Best Plants for Fall Color in the South

You can achieve great fall color in Southeastern gardens with these spectacular plants.


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Sand dunes. Cypress swamps. Granite. Outcroppings. Unlikely homes of incredible fall color in the South. People say we have no color, but I know where to look and what to plant for spectacular mosaics that come in when fall days dip into the chilly 60s.

A potted dwarf tree brings the woods to the garden. Bald cypress (Taxodium 'Peve Minaret') turns to honey suede in early October. Sweetgum (Liquidambar 'Oconee') makes star-shape leaves of russet and tangerine in mid-November. At the edge of the yard, a pawpaw patch (Asimina triloba) slings 8-inch-long banana fruits that hold color when they fall to the ground at first frost.

And one more small tree, sumac (Rhus). Its canopy is open so you can plant perennials with it, under it, in it. I believe in planting two things in the same hole. Get a sumac and underplant it. The branches make great structure for sprawly perennials, vines, and even other shrubs. I want to plant a sumac winter calendar: I'd buy a dozen one-gallon sumacs, and plant with each, in the same hole, one of the following cool-season plants.

-- Mid-October: Sabal minor -- Charleston green, black fruits on 8-foot-tall stems.

-- Late October: Floppy Cuphea micropetala -- they call it candy corn flower.

-- Early November: Mahonia 'Winter Sun' -- deep evergreen, full of golden flowers.

-- Thanksgiving: Cassia marilandica -- a flower canopy to stand under.

-- Christmas: Opuntia 'Morning Star' -- hands-down, the best, fastest-growing, groundcover cactus.

-- New Year's: Jasminum 'SunGlow' -- yellow leaves in fall, yellow spring flowers.

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