fall color

Justin W. Hancock

Fall Color

The greens outside aren’t as green as they used to be. Fall is in the air and that means trees and shrubs are preparing to put on their fall show. How does your yard look in autumn? If you’ve been wanting to put on more of a show, here are some tips.

Shop in fall. Visit your local garden center or nursery as trees and shrubs are putting on their fall finery; that will give you a chance to see the colors the plants develop (and which plants tend to be brightest).

Create a backdrop. One way to highlight bright colors, especially yellows and oranges, is to plant them in front of evergreens. Rich dark greens, like many pines and spruces, are particularly nice, but you can also create some eye-popping fall combos by dropping your favorite fall shrubs in front of silvery-blue plants like blue spruce.

Think about berries. Fall color can come from fruits, as well as foliage. You can’t help but notice some plants such as beautyberry (Callicarpa) when their brightly colored berries take center stage in the garden.

Plant fall flowers. There’s a whole world of great fall perennials beyond mums and asters. Add cheer to your landscape with brightly colored goldenrod (Solidago), toad lily (Tricyrtis), and more!

By the way: Interested in why/how tree leaves turn color in fall? Check out this story!


Justin W. Hancock

Plant of the Day: Anemone

I’ve been really busy lately, and I have to confess I’ve not spent as much time in the garden as I should have. It really took me by surprise the other day when I looked out the window and was greeted to a big burst of color from my Japanese anemones.

If you have plenty of space for it, Japanese anemone is a great pick for the fall landscape. A well-established plant produces tons of blooms that are cheery and held on tall stems that make them perfect for cutting.

Japanese anemone can be a bit of a thug, spreading rapidly, so don’t plant it next to delicate or dainty plants that could be overrun.

It does best in partial shade and moist, well-drained soil that’s rich in organic matter. It can take quite a bit of shade, though less light will mean fewer blooms.

The flowers appear in white or pink with cheery yellow centers. They last just shy of a week when cut and brought indoors for arrangements.

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Everyday Gardeners

Viva Viburnums

Brandywine viburnum (Viburnum nudum 'Bulk') has glossy red leaves in autumn.

Brandywine viburnum (Viburnum nudum 'Bulk') has glossy red leaves in autumn.

Viburnums truly are plants for all seasons. I’ve added half a dozen different kinds to my yard because I love their pink or white flowers in the spring, their pink, red, blue, or black berries summer through early winter, and outstanding fall color. Brandywine viburnum, pictured above is a type of possumhaw viburnum (I love that common name!). Those with more refined tastes may refer to it by its alternate common name, smooth witherod. This particular variety is known for its spectacular display of pink and blue berries. Mine is only in its second year, so hasn’t bloomed and fruited yet, but the fall color this year has been gorgeous. I’m hoping that by next year it will have some of its fragrant white flower clusters, and produce some berries. But I’d grow it for the fall color alone.

American highbush cranberry viburnum (Viburnum trilobum)

American highbush cranberry viburnum (Viburnum trilobum)

The American highbush cranberry viburnum (left) has white flowers in spring and red cranberry-like fruits from mid-summer into winter. Berries are tart, but edible, similar to its namesake fruit. Unless you’re a lover of pucker-producing fruits, it’s not likely to become your favorite, but the flavor is acceptable. Birds usually leave the berries alone until the fruits have frozen a few times. I’ve been told that winged wildlife like them best fermented on the shrub. This time of year, the rich red, three-lobed leaves set off the ripe fruits nicely.

Compact Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum')

Compact Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii 'Compactum')

Another viburnum with great fall color is the compact Korean spice viburnum (right). It kicks off the spring season with extremely fragrant clusters of pinkish white blooms that develop into red fruits which ripen black. Fall color is bright red with touches of yellow and orange, creating a warm glow from within the center of the shrub.

The doublefile viburnum (below) is sometimes mistaken for dogwood in the springtime with its large white blooms on horizontal branches. The flowers develop into red berries that ripen black. This time of year, it puts on another display in fiery hues. Because its leaves are covered in fine hairs, it lacks the glossy showiness of the Korean spice or possumhaw viburnums, but it puts on a nice show nonetheless.

Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum)

Doublefile viburnum (Viburnum plicatum tomentosum)

Other viburnums in my yard are less showy this time of year. Leaves of Blue Muffin arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), for example, turn subdued yellowish brown. Others, such as the lantanaphyllum viburnum (Viburnum X rhytidophylloides) are semi-evergreen, keeping their green color until their leaves drop.

I’ll keep on the lookout for other viburnums to add to the landscape. Although there’s not a lot of space left, I’ll find a way to cram in a few more of these showy shrubs because they are so attractive in several seasons, are easy to grow, and virtually trouble-free.

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Jane Miller

nature’s underdogs

Dogwoods are nature’s underdogs. So are the many other understory trees native to our woodlands, including serviceberry, wild plum, redbud, hawthorn, wahoo, and sassafras. The sheer size of cottonwood, sycamore, hickory, oak, and maple helps the towering giants win The Most Colorful contest in October. But shorter species offer big blessings, too. In the wild, their individual beauty often is disguised by the hovering limbs of tall neighbors, like schoolyard bullies showing little respect for personal space. By now, though, the big boys have reached their peak and bared their branches, allowing the small-fries of the forest and fencerows to show what they’re made of. They win me over, not just for the cute factor, but for their value in home landscaping. After all, smaller trees are a better fit for most backyards. Plus, many of these space-saving natives offer sweet spring blossoms, glorious fall foliage, and colorful fruits that wildlife can’t resist. The underdogs, in this case, have the last “bark.”

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier)

Serviceberry (Amelanchier)

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)


Everyday Gardeners

Cushion Spurge, Act II

fall spurge
Cushion spurge glows in the springtime with its fluorescent yellow green flowers and bracts, but it also stars in the fall garden when its leaves sparkle in shades of red, purple, and orange. It’s easy to see where the plant got its botanical name: Euphorbia polychroma. This chameleon-like seasonal color change makes it an excellent choice for a well-drained perennial border. The bright red leaves also hint at spurge’s close relation to poinsettia. In addition to sharing red and gold color combinations, both plants have milky sap.

For more on growing cushion spurge, and to see it’s springtime color, go to our Plant Encyclopedia entry on spurges at http://www.bhg.com/gardening/plant-dictionary/perennial/spurge/.