Low Scape Mound® Chokeberry

10 Shrubs for Stunning Fall Color (Better than Burning Bush!)

 

Spring blooming trees, summer blooming perennials, and evergreen specimens are all important features of a well-rounded landscape. But no American landscape is complete without beautiful fall color! We live in the mid-Atlantic region, home of red and sugar maples. You have no excuse for a boring fall landscape!

For a long time, burning bush has been the iconic shrub for fall color. While it does have impressive fall color, I want to share some others that I actually think do it better.  If you don’t have any of these, especially in your front landscape, I recommend you do!

This is a longer post, but my point is to extoll some wonderful plants in the hopes you’ll “fall” for at least one of them!

 

  1. Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Scentlandia® in fall.

Little Henry® in summer.

One of my favorite shrubs is Sweetspire, or Itea. It’s one of the best landscape shrubs because of its adaptability, hardiness, and its attractive, cascading habit. Sweetspire also sports awesome white flowers in summer! Though this plant relishes in part sun with moist soil, it will take full sun or even shade, and will thrive in both really wet and semi-dry soil (once established).

It’s also deer resistant! I know, I know, that phrase is tossed around a lot. But I’m serious! In my experience, they just seem uninteresting to deer.

And, of course, the fall color!  Sweetspire has excellent red fall color and I think they hold their fall color longer than any other landscape shrub!  They usually hold their color well into November and I’ve even seen some hold their foliage into December. Talk about extended season interest!

These are the selections we usually carry:

 

  • Little Henry®, matures around 3’ high and wide. We have a grouping of three in our display beds in front of the garden center.
  • Short N’ SweetTM, matures around 3’ high and wide.
  • Scentlandia®, matures around 3’ high and wide, features more fragrant blooms.
  • Henry’s Garnet, matures around 5’ high and wide.

This shrub is one of the best and if I’ve convinced you, you can thank “me and my bright iteas!”

 

  1. Possumhaw Viburnum (Viburnum nudum)

Fall color on Winterthur.

 

Also known as smooth withered viburnum, this is my #1 favorite shrub! Like sweetspire, this viburnum loves moist soil and part sun, though is pretty adaptable. Mine are in full sun and they are thriving!

Possumhaw viburnum has glossy green leaves, and assuming the soil doesn’t dry out extensively, has a very lush habit. The foliage turns glossy red in fall, typically in October (although may turn earlier if there are extensive dry spells). It tends to hold longer than burning bush too!

Blooms open in early summer on Winterthur.

Other perks are the large white flowers in early summer, its disease resistance, and the colorful ornamental fruit in fall and winter.

So the next question – do deer like it? Not in my experience! I have 7 in my landscape and have only witnessed a nibble on one of them this year. I would personally rate this as one of the best shrubs for deer resistance!

These are the selections we usually carry:

  • Winterthur, an upright form that matures around 7-8’ high and 4-5’ wide.
  • BrandywineTM, a smaller, rounded form that matures around 5’ high and wide.

 

3. Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

All That Glows® in summer.

Fall color on Chicago Lustre®.

 

Another excellent and underutilized plant, arrowwood viburnums are as versatile as the above-mentioned shrubs! They are adaptable in full or part sun, and in wet or average soil. Arrowwood viburnums likewise bloom in early summer and produce ornamental fruit which form in fall and last into winter.

Fall color is fantastic, ranging from red to purple, but sometimes with oranges and golds too!

While not a top target for deer, I would say arrowwood viburnum has only mild resistance. If you live in a deer prone area, I suggest using a deer repellant or to net them. But don’t let this deter you, the durability and hardiness of this shrub – and of course, the beauty – make it well worth protecting!

These are the forms we usually carry:

  • Wild species, matures around 10’ high and wide, with dark blue ornamental fruit.
  • Chicago Lustre®, matures around 8-10’ high and wide, with dark blue ornamental fruit.
  • Blue Muffin®, matures around 8’ high and wide, with brighter blue ornamental fruit.
  • var. deamii All That Glitters®, matures around 5-8’ high and wide, with glossy foliage and shinier blue ornamental fruit.
  • var. deamii All That Glows®, matures around 5-8’ high and with glossy foliage and dark blue ornamental fruit.

 

  1. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Fall color begins on a 2 gallon Sugar Shack®.

 

I wish more people planted buttonbush! This lush informal habit of this medium to large sized native shrub brings a relaxed feel to the landscape – and it’s one of the best shrubs for wet, clay soils.

Small white flowers appear a rounded floral structure, giving the appearance of white pincushions. The unique blooms transition to a reddish fruiting structure, which in fall is supported against a kaleidoscope of fall colors: reds, purples, oranges, and golds.

This shrub is hardy, versatile, beautiful, and has reliable deer resistance. I’ve witnessed a little browsing, but no serious damage.

These are the forms we usually carry:

  • Wild species, which matures around 8-10’ high and wide.
  • Red Moon RisingTM, which matures around 6- 8’ high and wide. The fruiting structure maintains a brighter red color than other selections.
  • Sugar Shack®, which matures around 4-5’ high and wide.

 

  1. Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii, F. major)

Fall color on Fothergilla gardenii.

Spring blooms on Mt. Airy

Fothergilla, also known as witch alder, is sought after for its quaint spring blooms, its nice and full habit, and in the case of the cultivar ‘Blue Shadow’, for its blue foliage. Like the aforementioned shrubs, Fothergilla is hardy, durable, and not a high target for deer. Full to part sun, and average to drier soils are best. I have dwarf Fothergilla in a well-drained bed in part sun and they are doing great!

Fall color is a kaleidoscope, like buttobush, sporting reds and purples along with oranges and yellows. A happy and healthy Fothergilla will begin to turn in late September or October and change throughout November!

These are the forms we usually carry:

  • Dwarf Forthergilla, matures around 4-5’ high and wide.
  • Mt. Airy, a vigorous and compact form, matures around 5-6’ high and wide.
  • Blue Shadow, similar to Mt Airy but with bluish foliage, matures around 5-6’ high and wide.

 

  1. Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Summer flowers on Gatsby Gal® .

Fall color on frosted leaves of Gatsby Moon® .

 

Hydrangeas have excellent summer flowers but one species has the best fall color by a longshot: the oakleaf hydrangea! Once cooler temperatures abound, the foliage turns beautiful reds and purples. Like panicle hydrangeas, the blooms go from white to of pink in the fall and then dry on the plant. I love dried floral heads on hydrangeas as they add texture in late fall and winter. I also love the textured bark, which also adds beauty and interest.

Oakleaf hydrangeas will take full or part sun but they also thrive in reasonable shade. All they ask for is moist, well-drained soil – hydrangeas are not one for soggy soils or drought! No deer resistance here, sorry, but I recommend deer repellant because the oakleaf hydrangea is a grade A+ landscape plant!

Selections we often carry:

  • PeeWee, a dwarf form that matures around 5’ high and wide.
  • Alice, a larger form that matures around 8’ high and wide, and more in optimal conditions.
  • Snow Queen, matures around 4-6’ high and wide.
  • Gatsby Gal® larger than average blooms, matures 5-6’ high and wide.
  • Gatsby Pink®, white blooms turn a vibrant pink, matures 6-8’ high and wide.
  • Gatsby Moon®, tightly packed white florets, unique shape, matures 6-8’ high and wide.
  • Gatsby Star®, white star-shaped double florets, matures 6-8 high and wide.
  • Ruby Slippers, a dwarf with white flowers that turn a solid pink, matures around 4-6’ high and wide. See our in our display beds in front of the garden center.

 

  1. Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.)

Jelly Bean® blueberry in fall.

Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Jersey.’

Blueberries aren’t at the top of most people’s list for ornamental use…but they could be! I find blueberries to be a very nice shrub. They have nice flowers, edible fruit, and terrific fall color! Consider a blueberry hedgerow for ornamental use – with the fresh blueberries being a huge perk!

Blueberries are likewise easy to maintain. Average to moist soil is important and while part sun is just fine, you’ll have the best fruiting and fall color in full sun. Deer resistance is not perfect, but they often will pass them over in favor of tastier plants!

We usually have a dozen different cultivars on hand so I won’t list them all here. Come on in and see for yourself!

 

 

  1. Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, A. arbutifolia)

Low Scape Mound® in fall.

Low Scape Hedger® in spring.

 

This native airy shrub is tough as nails! Full sun, part sun, dry soil, wet soil, clay, road salt, you name it…and it’s gorgeous too! Spring flowers, crisp leathery foliage, ornamental fruit, and red or orange fall color make this plant a very well-rounded plant! Not deer resistant, sorry, but with its perks, it’s a great plant for any garden! I live in a heavy deer trafficked area, so I spray mine with a deer repellant once a week. It takes a whopping 60 seconds of my time, an easy task for such a cool plant!

Cultivars we usually carry:

  • Brilliance, an upright form, maturing around 8′ tall, 4′ wide.
  • Viking, an upright to rounded form, blooms earlier than other cultivars, matures 5-6′ high, 4-5 wide
  • Iroquois BeautyTM, a spreading form, maturing 3’ high, 5’ wide
  • Low Scape Hedger®, matures around 3-5’ high, 2-3’ wide
  • Low Scape Mound®, matures around 2’ high and wide
  • Ground HogTM, a groundcover form, matures around 1’ high, 3’ wide

 

  1. Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus sp.)

Fall Color on Arctic Fire®.

Arctic Fire® in summer.

The hallmark of the redtwig dogwood (and yellowtwig!) is the bright, colorful stems in winter. But the fall color is fantastic too! While it prefers moister, cooler spots, it is adaptable and is a prime candidate for a backdrop in perennial beds – so when summer flowers fade, it can become the star of the show!

Redtwig dogwood is a medium-sized shrub but can be pruned to maintain size. Pruning involves removing the oldest stems at the crown, which also keeps the plant vibrant as the best color is on younger stems anyway.

Cultivars we usually carry:

  • Bailey’s Redtwig, matures around 6-10’ high and wide.
  • Ivory Halo, a variegated form, matures around 5-6’ high and wide.
  • Arctic Fire®, matures around 4-6’ high and wide.
  • Garden GlowTM, unique for its golden foliage, matures around 4-5’ high and wide.

 

  1. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ in fall.

Sugartina® ‘Crystalina’ in summer.

 

Summersweet, or Clethra, is another one of my favorites. This one doesn’t have red fall color though; this plant has stunning gold color! Red fall color is important but you gotta have some nice yellows too!

Before putting on its fall display, summersweet sports lustrous green, disease-resistant foliage and super fragrant blooms in summer! Matter of fact, I can’t think of a more fragrant plant! Summersweet is a pollinator magnet upon blooming, and like many of aforementioned shrubs, is pretty versatile – but full to part sun in most soil is best.

Cultivars we usually carry:

  • Ruby Spice, pink blooms and matures around 6-8’ high and wide.
  • Hummingbird, white blooms and matures around 4’ high and wide.
  • Vanilla Spice®, white blooms and matures around 6’ high and wide.
  • Sugartina® Crystallina, white blooms and matures around 3’ high and wide.
  • Sixteen Candles, white blooms and matures around 3’ high and wide.

Because of the neat golden fall color, perhaps we can also nickname this shrub “autumn sweet!”

Fall is For Planting!

We almost always have a few cultivars of each plant in stock, from spring till we close in November. And if we don’t, check back with us as we receive shipments all season long! As I mentioned, fall color is important for any well-balanced landscape. If you find yours lacking, come on in and we’ll help you out. Now is a great time to plant and get a glimpse of the wonderful plants I’m talking about!