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 of my favorite shrubs and perennials.
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.
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 resulting from perennials and shrubs. They not only shine in the spring and summer garden but also continue the show well into fall.
And even though the list is long, hang in there until the very end for THREE chances to win one of three garden tools, compliments of Dramm!
Penstemon ‘Midnight Magic’
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’
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.
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)
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)
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.
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)
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!
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.