One of my strongest memories of the East Coast during my time at college there is of everything turning gold, orange, and deep red in the fall as the trees and shrubs prepared to drop their leaves for winter. We get some of that color here in Northern California: the grape vines change with the seasons, and in the inland parts of the state flares of color light up the hills between the evergreens, but some of the best fall color is found in people's yards.
No matter where you live, you can turn your yard into a blazing sight every fall without the need for bonfires...or lights. Fall foliage makes for a stunning backdrop at the change of seasons, and you can save the leaves to use in crafts and other projects, as well. Some of the best foliage producers don't just look gorgeous in the fall, too! They may also produce beautiful fruit, flowers, and intriguing bark to keep the yard looking dynamic and interesting all year.
Whether you choose a single stunning tree or shrub to create a focal point, grow a cluster to make for a bold splash of color, or want to create a distinctive hedge or separator, there are tons of options when it comes to making for a beautiful garden come fall. Furthermore, planting in the fall (like right now!) is a good choice, because it gives trees and shrubs a chance to establish roots over the winter so they'll be on the right footing come spring.
It's a classic. When you think of fall foliage, you probably imagine maples, from tiny, delicate Japanese maples to stunning monsters. But maple trees come in a huge range of foliage colors (like such a dark purple it's almost black, and fire engine red, and bright yellow), sizes, and characteristics. You could landscape an entire garden with maples and still not have enough room for them all. So get imaginative, and talk to your local nursery about the various options available. For a standout that will attract attention throughout the neighborhood, consider working with a specialty maple nursery to get a rare cultivar.
For gardeners who prefer double duty plants, the humble blueberry is worth a second glance. In the spring, you'll get beautiful white flowers and lush green foliage. Over the summer, those flowers develop into juicy, flavorful blueberries...and then in the fall, that foliage turns orange to red! Colorful blueberry hedges can make a great transition between a vegetable and ornamental garden, add color to the vegetable patch, or just stand on their own within a larger ornamental garden. Many different cultivars are stocked at nurseries, offering a range of options for you.
This colorful plant has a few surprises for you. First come the yellow flowers at the height of summer, then the stalks with fuzzy pinkish hairs that make it look like you're looking at a ball of pink smoke. Finally, luscious reddish-orange leaves for fall. Several cultivars are available, offering a range of foliage colors from dark red to orange.
This ancient and classic tree is native to Asia, and it puts out handsome fan-shaped leaves that turn a bright yellow with fall. Gingkos, of course, are prized in traditional Chinese medicine, where they are believed to be beneficial for memory, but they also have a cool backstory: they're referred to as living fossils because they represent a piece of arboreal history. As the lone survivors of ancient trees that grew millenia ago, they're a great choice for a garden grown with classic charm in mind, and for a garden with Japanese and Chinese themes.
Do you live in a location with gentle winters? Try growing this classic winter-fruiting tree. (For those who aren't fans of pomegranates, it's also possible to buy sterile trees that don't fruit.) It produces elegant and graceful flowers, beautiful yellow foliage, and, of course, lovely red fruit in a classic ball shape.
Speaking of medicinal plants, witch hazel has been used in the West for a long time to alleviate itching and irritation. It also happens to be a total rockstar in the garden. After the bright yellow fall foliage drops, the dangling yellow flowers will remain, offering late fall color in the garden. The curiously-shaped branching flowers smell faintly spicy, too, for those interested in adding some fun olfactory sensations to the garden.
Red Twig Dogwood
This fall producer is truly fascinating. It has stunning autumn foliage like you'd expect, but when those leaves drop, they leave bright red branches behind, as you might have guessed from the name. That color will endure all winter, adding a bright spot to the garden during a sometimes dull season. Dogwood makes a fantastic plant in clumps or hedges, and it can be used for texture throughout the garden. Furthermore, their white flowers and tiny fruit attract birds in the spring and summer!
This shrub produces amazing falls of white foliage and beautiful green leaves in the spring. In the fall, some cultivars burst out in a bold show of color. You'll want to give this plant plenty of room to thrive because it stands out during every season of the year, and it shouldn't be buried among a grouping of larger trees and shrubs that might hide the gorgeous foliage. Some nurseries sell compact versions, which produce a very low-mounding bush for small gardens.
This sweet little plant puts out green heart-shaped foliage in the spring, and in the fall, those leaves go yellow and orange before dropping off. Redbud thrives in shade, which offers great growing flexibility, and it can make a stunning contrast with evergreen trees and shrubs. Both Eastern and Western varieties are available for your garden.
Whatever you plant, make sure to get it well fenced. Deer and other pests absolutely love nibbling on tender young trees and plants, and they can devastate your carefully-chosen garden accents before they ever have a chance to grow.
Katie Marks writes for Networx.com.