shrub versus some other options is that Sunshine Ligustrum is sterile, meaning it can’t reproduce. So there’s zero chance of it becoming invasive.

Rheingold Arborvitae

15. Rheingold Arborvitae

Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Full/partial sun
  • Hardiness Zone: 2-7
  • Mature Size: 3-5’

The Rheingold Arborvitae is a welcome twist on the traditional evergreen shrub. Its foliage ranges from green to gold for most of the year and turns bronze in the wintertime.

While Arborvitae is often thought of as a fast-growing evergreen, this particular variety takes many years to reach its full size. It will naturally form a cone-shaped mound without any pruning.

Camouflage Variegated Japanese Aralia

16. Camouflage Variegated Japanese Aralia

Fatsia japonica ‘Variegata’

  • Type: Evergreen
  • Ideal Position: Partial sun or shade
  • Hardiness Zone: 7-10
  • Mature Size: 5-8’

The Camouflage Variegated Japanese Aralia is a subtropical shrub with interesting foliage. Each leaf boasts patches of yellows and greens that make it very clear where the cultivar’s name came from.

Although the foliage is this shrub’s main attraction, it also offers clusters of white flowers in the fall and winter. The ensuing seed pods are also aesthetically pleasing.

This Aralia grows best in filtered sunlight or shade. It prefers acidic soils but can adapt to a range of growing conditions.

If you have enjoyed this article, why not head over to 21 Green Flowers You Can Grow Yourself for more helpful gardening advice?

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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.