Fall Color

By Paul James

When it comes to gorgeous fall color in the landscape, trees tend to get all the glory. And deservedly so. But there are a number of spectacular shrubs whose fall color rivals even the showiest of trees, and here are a few of my favorites.

Oakleaf Hydrangea – As if its stately form, beautiful flowers, and ease of care weren’t enough, this native shrub also produces amazing fall color that typically lasts for several weeks. What’s more, its dried flowers look great in arrangements. And they’re available in sizes ranging from three-feet tall and wide to twice that.

Euonymus ‘Burning Bush’ – Aptly named, this shrubs practically appears to be on fire in the fall, thanks to its brilliant scarlet leaves. This beauty will grow to about six-feet tall and wide, and is dynamite as a specimen or in a mass planting.

Virburnum ‘Brandywine’ – I’m a huge fan of Viburnums, and this native vies for the most colorful-of-all award with its wine-red fall foliage. As a bonus, it produces breathtaking pink and blue fruit that birds adore. It’ll get five- to six-feet tall and wide.

Virginia Sweetspire – This is my favorite shrub, period. It offers four seasons of interest (including long panicles of scented white flowers in spring), but its fall color of deep red to burgundy is arguably the most interesting of all. And when the leaves finally drop, the red twigs continue to put on a show all winter. Grows to roughly three-feet tall and wide, and can handle a lot of shade and moisture.

Nandina ‘Firepower’ – There was a time when I wasn’t all that keen on Nandinas, but in the past two decades there have been some great introductions. The one that produces the best fall color is ‘Firepower,’ but given enough sun, ‘Burgundy Wine’ and ‘Moonbay’ won’t disappoint either.

Fothergilla ‘Blue Shadow’ – Here’s an underused shrub if ever there was one. Its powder-blue leaves are awesome, as are the sweetly scented flowers in produces in spring. But the big bang comes in fall, when the leaves turn various shades of orange, yellow, and red. It’ll get roughly five-feet tall and wide, and it’ll never disappoint.

Chokeberry – This shrub’s glossy-green foliage turns a jaw-dropping red in fall, and it produces dark purple, nutrient-rich berries that birds – and people – find hard to resist. Expect it to reach five- or six-feet tall and four-feet wide.

Buckthorn ‘Fine Line’ – I love this plant. It’s very columnar – six-feet tall by two-feet wide -- making it ideal for tight spaces or as an accent plant and it looks great in containers. Fall color is a bright yellow that really stands out no matter where you plant it.

Blueberries – Surprised to find this edible delight on my list? Well guess what, blueberries are extremely showy in fall, which is why I suggest they be planted in ornamental beds. And there are several sizes to choose from, including dwarfs. So take your pick!