Planting for Fall Color

Fall is not quite here, but coming soon! Right now is when you may be thinking about what to plant to bring in those vibrant autumn hues. There are numerous choices including flowers, shrubs, berries, trees and grasses. Here are some recommendations.

Coneflower (Echinacea)
Coneflowers pack a big punch in the garden later in the summer, with their color lasting well into the fall. Featuring bold colors ranging from yellows, reds, and oranges to pinks and purples, Coneflowers offer a great contrast to the typical fall foliage. If left up, their inner cones provide a food source for birds late into the fall and early winter.

Coneflowers like full sun and well-draining soil; wet feet or standing water can be their demise. They start blooming late July, carrying color through September and October. Coneflowers range in height from 16-36”, with an equal spread. Pair these in garden beds with fall foliage for a contrast, and use shorter varieties in planters with mums, cabbages, and kales.

Our favorite varieties: Pow Wow White and Wildberry; Magnus, Butterfly series

Tickseed (Coreopsis)
Do not let its name fool you, Tickseed is a beautiful, airy, late season perennial well worth planting! With bold, star-shaped flowers available in a variety of colors (the typical yellow, red, orange, pink, and even white), Tickseed offers contrast in both color and texture. Their fine foliage helps create a whimsical look, and this pollinator is perfect for a butterfly garden.

Tickseed needs full sun with well-draining soil. Best used in garden beds, this ethereal perennial brings contrast to a fuller-leaved shrub and keeps pollinators late in the garden. Ranging from 16”-30”, Tickseed reaches an equal width.

Our favorite varieties: Crème Brulée; Red Satin; Ice Wine

Stonecrop (Sedum)
Stonecrops are often called the Landscaper’s Plant, as it offers color all four seasons: spring and summer feature the succulent-like growth that can be shades of green, red, or burgundy; late summer through fall provides a pollinator haven of a bloom; plant foliage can be left up once it had turned brown for some winter interest and late season food for pollinators. With a delicate, succulent-like foliage, this hardy perennial is a real showstopper in the fall! Stonecrops bloom in shades of pink and red, with some flowering yellow, and feature habits ranging from tall and upright to ground covering.

Stonecrops like full sun and well-draining soil; like Coneflowers, they cannot stand wet feet. With thick, juicy foliage and a variety of habits ranging from 8-30” tall, Stonecrops can be featured well in garden beds or pots. They offer great contrast with other plants both in foliage and flower texture.

Our favorite varieties: Autumn Fire; Lime Zinger; Wildfire

Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum)
Grasses can be quite divisive: some people love them, and some people just cannot wrap their head around planting grasses IN the garden. Grasses offer great foliage and late season color, contrasting beautifully with perennials and shrubs. Switch Grass is particularly loved, as it is incredibly hardy and a perfect height of 3-4’. It has a flexible, blue-green blade that features strong tones of red throughout the later months, and both the plume and blades dance carelessly in the breeze. Switch Grass plumes are also red, with hints of pinks and purples, and its airiness contrasts well with its thicker blade as well as other plants.

Switch Grass color is best in full sun, but they can tolerate a little more water (you will know soon enough if they dry out!) They mature quickly and can be used in mass plantings in the garden as well as specimens in larger pots as a thriller or backdrop.

Our favorite varieties: Cheyenne Sky; Shenandoah

Fothergilla (Fothergilla)
Fotherfillas are often overlooked in the garden center, as their summer foliage is a little unassuming. Come fall, however, this plant shines! Featuring shades of bright yellow, orange, reds, and purples, Fothergillas are a kaleidoscope of color. Smaller leaves offer a great textural contrast and can remain on the shrub well into November. Fothergillas also offer a springtime bloom in the form of a white bottlebrush; this unique flower is an eye-catcher in either a natural or more styled garden.

Fothergillas like moist soil and can tolerate our heavy, wet clay. They prefer full sun but can also tolerate partial shade. This shrub can be used as a specimen but is more commonly used for a smaller hedge or divider with its dense foliage. Available in smaller dwarf sizes from 18-36” and more full-sized varieties reaching 5’, Fothergillas can fit in any garden!

Our favorite variety: Mt. Airy

Beautyberry (Callicarpa)
Beautyberries are another shrub that may appear unobtrusive in the summer months. Featuring an arching habit, tiny flowers give way to pea-sized purple berries in the fall. The dark foliage with shades of yellow contrasts with the bright purple berries that cover the bush. Because of its unassuming nature, Beautyberries are the perfect backdrop for a summer perennial garden; come late August when the majority of summer perennials are done blooming and dying back, this graceful, arching shrub can fill their spot and really shine.

Beautyberries do not need another variety to produce berries, although it may berry more prolifically with a friend. They prefer full sun and can tolerate the clay; while they do not love standing water, they are heavy drinkers and may need some supplemental water in high heats. Their large size of 3-6’ makes a perfect backdrop for perennials beds, or in naturalized, mass plantings.

Our favorite variety: Early Amethyst

Chokeberry (Aronia)
Featuring beautiful foliage and an ugly name, Chokeberries are better called by their Latin name, Aronia. These shrubs come in a range of sizes, from petite mounds to larger shrubs. Their glossy green foliage gives way to brilliant shades of red in the fall, and they sport edible red or black berries for some holiday cheer. Extremely hardy, Aronias are easy to care for and require little effort to reap their colorful rewards. Spring flowers are small, but the pinkish white bloom contrasts nicely with the early dark green foliage.

Aronias prefer full sun but can take partial shade, and although they prefer well-draining soils, they can tolerate a wide range of soils. They are very hardy and make a great addition to many beds with their colors and tolerances. Berries are tart when eaten fresh and best used in preserves.

Our favorite varieties: Low Scape Mound; Low Scape Hedger

Viburnum (Viburnum)
With so many Viburnums available on the market, homeowners often question their uses once their beautiful, fragrant flowers bloom in the spring. However, Viburnums have a range of uses! Typically larger in size, these shrubs make fantastic hedges and dividers, with textured leaves turning from glossy green or almost fuzzy grey-green to shades of orange, red, and burgundy. Their fall color can pack a big punch when used in masses, particularly if it is a variety with the red or blue berries.

Viburnums like full sun to partial shade and well-draining soil. Hardy and easy to grow, these 4-12’ shrubs make great hedges or mass plantings. Sporting reddish pink buds that open to fragrant, pink-tinged white snow-ball flowers in the spring, Viburnums burst back into the forefront come fall with their foliage (some varieties are semi-evergreen and will maintain their leaves all winter to drop in the early spring!)

Our favorite varieties: Korean Spice; Judd; Mohawk

Serviceberry (Amelanchier)
Serviceberries are aptly named as they are a great addition to any garden, servicing pollinators and homeowners alike! Available in single or multi stemmed, this tree bears small, white flowers in early spring and blue berries in summer. Small, rounded leaves emerge copper in spring, deepening to dark green by summer. Their fall color is stunning and features a variety of red and orange shades.

Serviceberries like full sun to partial shade, and with a height of 15-25’ can be a feature shrub under some of the larger trees (the multi stemmed variety works best). With edible berries that can be used fresh, in preserves, or left for the birds, these small trees offer something in every season.

Our favorite variety: Autumn Brilliance

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