Fall is a great season in the garden; the rush of the growing season is waning, the smells of autumn are in the air, and there is a tranquillity present in the garden that is very specific to fall. Although annuals and most perennials have ceased to bloom, there is still much colour at this time of year thanks to trees and shrubs. If your garden lacks fall colour, you might observe other people’s gardens to see which plants provide the most colour and then put those plants on your shopping list for next year.
Many things have to be considered when choosing trees and shrubs such as height, width, hardiness, shape and drought tolerance, but often gardeners forget about fall foliage colour when making their choices. By not choosing trees and shrubs that have vivid autumn colour, an opportunity to brighten up an otherwise rather dull fall landscape is missed.
Some of the best choices for autumn colour are fruit-bearing varieties. Highbush cranberry, which turns a lovely red, Nanking cherry, whose leaves turn a bright yellow, and the plums, many of which have scarlet foliage in the fall are good examples. The leaves of apple trees often turn an attractive yellow which provides good contrast to their red fruit, while the foliage of various cherry trees is usually quite spectacular in the fall – Amur cherry leaves turn gold while those of both pin cherry and chokecherry change to a brilliant red.
Elms, lindens, ash and birch are all trees that produce wonderful golden foliage in the autumn. The mountain ash is one of the best trees for fall colour as its leaves turn brilliant orange red, complemented by orange-red berries that hang in large clumps from its branches. The highbush cranberry also hangs on to its fruit well into the fall and its bright-red berries add even more impact to the already vivid red of its foliage. Honeysuckle bushes often retain their bright-red berries as well, and although the foliage of these shrubs is not particularly colourful, the berries add dots of colour.
Cotoneaster is one of the best shrubs for colour as its leaves take on a vibrant mix of reds and oranges. It produces a long display and remains a focal point for a couple of weeks. There is nothing quite as spectacular as a cotoneaster hedge decked out in all its autumn glory. Sumac is famous for its vivid display of brilliant-red foliage. Few shrubs or trees can quite replicate the richness of sumac’s colour.
Lilacs are not particularly noteworthy in the fall garden, but the dwarf “Charisma,” which grows less than a metre tall, has a nice yellow colour in the fall. Many spireas have attractive autumn foliage – often red or red purple which contrasts nicely with the yellows and golds of many other shrubs and trees at this time of year.
A discussion of fall foliage would not be complete without mentioning one vine – the Virginia creeper. No other vine gives the same impact and its brilliant- red fall colour is absolutely outstanding. The only thing about Virginia creeper is that its leaves are very vulnerable to frost, so every year I hope that it has time to put on its display. – Albert Parsons writes from