Plants with Fall Interest: Keep the Color Coming
Extend the gardening season with this list of herbaceous perennials, shrubs and trees with autumn interest.
As the end of the growing season arrives, enjoy one last flush of autumnal color in the garden. Consider the following plants with fall interest.
The needled tips of blue-rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis 'Wiltonii') get a purple tinge in the colder months of the year. Enjoy its blue-gray foliage during the growing season. Plant it in full sun to partial shade and a well-draining soil. This low-growing plant has a spreading habit, ultimately reaching about eight feet wide but less than one foot tall. Hardy in USDA Zones (2)3 to 10.
An evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub, heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) displays lacy, scarlet-red fall foliage when grown in the sun. Sprays of red berries in fall and winter attract birds. Cultivars with best red foliage include 'Firepower' and 'Harbour Dwarf.' Nandina grows best in full sun to partial shade and a well-draining soil. Plant size varies, depending on cultivar. Hardy in USDA Zones 6 to 10.
Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) is an evergreen or semi-evergreen shrub that has beautiful yellow to reddish purple fall foliage. It produces numerous spires of white flowers in spring. It does best in full sun in moderate climates and partial shade in hot regions. Plant it in moist to wet soils, but it is drought tolerant. Plant size is three to six feet tall and about as wide. Consider growing 'Henry's Garnet' which has reddish purple fall color or 'Little Henry' which is a dwarf selection with reddish purple fall foliage. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
Other shrubs with fall color:
- Beautyberry (Callicarpa), choose from violet-purple and white berried selections
- Burning bush (Euonymus alatus)
- Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
- Purple smoketree (Cotinus coggygria)
- Sumac (Rhus sp.)
- Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Sugar Maple in Fall
Traditional wisdom calls for fertilizing trees in early spring, if needed, but some research indicates that fall may be a better time. Wait a month after the first hard frost to feed; fertilizing while the temperatures are still warm and the tree is actively growing may lead to new growth that is killed back. For best results, test your soil and ask your local county extension agent for advice on what kind of fertilizer and how much to use.
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) has arguably the best orange fall foliage of all the maples. Plant size is about 70 feet tall. Hardy in USDA Zones (3)4 to 8. Consider other maples such as red maple (A. rubrum), Japanese maple (A. palmatum) and Amur maple (A. ginnala).
Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) is a deciduous tree with leaves that turn scarlet red in fall. It does best in moist to wet soils. Plant size reaches well over 100 feet tall. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 10.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) produces clean, brilliant golden-yellow fall foliage that perhaps the best yellow-foliaged tree. This slow-growing tree ultimately reaches well over 100 feet tall. Hardy in USDA Zones 3 to 9.
Other trees with fall color:
- Dogwood (Cornus)
- European beech (Fagus sylvatica)
- Katsuratree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum)
- Serviceberry (Amelanchier)
- Sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Ornamental grasses, such as maiden grass (Miscanthus), fountain grass (Pennisetum), switch grass (Panicum) and muhly grass (Muhlenbergia), add foliage interest and height to the perennial border in fall. They also produce their pink and golden feathery plumes in autumn. These grasses do best in full sun and a moist, well-draining soil.
If you're looking for fall-flowering perennials, consider the following options:
- Blue flowers: globe thistle (Echinops), bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), Russian sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia), 'Rozanne' geranium (Geranium 'Rozanne'), Aster novi-belgii 'Blue Lagoon,' blue mist shrub (Caryopteris)
- Pink flowers: Aster novae-angliae 'Alma Potschke' or 'Honeysong Pink,' Japanese burnet (Sanguisorba obtuse), Sedum 'Vera Jameson,' marguerite daisy (Argyranthemum), roses
- Yellow flowers: black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), dahlia, perennial sunflower (Helianthus), leopard plant (Ligularia dentate), chrysanthemum, Patrinia scabiosaefolia, goldenrod (Solidago), marguerite daisy (Argyranthemum), yarrow (Achillea filidpendula), sneezeweed (Helenium), Kniphofia
- Purple flowers: Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum), asters, Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha), autumn crocus, Veronciastrum, gayfeather (Liatris)
- White flowers: dahlias, chrysanthemums, marguerite daisy (Argyranthemum), sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora), Boltonia