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The Art of Gardening
Trees & Shrubs

Autumn Gardens - Feast for the Eyes

Autumn in the garden can be just as colorful as spring and summer and doesn't deserve a reputation as an "off season". With some planning you can have a garden that "wows" year round. The cooler temperatures make for more comfortable gardening, plus it's an ideal time to buy and plant new shrubs and trees due to the cooler soil temperatures.

In addition to late-blooming annuals and perennials, fall color comes in the form of foliage on many deciduous trees and shrubs. Cool evenings trigger the plants to start changing their foliage to shades of yellow, orange, red and purples in varying shades and intensity. Many fall foliage stars need direct sun to really give you a Technicolor blast. (There are a number of shade lovers for seasonal color so don't fret if you have a forested garden.)

Some popular trees for fall color include most maples,especially Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) and vine maples (Acer circinatum), Ginkgo, Korean dogwoods (Cornus kousa), Katsura (Cercidiphyllum), and Oxydendrum. Stewartia and 'Forest Pansy' Redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy') are strong players in many seasons. Reliable shrubs for color include Witch Hazel (Hamamelis), Fothergilla, Sumac (Rhus), most Nandina, Ninebark (Physocarpus), Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus), Spiraea, Enkianthus, and Smoke Bush (Cotinus). With many species the fall color can vary from plant to plant, so choosing now allows you to select the fall show you like.

To highlight the change in colors, place these where they will have a contrasting backdrop of other plants or a wall or fence. Consider mixing different kinds of plants for a more diverse show of color - maples with conifers mixed with smaller shrubs for a multilayered display. This ensemble can be fronted with fall mums, fading grasses with their delicate fronds and even smaller players like autumn flowering heaths and heathers. This allows you to carry seasonal color from the treetops to the ground.

In addition to changing foliage, fruits of many species add some drama to the garden in the fall and into the winter. Excellent fruiting plants include Pyracantha, Mountain Ash (Sorbus), Cotoneaster, some Viburnum species and Beautyberry (Callicarpa) with its bright purple berries. These fruits also provide valuable nutrition for visiting birds.

Garden textures also change with the seasons and add visual diversity to the landscape.

An often overlooked source of fall textural interest are deciduous grasses. With their bronze or flax colored plumes and seedheads dancing in the breeze large clumping grasses add fine texture and movement to mixed borders and perennial beds. Some proven selections include several Miscanthus cultivars and 'Karl Foerster' Reed Grass (Calamogrostis x acutifolia 'Karl Foerster') with plumes reaching 6 or 7 feet! Plant these where they catch the morning or afternoon light for maximum impact.

As the weather cools and your summer annuals begin to fade, consider adding some dramatic fall foliage or texture to extend the gardening season.

By Crane A. Stavig
Skylights Autumn 2008, Vol 23, No. 3

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