Harmony in the Garden Blog

Surprising Sources of Fall Color

Surprising Sources of Fall Color

This is my favorite time of year, with fall colors at their peak.

The towering maples, liquid ambers, and black oak trees are on fire right now, clearly the stars of the show. 

But there’s plenty of drama happening lower to the ground, too, thanks to some surprising sources of fall color.

And it’s not just the usual suspects, either (think amsonia and burning bush, below) but plants that many gardeners wouldn’t necessarily consider as sources of brilliant fall color.   

Surprising Sources of Fall Color
Surprising Sources of Fall Color

While it might be too late in the year in some parts of the country to update your fall garden, it’s never too late to start planning for next year! 

My recommendation is to go out into your garden and take a close look at what you see.  Unless it’s blanketed in a thick layer of snow, hopefully, you see plenty of fall color. 

But if not, then now’s the time to make a list of plants to add next year for a spectacular show in fall. 

For those of us who live in milder climates, this is the perfect time to get out there and plant!

 Cooler temperatures and rainfall are a new plant’s best friend, letting healthy new roots get a head start, establishing themselves before spring’s burst of new growth.


Below are some of my favorite unusual sources of fall color.  These perennials and shrubs not only shine in the spring and summer garden but also continue the show well into fall.


Penstemon ‘Midnight Magic’

Surprising Sources of Fall Color

You may remember this is my very favorite penstemon, with its deep burgundy foliage in the spring (lower left.)

It retains its burgundy color for most of the summer, even while pumping out long-lasting lavender flowers (left.)

The foliage then turns a bit olive-greenish for a few months (as most burgundy foliage does) but then WHAMMO – look what it does in the fall!

It changes color, yet again, to a luscious, rich garnet.

Celosia spicata ‘Flamingo Feathers’

window box design

This is a new variety to me, the giant 4-5′ tall celosia ‘Flamingo Feathers’.  I spotted this in town and couldn’t pull over fast enough to take this photo.  It’s feathery hot-pink flowers are still blooming, while the foliage is turning brilliant shades of dark peach.

The variety I’ve used most is ‘Joey’, the one featured above in my window box (more pics here.)

It’s the perfect annual for the front of the border, a container, or a window box as it only grows to 18″ tall.  But you can be sure I’ll be on the lookout for the taller ‘Flamingo Feathers’ this year!

Aster divaricatus  (White Star Wood Aster)

The zillions of dainty white flowers that cover the Wood Aster are reasons enough to include this in your shade garden. 

The soft plum colors in the fall are the icing on the cake!

Bletilla striatta (Ground Orchid)

You may remember this stunning magenta flower in my post about Designing with Containers. 

I absolutely adore this plant for the flower color, it’s super-tough nature, and now it’s brilliant fall foliage.

Solidago ‘Little Lemon’ (Goldenrod)

I have several solidago varieties in my garden, but ‘Fireworks’ and ‘Little Lemon’ are my favorite.  

I’ve noticed ‘Little Lemon’ keeps its yellow fall colors much longer than the other varieties (plus, it’s just so darn cute in the front of the border.)  


I know, I know – peonies don’t necessarily fall into the ”unusual sources’ category.

However, I just wanted to remind you all that depending on the variety you choose, you’ll be rewarded with either beautiful garnet or golden amber fall foliage.

Spring flowers plus colorful fall foliage?  Sign me up! 

In the photo to the left, notice the Wood Aster behind the golden peony foliage.  With the low-growing blue juniper in front, it’s a beautiful 3-season combination.


Surprising Sources of Fall Color


Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’ (St. John’s Wort)


My very favorite St. John’s Wort variety is ‘Sunburst.  In the spring and summer, the glaucous foliage rivals the sunburst-yellow flowers in terms of drama.

But don’t discount its fall foliage!  Turning shades of apricot, amber, and red, it lights up my garden once again before calling it quits for the winter.


Calycanthus Aphrodite’ (Spice Bush)

Surprising Sources of Fall Color
Perennials Summer Heat

I’ve written about ‘Aphrodite’ so many times (click here) that I’m afraid you’re getting tired of me yammering on about it.

It’s insanely tough (doesn’t skip a beat in 100+ heat, laughs at hungry deer, nothing seems to damage it’s huge, gorgeous lime-green leaves, AND it’s drought-tolerant once established.) 

As if those weren’t reasons enough to adore this shrub, it has fall color to boot!

Oh, and yes – those spring and summer flowers in deep ruby red are nothing to sneeze at either.

Rosa ‘Therese Bugnet’ 

Oh, how I wish I had a photo of the flowers, but alas, I don’t.  ‘Therese Bugnet’ is a large, rambling rugosa rose, slowly growing to 7’x6′ wide if happy.  

She’s covered with fragrant, lipstick-pink flowers, which are lovely enough, but it’s the intensity of the fall colors which excites me most.

If you have the space in your garden, you can find this beauty here, at David Austin Roses.

Rhus trilobata (Three-Leave Sumac)

Surprising Sources of Fall Color

I love this shrub so, so much.  

It doesn’t require much to be happy – just plenty of sunshine and a little water.  It’s deer-resistant, too.

Give it a few years to become established and you’ll be rewarded with the most delicate, glowing fall foliage that’s super soft to the touch.  I was shocked at how feather-soft the leaves were when I grabbed a handful that were just about to fall off.  They were like little soft jewels in the palm of my hand.

Simply stunning.

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’ (Sweetspire)

Another shrub that most people don’t associate with fantastic fall color is the Sweetspire.

This variety is ‘Henry Garnet,’ which grows to about 5’x5′, but I also have ‘Little Henry,’ which grows to a much more manageable 3’x3′.

In the spring and summer, it’s covered with green leaves and white flowers that look like delicate flags waving in the wind.

‘Henry’s Garnet’ turns a deep ruby red color and holds on to its leaves for a long time before dropping.

Deer-resistant, heat-tolerant, and low-water, too.

Vitis ‘Roger’s Red’ (native grapevine)

Surprising Sources of Fall Color


This amazing grapevine was planted in my previous garden (you can read more about it here) and boy, do I miss it!

It’s a biggie, quickly growing to 25’+.  This one vine scrambled over my arbor, along my roofline, and blanketed my aviary with stunning fall color.

The grapes are super tiny, with a fair amount of seeds, but if you have the patience to eat them, they’re delicious. 

We even made grape juice from them one year (click here to see how we did it!)

Now for the giveaway!!

UPDATE:  Contest is now closed.  Congratulations Christie, Davina, and George – you’re the 3 lucky winners and your prizes will be coming your way within the next few weeks (look for an email from me today for the details.)

I’ve so enjoyed this particular giveaway.  I know myself and others have enjoyed reading about the beautiful sources of fall color happening in your garden right now, so thanks for sharing with us.

Thanks again, everyone!

Dramm garden products is generously offering three different garden tools to three of my readers:  the Compact Shear, One-Touch Shower & Stream, and the ColorWear Garden Apron.   

I LOVE this little Compact Shear and have had one for years.  I keep it handy in my cupboard dedicated to garden vases. 

While it can certainly be used in the garden, it’s awesome for trimming bouquets for the home (much better than a regular ‘ol pair of scissors!) 

And despite its compact size, it packs quite a punch, able to easily cut through tough stems (like the magnolia stems on the bouquet, left.)

I’ve also had the One-Touch Shower Stream and the Garden Apron for several years, as well, and you can read my review of them here.

To enter, all you need to do is tell me what your favorite source of fall color is in the comment section below.  I’ll use a random number generator to choose the winner and their prize.

It’s that easy!s

And please remember that even though I can’t respond to giveaway blog comments (if I do, it’ll skew the random number generator I use to pick the winner), please know that I read every one and appreciate what you all have to say!

The Fine Print:  A random winner(s) will be chosen by midnight November 30th and contacted within 24 hours. If the proposed winner forfeits or does not claim the prize by December 5th, the prize will be re-awarded based on the sponsor’s sole discretion. All prizes will be awarded.

Please provide your first and last name to enter this contest so I can immediately contact you if you win. The winner agrees to allow his/her first name to be mentioned in conjunction with this giveaway.

This giveaway is limited to U.S. residents only, who are over the age of 18 years old. No purchase necessary to win. This sweepstake is also void where prohibited by law (is there such a place?  If so, I’d sure hate to live there!) and by entering this giveaway, you agree to these conditions.

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  • I think my favorite fall colors are the glowing yellow of my Gingko tree and the yellow/orange/red of my Variegated Smoke Bush. I have added several of the plants that you describe this month to my growing list of plants for my coming Pollinator Garden.

  • Judith Paul
    Well, this is a hard choice…but I will say my two maple trees. One is October Glory, and the other is Brandywine. Totally gorgeous right now! They simply glow with brilliance in the sunshine.

  • Fiery red maples that bring me back to my childhood on the East Coast are my favorite, and somewhat of a rare treat here in Southern California. Thanks so much for continuing your especially thorough website and blog. It is a joy to follow along.

  • My crepe myrtles are so very beautiful right now. They are up my driveway and i think they are welcoming me home. That apron is genius. I need one! Thanks, as usual, for sharing.

  • In my garden, I’m most appreciative of the color I’m getting from my goldenrod and my gooseneck/loosestrife. But, I have a couple of young grasses that are still looking amazing as well. My Oktoberfest Miscanthus is still a beautiful orange; I love it!

  • My Chinese pistache and my vibrunum have the most fantastic red color! I know it’s really fall when their colors start to change

  • The brilliant red leaves of Burning Bush – Euonymus alatus (also called Winged Euonymus) truly makes a statement in the fall. The downside for some is that it tends to be invasive. This could be a nice pass along plant and for others, just discard the saplings. My other choice is a dwarf Ginkgo biloba – Meriken. It can be grown in a pot or the ground. This plant has the best standout golden leaf color in the fall to say nothing about the unusually shaped leaves.

  • I love my (flaming!) burning bushes, golden ginko, and coral bark maples.

  • I must say if I had the room I would get a ginko tree. They absolutely take my breath away right now in there bright golden dress.

  • My favorite season here in zone 7a with the chilly nights. Berberis thunbergii Japanese barberry, rocket series, and berberis gladwynensis they all have thorns but the colors are worth it. Cotinus coggygria “royal purple” and Spirea “gold flame”.

  • The beautiful liquid amber and pistache trees let me know Autumn has arrived.

  • My favorite in my fall yard is the ‘October Glory’ maple. It is SO gorgeous!

  • Bletilla striatta (Ground Orchid) is my favorite since I live in South Florida and have planted them in a little bit of earth among the rocks of my pool’s waterfall area. I have yellow ones at the moment but this purple is fabulous. I enjoyed see all the other wonderful plants. I enjoyed this post.

  • I love the Nandina Gulfstream shrubs in autumn. They keep their gorgeous orange/red color long after most other shrubs and trees start to fade.

  • My large Parrotia persica tree is covered in dramatic deep red leaves, it’s amazing.

  • Thanks! This article is definitely a keeper. Liquid amber, Japanese maples, and quaking aspens. I also love my roses at the end of the season when the hips get big and red.

  • After a long think, I couldn’t come up with anything more spectacular than Liquid Amber in the South Bay.

  • My beautiful Japanese maple that I bought from a fender at the San Francisco flower show. Long since forgotten the name. This year with little water it has the most brilliant deep reds.

  • Our Fuyu persimmon has nice fall colors. I wish the Crimson Queen Japanese Maple would look nicer but it’s leaves burn up too much in the summer heat.

  • I love to walk and see all the liquid amber trees in my neighborhood at this time of year.

  • I also love this time of the year, the colors are getting better with each day, brighter, deeper.

  • I have a rose on my garden that has good red hips. I like to cut them for fall and Christmas decorations. Was planted my previous owner so do not know the name

  • I have a California native garden, and I am loving the soft yellows of my chaparral currant, even as its new green leaves are starting to emerge for the winter! It is a subtle graceful plant.

  • Persimmons, because they look like holiday ornaments on the tree. Or blueberry bushes.

  • This fall I have really enjoyed my hops vines! It’s a subtle contrast in the distance, but my vines drape heavily in front of my kitchen window. The play of gold and light green in the early fall was gorgeous- and really highlighted the textures of the hops buds!

  • So wonderful to read not only another wonderful blog from you Rebecca, but all the suggestions from your readers all over the country!

    One shrub that I love in my garden is Pacific Ninebark, (Physocarpus). It is lovely in the fall with clear, yellow-gold leaf color, even here in the mild temps of the SF peninsula.

  • `My Oakleaf hydrangea Gatsby Gal or my new Legends of the Fall Fothergilla. Hard to choose.

  • Such great fall color of the pistachio trees and my oak leaf hydrangeas love your blogs so many planting choices.

  • Three things that I look for when adding plants to my garden: texture, variegation and the wonderful fall colors each might provide. While I am shopping no place else, I am making a list from this posting and will be wandering thru the local nurseries while the plants are still showing their fabulous 2020 fall color.

    Thank you for this article.

  • I live in South Texas and I have the same issues as you. The need for drought-tolerant and deer-resistant plants. My favorite fall plants are the Fireworks Fountain Grass & the Pink Muhly Grass. I love the pink color and the movement in the wind!

  • It gives me such pleasure and wonder to look out my kitchen window and see a Gingko in all its glory and not believe that there is a God. Add two Japanese Maples, and the view is heavenly.

  • My favorite color this fall: The Cotinus shrub/tree ‘Grace’! It has a wonderful hue of purple into red.
    Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family. Diane

  • I discovered that the Candy Corn spirea recently planted has turned the most beautiful colors. It’s very small and the other one planted in a different location is not as colorful but the one in the upper garden was a wonderful surprise.

  • Here in NJ most of the fall color is gone, but I’m still enjoying a few remaining hydrangeas (mopheads) that have kept their pretty blue-green and deep toned pinks. My lumbago ground cover is beautiful and a deep maroon. Great plant as a groundcover both in th esummer and fall. Thaks for the great blog. Always enjoy it.

  • The leaves on my (and other) gingko trees are a joy to look at all year long, but when they turn color and fall to the ground, it’s like I am walking on a path paved with gold…

    I will definitely be looking for the plants you showcased above in my local nurseries. I plan my garden for year-round interest as well, so thank you for these wonderful tips! I always look forward to reading your blog when it pops up in my inbox.

  • Penstemon ‘Midnight Magic’ love the flowers in the spring then the change in leaves. Love double punch plants!

  • Fall dolors have passed here in zone 5a in Wisconsin. They seemed especially vivid this year. I enjoyed watching Tiger Eyes Sumac’s foliage add orange/red to the striking yellow color of summer. I try to pay special attention to the ash with foliage turning purple at the outer edges while gold leaves appear to burst from the center. The prior owner had planted it before the threat from Emerald Ash Borer been well-known in the Midwest. We expect it to eventually succumb to the disease that is now ravaging our area, so are planning for alternatives to replace it someday.
    Great shots of the many additional plants providing attractive color in the fall landscape.

  • My orchard is providing the color show right now — plum trees, pear trees, and grapevines!

  • Just added Vitis californica ‘Roger’s Red’ and Hypericum frondosum ‘Sunburst’ (St. John’s Wort) to my wish list! Thank you for your Garden Blog entries. They are always very inspiring.

  • I love fall! My favorites for fall color are my Japanese maple and blueberry bush!

  • I had forgotten how wonderful Rhus trilobata is! I am on my way to a nursery this week in search!

  • My persimmon tree is my favorite fall color. The bright orange fruit, contrasting against the leaves and bare branches.

  • The Sumac – Morton – gives special vibrant fall display. Still showing off.

  • Believe it or not, my favorite fall colors are often leftovers from summer! The yellows from marigolds, the coral geranium flowers and the eggplant flowers create a beautiful palette for an easy transition to winter.

  • I’m wild about all the colors of fall. One of my favorites is Groundcover Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides). Its cornflower blue flowers are a welcome site in late summer but wait until fall when this ambler takes on mahogany red tones. That it’s drought tolerant and deer resistant ices the cake!

  • Thank you for your comparison photos of non fall and fall foliage appearances of shrubs and trees! Always hard to select plants for year round color. My favorites right now in zone 8, southern US are sumacs and sweet gums for brilliant reds. Sharon West

  • Japanese maples and Venus dogwood provide blasts of red, orange, yellow and green.

  • Oh goodness, how to decide…..
    Trees: My red oak or any of my Japanese maples
    Shrubs; Burning bush or any of the deciduous viburnums
    Low level: Soloman Seal

  • After an abundant harvest of pomegranates, my three year old tree is now turning a lovely golden shade. Soon the leaves will fall but I love the glow of it all,


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