Fall Shrubs and Trees
Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardener
(9/2017) As fall approaches, many of us spend our time rushing to and from school, meetings, and many other fall activities, often missing the wonderful things nature has for us to enjoy. Take a break and look at the beautiful gardens nature has provided. Ever wonder what those
plants were that are holding their berries? Or the tree that has bark peeling from the trunk? How about those shrubs with red or yellow stems by the creek?
Many plants will come to life through colorful leaves and bark beginning in late September. Fall is the second best time to plant, so why not design a fall/winter garden? Many garden centers will receive fresh stock in August and September, so you may have a great selection to choose from. It is important to carefully choose, place and plant your
trees and shrubs. The trick is to know what the effect is that you may want, design the area for an all-season garden focusing on the fall and winter, and choose the right plant for that particular location.
We can create these gardens with just a few good choices of plants that will thrive in our climate. When thinking about designing a fall and winter garden, let's think about texture and form. Unless you choose an evergreen shrub, leaves will be leaving us this time of year. So bark, color and form become a high importance.
If you are in the planning mode, measure the area that you will be working and commit it to paper. This will allow you to see the space you are planting and work through the design of the garden. When you do this, it also allows you to learn about the plants, see on paper the potential size of the plants, and therefore determine the right plants
for the location.
Visit nurseries and garden centers and check out what is available. Many trees, like sweetgum, sourwood, red maples and serviceberry offer wonderful color in the fall. Shrubs, like oakleaf hydrangea and fothergilla are also beautiful during the fall and winter months.
Many shrubs offer beautiful berries, like red chokeberry, inkberry holly and callicarpa that may hold their fruit through the winter. Consider mixing plants that have fall and winter interest with the plants that you enjoy in the spring and summer. Here is a short list some plants you may want to try.
- Hydrangea quercifolia, oakleaf hydrangea, is a large shrub that not only has summer interest with its big, white conical flowers, but also has terrific red to purple fall color. The bark on the shrub is a cinnamon color and peeling. A native shrub it is grown best in part shade, this plant will be generous with its fall color. Typically
reaching a height and spread of 6’, this plant should be sited in a shrub border or as a specimen plant. Dwarf cultuvars are available as well. Well drained soil is its preference.
- Fothergilla gardenii is a great native small to medium sized shrub reaching 4 -6 feet in height as well as spread. It’s not only showy in the spring with its white, bottle-brush flowers, but the yellow, orange, and red fall colors are spectacular. This plant is a slow grower, making it a good choice for foundation plantings. It does prefer an
acidic soil with good drainage and part sun to full sun.
- Aronia arbutifolia, red chokeberry, has proven to be another spectacular native plant for fall and winter interest. You can enjoy this plant’s bright red fruit from September through January as well as its red fall color in October. It tolerates most soil types, but does prefer well drained soils. It will reach 5’-6’ and is a good selection
for the shrub border.
- Callicarpa japonica, beautyberry, is a shrub that will stretch 4’ to 6’ in height. It likes full sun to part shade and gets lovely purple berries in the fall – hence the fall attraction of this shrub, as purple is not a common color this time of year. Use this plant for a shrub border, or mix it in with some spring blooming plants. The stems
with berries are great for indoor arrangements.
- Lindera bezoin, spicebush, shows a great yellow fall color. This plant is known for its fragrant stems when broken. However, the yellow color mixes wonderfully with the oranges and reds of the fall palette. It likes part shade to full sun, but becomes more open and wild the more shade you provide it. It is a large shrub, potentially reaching
8’, making it a good native plant for the shrub border.
- Liquidambar styraciflua, sweetgum, is a large native shade tree reaching 60-75’ in height. The beautiful tree offers tons of fall color – colors ranging from yellow, orange, red and purple. It wants full sun and will grow well in most soil types. The star-shaped leaves give this tree an interesting texture through the summer months.
- Nyssa sylvatica, or blackgum, is a tree often overlooked. This native tree has a habit very similar to the pin oak. The canopy is pyramidal in shape, like the pin oak, but the leaves are oval. The fall color is one of the best of our native trees, changing from dark green in the summer to a brilliant scarlet in the fall. It will stretch to 30
– 40 feet, but is slow growing, making it a good street tree and nice large specimen tree.
- River birch, Betula nigra, a native tree to river and creek banks as well as marshy areas, has interesting bark. The cinnamon colored peeling bark is exciting in all four seasons. The leaves on this tree are small, and the canopy is not dense, allowing the bark to be visible in and out of leaf. This tree will reach 50'. This tree will thrive
in moist soils, but lucky for us, it is very versatile, adapting to drier locations as well. In a grouping of three or five, this selection is outstanding. Use it as a plant grouping in the yard, or as a single tree as a specimen in a foundation planting. Grown in clumps or single stemmed allows for a variety of design styles, from a more natural look to a formal
- The paperbark maple, Acer griseum, is one of my favorite trees. This slow-growing tree offers a cinnamon colored, peeling bark on the trunk and branches. It is a slow grower that likes part shade to full sun and reaches about 20-25'. It's not fussy about soil, but don't place it in a really dry location. Well drained soils are best. This is a
great selection for a specimen tree or focal point in the garden where the tree bark and color will be visited on a more personal level.
So why plant in September and October? Warm soils in the fall will encourage root growth of plants and typical rainfall in our area reduces the amount of watering that gardeners need to do - and - the weather is so much cooler to work in the garden. Because of better root development in the fall, when spring arrives, the plants have a much better
start when compared to plants planted in the spring. Then when the hot dry weather of summer hits, the fall planted plant will be well established and therefore, can withstand the tough summer environment.
Container grown plants as well as balled and burlapped plants do well planted during this season. If planting a container grown plant, be sure you break up the root system before placing it in the hole. This will encourage the roots to grow into the existing soil. A balled and burlapped and container plants can be planted well into the late fall
until the ground freezes. These plants move best when they are going dormant, because the roots are disturbed when digging. Just be sure to roll back the burlap from the top of the ball, and cut all string from the ball, especially around the trunk.
Whether planting a container or balled and burlapped plant, be sure you don't plant it too deep, the top of the soil ball should be level with the existing grade. Be sure to water the plant well after planting.
Imagine your garden with a variety of plants for fall color. The plants discussed here are just the "tip of the iceberg"! Many more plants are available on today’s market, and with the love of gardening growing, many more selections will become available to us. Enjoy your garden, whether old or new, and always continue to learn about nature's
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