BOOM! Cordyline festival grass is a good choice to add some pop to any landscape. (Photo courtesy Armstrong Garden Centers)
BOOM! Cordyline festival grass is a good choice to add some pop to any landscape. (Photo courtesy Armstrong Garden Centers)

Instead of celebrating the undead this Halloween, why not go for something living? There are plenty of striking plants that can be used to create fun holiday drama that can live on in the home and garden. And yes, they’ll provide plenty of color in addition to being “green.”

Let’s start indoors. Croton, a houseplant with mottled foliage of yellow, red, purple, bronze and green is fast becoming a standard fall and Halloween plant. Cluster pumpkins and gourds around a potted croton for a quick and easy look. Another houseplant, cordyline “Caruba Black,” with purple-black leaves is a stunning foil for ghostly white pumpkins.

Bright orange, red and yellow kalanchoes will provide color for up to six weeks indoors in a bright spot. Cluster them in a cachepot or use alone in pots along with Halloween figures and candles. Coleus, that grandmotherly favorite, has been rethought and revitalized by plant breeders. No longer lanky and mottled, the new coleuses are full and compact mounds of fabulous color. For fall, use “Trusty Rusty,” “Indian Summer,” “Redhead” and “Henna.”

A special strain of coleus called “Under the Sea” has strange, ruffled, crimped and creepy, narrow leaves. These will lend a spooky air to Halloween centerpieces. All come in red, lime, pink and purple tones. Give coleus bright light indoors.

Yellow orchids are a sophisticated choice that invite the holiday spirit. Bright yellow and brown oncidiums or yellow moth orchids last for many weeks and pair well with Halloween décor.

Tiny cobweb houseleeks, with strange “netting” growing over the tops, placed in simple terra-cotta pots painted black look charming at individual place settings or as Halloween dinner favors.

Outdoors, there’s an even spookier array of hauntingly beautiful plants. Dark, almost black-leaved elephant ears (colocasias and alocasias) have large, shield-like leaves that provide dramatic contrast to flowers of almost any color. Colocasia “Black Magic” has purple/black leaves. “Black Ruffles” is similar, but with wavy leaf edges. “Black Velvet” alocasia has black leaves and prominent, spooky white veins.

Several cordylines have long, grass-like leaves that provide a spidery look. “Dark Star” and “Dark Knight” both have almost-black leaves. “Festival” has very dark burgundy/black leaves. A miniature version of these cordylines is black mondo grass. Set a warty pumpkin in the center of a pot and plant black mondo all around it for a simple, creepy statement.

Variegated corn “Field of Dreams” is a knockout grown in pots and planters. Its pink, cream and green striped leaves make dried corn stalks look very old school. Another star for pots (and won’t get as tall as “Field of Dreams”) is black millet “Purple Majesty” with striking plumes and arching leaves of black/purple.

Chinese lanterns, or Physalis, are very popular at Armstrong Garden Centers in Santa Monica. Small plants bear many burnt-orange hanging “lanterns.” Place these on your doorstep or porch.

Coral bells (Heuchera) now come in fantastic autumnal colors — the leaves, not the flowers. Incredible tones of russet, peach, cinnamon, purple, silver, red, and gold are all available now. Who needs the leaves to turn each fall when you have heucheras?

Agonis “After Dark” is a very feathery small tree or shrub. Often trained as patio trees on a single trunk, “After Dark” makes a year-round statement and can be underplanted with orange gerbera daisies or pansies for Halloween. Later, replant with pink and white flowers for spring.

Hit the nursery this and set the mood for a colorful and unique, living Halloween. It will be a fun undertaking.


Arnulfo Bahena, CCNP, is the manager for Armstrong Garden Centers located at 3226 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. E-mail him your gardening questions to or call (310) 829-6766. Visit Armstrong Garden Centers online at

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