Picking Plants for Fall Color

October 29, 2012

Everyone loves fall color. With a little planning you can create a wonderland of color in your fall landscape every bit as showy as the spring bloom season. Fall is the best time to plant trees, shrubs and most perennials, so you can dress up your landscape by selecting plants in the nursery for fall color during the next few weeks.

Homes blessed with large shade trees really stand out at this time of year. Native maples are the best known fall color trees. Shantung Maples like “Norwegian Sunset” combine stunning orange fall color with drought and wind tolerance, and provide the most dense, cooling shade in summer. Hybrid sugar maples such as “Legacy” and “Commemoration” combine vivid fall colors ranging from bright yellow to deep maroon with shapely, compact crowns that grace any landscape. The red maple “October Glory” holds its deep crimson leaves for an unusually long time after they turn, making it the most prized.

Ornamental Pear trees extend the color season well past frost, turning brilliant red and purple after other trees have dropped their leaves. Another tree with stunning late fall foliage is the hardy Northern Red Oak, a tree that combines wonderful fall color with extreme drought tolerance and resistance to insects and diseases.

Mixing fall color shrubs among the evergreens in your foundation plantings really dresses up your home. A favorite is the Euonymus variety commonly known as the Burning Bush, which glows crimson red for weeks. An unusual “tree form” of burning bush is available that makes a terrific specimen in the front yard. Viburnum “Alfredo” (also sold as “Bailey Compact”) gives the same red show but is smaller and never needs shearing. Itea (Sweetspire) “Henry’s Garnet” has multiple shades of red and pink in fall.

Oakleaf Hydrangea fall color ranges from fiery red to deep, dark purple, and is a great choice for areas that don’t get much sun. Some of the other Hydrangeas, like “Pink Diamond”, still have showy flower heads at this time of year. Woody groundcovers like “Gro-Low” fragrant sumac and Purple Wintercreeper (Euonymus coloratus) have spectacular fall color. Blueberry bushes are also known for a brilliant fall display.

Fall perennials bring a whole new dimension to landscapes at this time of year. This is when sedums finally burst into bloom, ornamental grasses get showy plumes, and the vivid blues of Plumbago and Caryopteris make you stop and look. Those of you who planted Knockout roses last year are really getting a show right now as these handsome plants start to get really large, covered with bloom and multi-colored glossy leaves. Wave petunias planted this spring are now outshining all the other annuals. Crisp cool nights bring on the mums and asters.

Take a good look around you as the season progresses, and take notice of which plants really catch your eye. The lingering fruit of Red Jewel crabapple, the unmistakable lemon yellow of Gingko in fall, glossy red holly berries, rustling Feather Reed grass. All can be yours to enjoy. This is the best time of year to plant perennials and woody plants.

Steve Boehme is the owner of GoodSeed Nursery & Landscape, located on Old State Route 32 three miles west of Peebles. To e-mail your landscaping questions click “Contact Us” from their website at or call (937) 587-7021.