Plants for Fall Color

Welcome autumn with a blaze of garden color.
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Rhus Glabra Blue Green Leaves Turn Red in Fall

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Ignite your fall views with the fiery foliage of sumac. 

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Ignite your fall views with the fiery foliage of sumac. 

Design your landscape to burst into brilliant hues with plants that display outstanding fall color. For many gardeners, fall becomes an overlooked season, partly because spring nursery visits showcase plants that look their best in that time frame. With careful planning and plant selection, you can create a yard that finishes with a fall flourish.

Start with outstanding fall shrubs, like Tiger Eyes sumac. As a group, sumacs are native to North America and offer multi-season interest. Brilliant fall foliage and fuzzy red berry clusters that linger through winter make sumacs a go-to shrub for fall and winter color. The native does spread too aggressively for modern yards, but Tiger Eyes reigns in the wandering. Leaves are chartreuse during spring and summer, adding more color to plantings.

Other shrubs that bring a blast of fall color include smooth witherod or possumhaw viburnum. This native shrub features striking fall foliage accented with tough-to-miss berry clusters in blue and pink shades. Include native beautyberry in your landscape for a one-of-a-kind fall accent: bright purple berries.

Continue the purple theme with caryopteris, which opens lavender-hued blooms in late summer and fall. Hydrangeas stir autumn interest with their fading flowers and richly-tinted leaves. Oakleaf hydrangea is no exception. This shrub to small tree doesn’t disappoint with fiery leaf tints and fading flowers in pink shades.

Choose from a host of perennials to create borders of stunning seasonal color. Garden mums carry the season with classic autumn hues of orange, gold, russet and bronze. Perfect accents for these shades are pink Japanese anemone and purple monkshood. Toad lily unfurls its exotic, purple- or pink-flecked blossoms in fall.

Pair the purple haze of Russian sage with the gold sparkle of ‘Fireworks’ goldenrod for an eye-catching autumn scene. Tuck in some blue star (amsonia), to add a textural touch of gold to your planting.

Don’t overlook ornamental grasses in your fall color plans. From tall miscanthus to shorter fescue clumps, grasses bring motion, texture and often striking seed heads to autumn views. If space is tight, focus on a tidy, upright grass like 'Karl Foerster' feather reed grass. Its clumps are topped with wheat-colored seeds in fall.

If you like a more flowing appearance, fountain grass comes in a variety of sizes and colors. The soft, bottlebrush-like seed heads enhance fall gardens and bouquets. Some ornamental grasses develop distinct autumn leaf hues. ‘The Blues’ little bluestem has stems that shift from blue-green to red in fall. ‘Morning Light’ miscanthus also adopts a reddish hue as autumn arrives.

Include some trees that develop terrific fall color in your yard. Sugar maple is a classic autumn star with leaves that blaze in shades of yellow, red and gold. Red maple also brings on the color—try ‘Autumn Blaze’ or ‘Red Sunset’ for a strong show. For foliage in brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow, plant black gum, or tupelo, as it’s known in the South.

Gingko offers a distinctive leaf form that holds a rich gold hue. Just make sure you’re not planting a female tree (the fruit stinks). Native sassafras has unusual leaf shapes that turn gold, red and purple in fall. You can prune sassafras to have a single trunk or let it sucker to create a thicket.