When designing a garden with autumn interest, consider bark, fruit, and the form and texture of the plant, in addition to fall leaf color.
If you are in the planning mode, measure the area that you will be designing and commit it to paper. This allows you to see the space you are planting and work through the design of the garden. When you do this, it also allows you to learn about the plants, see on paper the potential size of the plants, and therefore determine the right plants for the location.
Visit nurseries and garden centers and check out what is available. Many trees, like sweetgum, sourwood, red maples and serviceberry offer wonderful color in the fall. Shrubs, like oakleaf hydrangea and fothergilla are also beautiful in autumn.
Many shrubs offer beautiful berries, red chokeberry, winterberry holly, and beautyberry often hold their fruit through the winter. Consider mixing plants that have fall and winter interest with the plants that you enjoy in the spring and summer. Here is a short list some 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. The bark on the shrub is a cinnamon color and peeling. A native shrub, grown best in part shade and well-drained soil, this plant will be generous with its fall color. Typically reaching a height and spread of 6’, this plant should be sited in a shrub border or as a specimen plant. Dwarf cultivars are available as well.
- Fothergilla gardenii is a small to medium sized native shrub reaching 4 -6 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 good choice for foundation plantings. It does prefer an acidic soil with good drainage and part to full sun.
- Aronia arbutifolia, red chokeberry, has proven to be another spectacular native plant for fall and winter interest. You can enjoy this plant’s bright red fruit from September through January as well as its red fall color in October. It tolerates most soil types, especially wet sites. It will reach 5’-6’ and is a good selection for the shrub border or a rain garden.
- Callicarpa japonica, beautyberry, is a shrub that will stretch 4’ to 6’ in height. It likes full sun to part shade and gets 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 with berries are great for indoor arrangements.
- Liquidambar styraciflua, sweetgum, is a large native shade tree reaching 60-75’ in height. The beautiful tree offers outstanding fall color – colors ranging from yellow, orange, red and purple. It prefers 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 native 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.
- The paperbark maple, Acer griseum, is one of my favorite trees. This slow-growing tree offers a cinnamon colored, peeling bark on the trunk and branches. It is a slow grower that likes part shade to full sun and reaches about 20-25'. It's not fussy about soil, but don't place it in a really dry location. Well drained soils are best. This is a great selection for a specimen tree or focal point in the garden where the tree bark and color will be visited on a more personal level.
Imagine your garden filled with a variety of plants having fall interest. The plants discussed here are just the "tip of the iceberg!”