Fall Color Trees and Shrubs

Fall is such a glorious season. Make sure you’ve got some spectacular fall colors in your yard. For glowing orange-red fireworks, Red Sunset and October Glory Red Maples are as showy as you can get. They grow quickly to form 40’ shade trees with emerald green spring and summer foliage that seems to glow with an inner fire of orange-red in fall. They are tolerant of clay and wet soils.

Stewartia is a beauty in every season with beautiful pyramidal form, showy exfoliating bark and leaves that emerge bronze purple, turning to green and finally orange-red in fall. White, 5 petaled 2”-2  ½” flowers with yellow centers adorn the tree in summer. It grows
slowly 20’-40’ high and is hardy to -20F. Stewartias prefer good drainage and regular summer watering.

Other outstanding tree selections are the Persian Parrotia, with its multi-colored fall foliage; Sourwood (Oxydendrum) having brilliant red fall color and dangling seedpods; and native Vine Maple, ideally suited to our climate.

There are many other trees with showy fall colors. See our fall color list for more choices.

Beautiful foliage is the key to keeping a garden gorgeous through all the seasons, leading up to the grand finale of spectacular fall color. Shrubs with rich purple foliage such as Barberry, Purple Smoke Bush, and Ninebark turn fiery red in fall. Barberries come in many varieties, from columnar forms like Helmond Pillar and Orange Rocket to low mounds like Bagatelle and Crimson Pygmy, to arching shrubs such as Rosy Glow Barberry.

The Ninebarks now come in a wide array of varieties. The newest introduction is a dwarf variety called Little Devil that grows only 3-4’ tall and wide. Center Glow, whose leaves emerge red with  a golden center and then turn burgundy, grows 6-8’ along with the variety Coppertina with coppery new growth. Diablo Ninebark is the most vigorous variety, growing in an upright arching form to 8-12’ with deep burgundy foliage. Summer Wine Ninebark forms a softly arching deep burgundy shrub 3-5’ tall and wide. All ninebarks have clusters of creamy flowers.

Grace and Royal Purple Smoke Bush make a wonderful deep burgundy contrast with the foliage of other plants, turning to glowing red in autumn. For keeping this shrub in good form it’s a good idea to prune established shrubs to 6-12” tall every few years. If you prune it like this, the form and foliage are excellent but it will not form “smoke” (its flowers and fruit) that year.

If you haven’t tried this fantastic shrub you’re really missing out:

Hypericum Mystical Series-are compact 3’ x 3’ shrubs with clusters of bright yellow flowers spring to early summer followed by gorgeous salmon, orange or red berries which are great for long-lasting bouquets. Disease resistant foliage. Sun . Hardy -20F.  New berry colors just released include green, white and caramel.

Burning Bush (Euonymus alata) has fiery red foliage.  The whole plant appears to be blaze. It grows 3-4 feet tall and prefers full sun.

Doublefile Viburnum is a favorite for its deep red foliage.  The white flowers in early summer are a plus. Give it room though as it grows 6-10 feet tall and spreads as wide.

Gulf Stream Nandina is an evergreen plant with red fall and winter foliage. It is a compact grower to about 3-4 feet tall.

Other great shrubs for fall foliage color are: Itea, Exbury Azaleas, and Sumac.

Berries add fall and winter interest as much as pretty foliage does. Pyracantha have red or orange berries in abundance.  The plant does have thorns so plan accordingly.  Several Viburnums have outstanding berries but one of the nicest is Brandywine, which sets pink to blue berries without a mate.  It grows 5-6 feet tall.  There is a pretty dwarf Snowberry called Pink Sensation.  You guessed it, the berries are pink.  And it only grows 30-36 inches tall.

There are still shrubs blooming now like Chaste tree (Vitex), Crape Myrtle, and Hibiscus.

Perennials , annuals and grasses:  Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’-Huge cinnamon stars are surrounded by the loveliest orange tea colored borders.  The foliage darkens in the  summer and lightens in the fall.  A great foliage accent for partial sun or partial shade.
Wonderful in a container or in the garden bed.  Blooms in June with pale pink-white flowers.  Prefers well-drained soil.

Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’-Dark red new growth tops deep purple, evergreen foliage. Yellow-green bract type flowers appear in late spring and contrast nicely with the foliage.  Best coloring occurs in full sun.  Prefers well-drained soils.  Ascot Rainbow is cream and green variegated with a hint of red/pink to its new growth.  The plant has an overall red/pink tinge in cooler weather.  Euphorbias are drought tolerant, too.

Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’-a classic tall succulent with salmon-pink flowers. This is a go to plant for fresh fall color.  Grows 2 feet tall and wide.  Full sun to partial sun.

Sedum ‘Autumn Charm’-imagine ‘Autumn Joy’ with cream-variegated foliage.
Lovely. There are some new, more compact Sedums.  Our top choice is Birthday Party, with its lovely deep rose-pink flowers and purplish foliage.

Rudbeckias are in their glory right now, both annual and perennial varieties. The perennials include Goldturm, Denver Daisy, and Cherry Brandy.  The annual type is shorter and the flowers nearly mask the foliage.  A great series is Toto, available in lemon, gold and rustic (two-tone).

Echinaceas are still at their peak, too.  A brand new one that is so  cute is Crazy Pink.  It’s short and sweet.

Japanese Anemones are just beginning to bloom now.  They do well in part shade.  They do have a tendency to “travel” so be aware.

Other flowers that add color to your pots and gardens are: Asters, Chrysanthemums,  Million Bells and Verbena.

Then there is the wonderful assortment of foliage plants.  Evergreen ferns are great.  Deer fern, Autumn fern, Japanese Holly fern and Japanese Tassel fern all work great in pots or in the ground.  Hebes, which are usually considered a shrub, actually look great in mixed containers.  Some have gray foliage and some green, but their texture is what’s killer.
Heucheras are awesome plants because of their leaf shape, coarse texture and plethora of colors available.  Just to list a few: Crimson Curls (frilly), Georgia Peach (great color), Peach Flambe, Green Spice (for a light green/dark green contrast), Black Currant, Blackberry Crisp and Obsidian (almost black). Consider adding edibles to your mixed planters.  Swiss Chard, Kale, Lettuce and Cabbage offer interesting foliage complements. You can eat them, too.

Grasses are exploding with flowers and seedheads in the fall.  The way the light glows through the flowers of the Fountain grasses is simply stunning.  Hameln is the  standard.
It is a compact plant.  Karley Rose is another, looser flowered variety with a tinge of pink to the flower.  Purple Fountain Grass doesn’t overwinter in our climate, but is still a wonderful addition to any mixed fall planter.  Evergreen grasses add great texture, too.  Carex are great for that purpose.  Toffee Twist is brown, so I guess you could call it everbrown.  It does pick up the autumn color tones. Prairie Fire has attractive green/bronze foliage that erupts into a gorgeous red in the fall. Similar in texture to the grasses is Cordyline Red Star.  Its spiky wine colored foliage is great in the center of a mixed fall container.

Don’t forget the bulbs.  Yes there are bulbs that bloom in the  fall.  Autumn Crocus and Colchicums shoot up pretty pink, lavender and white flowers without foliage.  Crocus sativus is the Saffron Crocus.  That expensive spice comes from the anthers of the flower.  You can grow and harvest it here in Oregon.  My favorite fall flowering bulb is the Naked Lady or Amaryllis belladonna.  Its flowers are tall, 30-36 inches tall, and it has a wonderful, sweet fragrance.

There are  a number of other plants that have colorful foliage, interesting bark, showy fall flowers or lovely berries.  For additional ideas, click here for the complete list.

About Brenda Powell

I'm one of the owners of a family-owned retail nursery. I have a degree in horticulture from Oregon State University. I love to garden and read. My technically savvy but horticulturally challenged husband, Mitch, spends most of his time as slave labor in the garden. Thank goodness he adores me! My goal in this blog is to share my enjoyment of gardening, my love of nature, and my addiction to books. Did I mention I like to cook, too?
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