Garden & Landscape Tips

Aralia 'Sun King'
Aralia 'Sun King' is a four-foot perennial that looks more like a golden bush.
Photo courtesy of Terra Nova® Nurseries Inc. www.terranovanurseries.com

Every year since 1990, members of the Perennial Plant Association have voted to highlight one perennial plant that deserves more use in American gardens. The group’s choice for 2020 is aralia ‘Sun King,’ a hefty, shade-preferring, gold-leafed perennial that grows four feet tall and wide in a single season.

Although it looks more like a golden shrub, ‘Sun King’ dies to the ground each winter, reemerging mid-spring with bright golden leaves on reddish-brown stems. With just a few hours of sun each day, the leaves stay golden-yellow all summer. In deep shade, the leaf color is more lime green. It produces small creamy-white flowers in mid to late summer followed by small purple berries in fall.

About ‘Sun King’

Aralia ‘Sun King’ is native to Japan, Korea, and southeast China, where it’s a popular shade-garden plant as well as an occasional edible. In Japan, it’s known as “Japanese asparagus” since aralia’s young shoots can be blanched and pickled.

To be considered as a nominee for Perennial Plant of the Year, the plant has to be easy to grow, cold-hardy throughout most of the country, resistant to bugs and disease, and attractive over a long period of time.

Perennial Plant Association voters liked several features about ‘Sun King,’ including:

  • Pollinator-attracting & bird-feeding flowers

  • Tolerance to less-than-ideal & shady soil 

  • Resistance to deer damage

  • Bright foliage that lights up the shade

Growing ‘Sun King’

‘Sun King’ does best in a site with morning sun and afternoon shade, although it’ll do full shade with a slight sacrifice in leaf color. The plant also will grow in more sunlight if kept damp. Full sun and dry soil cause the leaf edges to scorch and brown. ‘Sun King’ rarely seeds or suckers and is winter-hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9.

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