Arts and Entertainment

Fall color ideas for your garden

So let’s see, last week I waxed poetically about my “Fall Blooming Season” which of course had nothing to do with flowers but rather fall foliage and I promised to give you some suggestions this week of actual plants you could incorporate into your garden that would give you some fall interest beyond what you can get from flowers. I have divided my list into three categories: trees, shrubs, perennials/ground covers.


You can’t beat the Maples for fall color. Japanese, Sugar, Red, Vine, Big Leaf, the list goes on and on. They all will provide you with intense shades of orange, yellow and crimson. Your choice will depend on how much space you have.

Oaks such as Red Oak and Pin Oak also sport good fall color but may grow too large for many modern yards.

Sweetgums can also provide brilliant colors but have a tendency to be brittle and have been know to break limbs in winter storms.

Better choices might include Katsura which has the added benefit of smelling just like cotton candy when it turns color in the fall. Katsura also has a pleasing texture with a one inch round bluish colored leaf and reddish purple petiole (leaf stem). Some gardeners use them as a substitute for a quaking aspen.

Sourwood (Oxydendron) is another small tree that fits well into our tiny yards, having fabulous fall color and white blooms in August. You can see good Sourwood specimens on the streets of Snohomish this time of year.

Flowering Dogwoods will not disappoint you either. I think they all have equally good fall color.

Finally, if you love the color of a bright yellow leaf then you have to plant a Ginko. Autumn Gold is the best known but they all turn a brilliant yellow later in the fall. Again, the tree has an unusual leaf shape which gives it an interesting texture throughout the season in your garden. And they don’t get huge in our cool northwest climate. At least it takes a while.


This could easily be an endless list of plants but I will try and be concise.

Viburnum is hard to beat for vibrant fall color. The common snowball Viburnum is a sure bet but there are tons of other varieties too. I have a newer one in the nursery now that I am really impressed with called Brandywine. The foliage is stunning and it is also covered with berries.

Most all of our spring blooming shrubs like Forsythia, Spiraea and Weigela will give us a very nice show of fall color, usually in the darker maroon shades.

Any of the twig dogwoods are also good performers. “Sibirica” has got some incredible pinkish/purple colors on it now and don’t forget that twig dogwoods are unbeatable for their shiny colorful twigs in the winter. The twigs of Mid Winter Fire will look like flames in your winter garden and the fall color leans toward the warmer tones too.

Good old blueberry plants not only have yummy fruits in the summer, they also have wonderful fall color. And Chokeberry (Aronia) is another fruiting shrub that deserves to be planted more often. Both blue berries and chokeberries have crimson to dark reddish/purple fall colors and the berries of chokeberries can be either red or black depending on the species.

Hydrangeas not only have incredible blooms in the summer but they also give us a tremendous display of fall color. I especially like the Oakleaf varieties, again for their more unusual foliage texture in the summer and strong colors in the fall. The leaves of Oakleaf Hydrangeas often hang on through out most of the winter too.

Deciduous azaleas, smoke trees and Abelias are all standouts that should be worked into the garden.



Thankfully this is a short list. Here are a few that come to mind.

Euphorbia, at least some species can sport some rather nice fall color.

Japanese Forest Grass and Pheasant Tail Grass are two ornamental grasses that look nice in the fall.

Sedum, here again only some species, will color up nicely.

Color Flash Astilbe has nice red foliage summer and fall.

Plumbago has blue flowers in the fall and then nice red fall color on the leaves.

Persicaria ‘Dimity’ turns a vibrant red this time of year.

Bergenia is actually evergreen but a couple species turn burgundy in the fall/winter.

This is by no means an unabridged list. In fact, as I am writing this other varieties keep popping into my head that I wished I had mentioned but alas there is not room.

As a final caveat, for the gardener that simply can’t abide with the thought of raking leaves, there are in fact several evergreen shrubs and perennials that will give us fall and winter color without loosing one single leaf. I know it sounds too good to be true but next week I will give you yet another list of what I call fall color shrubs for the lazy gardener that doesn’t want to get out in the wonderful cool, crisp fall air and see his or her breath.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. You can reach him at 425-334-2002 or email at

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