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Fall Gardens

Posted: September 6, 2011

Fall is right around the corner, and many plants will come to life through fall color. Fall is the second best time to plant, so why not design a fall garden? Many garden centers will receive fresh stock in the fall months of the year, so you’ll have a great selection to choose from. Consider mixing plants that have fall interest with the plants that you enjoy in the spring and summer. Here are some native plants you may want to try.

Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea, is a large shrub that not only has summer interest with its big, white conical flowers, but also has terrific red to purple fall color.  Grown best in part shade, this plant will be generous with its fall color.  Typically reaching a height of 6 feet and a spread of 5 feet, this plant should be sited in a shrub border, or as a specimen plant.  Well drained soil is its preference.

 Fothergilla gardenii is a great small to medium sized shrub reaching 3-4 feet in height as well as spread.  It’s not only showy in the spring with its white, bottle-brush flowers, but the yellow, orange, and red fall colors are spectacular.  This plant is a slow grower, making it a great plant for foundation plantings.  It does prefer an acidic soil with good drainage and part sun to full sun.

 Aronia arbutifolia, red chokeberry, has proven to be another spectacular plant for fall interest.  You can enjoy this plant’s bright red fruit from September through November as well as its red fall color.  It tolerates most soil types, as well as wet and dry locations.  It will reach 4-5 feet and is a good selection for the shrub border.

 Callicarpa japonica and Calicarpa americana, our native beautyberry, are shrubs that will stretch 4 to 6’ in height.  They like full sun to part shade and get lovely purple berries in the fall – hence the fall attraction of this shrub, as purple is not a common color this time of year.  Use this plant for a shrub border, or mix it in with some spring blooming plants. The stems that bear berries are great for indoor arrangements. 

 Lindera bezoin, spicebush, shows a great yellow fall color.   This plant is often thought of because of its fragrant stems when broken.  However, the yellow color mixes wonderfully with the oranges and reds of the fall palette.  It likes part shade to full sun, but becomes more open and wild the more shade it is provided.  It is a large shrub, potentially reaching 8’, making it a good plant for the shrub border.  

 Liquidambar styraciflua, sweetgum, is a large shade tree reaching 60-75 feet in height. The beautiful tree offers tons of fall color – colors ranging from yellow, orange, red and purple.  It wants full sun and will grow well in most soil types.  The star-shaped leaves give this tree an interesting texture through the summer months. 

 Nyssa sylvatica, or blackgum, is a tree often overlooked.  This tree has a habit very similar to the pin oak.  The canopy is pyramidal in shape, like the pin oak, but the leaves are oval.  The fall color is one of the best of our native trees, changing from dark green in the summer to a brilliant scarlet in the fall.  It will stretch to 30 – 40 feet, but is slow growing, making it a good street tree and nice large specimen tree in most yards.  

 Clematis paniculata, sweet autumn clematis, is a vine that has wonderful, small, fragrant, white flowers in the September and October.  When in bloom, it resembles new fallen snow because flowers are so prolific on this plant.  It is an aggressive vine, making maintenance a must.  Cutting the vine in the early spring may be a good way to control this plant.

 Imagine your garden with a variety of plants for fall color.  This list is just the “tip of the icburg”!  Many more plants are available on today’s market.

 Check out some shrubs and trees at your local garden centers and nurseries.  You’ll find them a great addition to your fall landscape!  Keep in mind your soil and the needs of the plants you may want to grow.  Selecting the right plant for the right place will make your gardening more successful than ever!

 Mary Ann Ryan is the Extension Consumer Horticulture Educator serving  the Southeast Region. Penn State is committed to affirmative action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workforce.  Penn State Extension in Cumberland County is located at 310 Allen Road, Suite 601, Carlisle, Pa 17013, phone 717-240-6500, Office e-mail CumberlandExt@psu.edu.