Landscape for fall with color in mind

Ginkgo bilobas provide outstanding yellow color in the fall landscape. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Ginkgo bilobas provide outstanding yellow color in the fall landscape. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

By Dan Gill, LSU AgCenter horticulturist

Many plants seem to save up all summer for the spectacular display of flowers, fruit and foliage showing up in our gardens now. If you want to punch up the color level in your garden from October through December, here are some trees, shrubs and perennials you might consider including in your landscape

Although decidedly less than spectacular this far south, this is the month that the leaves of some deciduous trees turn various colors as they get ready to drop. A few of the trees that reliably color up well here include ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – yellow; Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) – dull orange, red; sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) – purple, burgundy, orange and yellow; Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) – red, orange, yellow; and Chinese pistachio (Pistachia chinensis) – purple, red, orange.

Don’t forget that older leaves of broad-leafed evergreens such as gardenia, azalea, Indian hawthorn, holly and cherry laurel will also turn yellow, orange or red and are dropped. Many of these plants shed old leaves in the fall while others tend to drop older leaves in the spring. The loss of old leaves is natural and no need for concern.

Trees also provide color now and through winter with fruit. Hollies are notable in this regard and are beginning to color their brilliant red berries now. There are many excellent choices for our area.

Chinese pistachio. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

Chinese pistachio. Photo courtesy of LSU AgCenter.

The popular Savannah holly and Foster’s holly (Ilex x attenuata Savannah and Fosteri) are both small trees. The Savannah holly grows to about 25 feet and the Foster’s to about 15 feet. Besides the color they provide, holly berries are also excellent wildlife food eaten by birds.

Two beautiful native hollies are the yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) and deciduous holly (Ilex decidua and Ilex verticillata).

The yaupon possesses one of the most beautiful berries in the group. The fruit are the typical red, but are translucent. When sunlight shines through them they glow like stained glass.

The deciduous hollies are quite unique since they drop their leaves in winter, unlike other commonly grown hollies which are all evergreen. Once the leaves fall, the bright red berries, which literally cover the branches, put on a traffic stopping display. The deciduous hollies are not planted as much as they deserve.

Two other excellent native hollies for berries are the American holly (Ilex opaca) and Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine), which are the parents of the Savannah and Foster’s holly.

Sasanquas (Camellia sasanqua) are one of the best shrubs for fall bloom. Dwarf types stay under 3 feet while standard varieties will slowly grow to 10 to 12 feet tall and can be trained as a clipped hedge, large shrub or tree. The 2-to-3-inch fragrant flowers are produced in abundance and come in shades of red, rose, pink and white, depending on the variety you choose. Soon, camellias (Camellia japonica) will begin to bloom and continue through winter.

Although generally not known for their fall blooming, azaleas that bloom during seasons other than spring are becoming more available and popular. Particularly notable are some of the Robin Hill azaleas such as Watchet and Conversation Piece, the popular Glen Dale variety Fashion and the Encore azaleas.

Rose bushes also produce some of their best flowers of the year in fall. Lower-maintenance landscape roses, such as Belinda’s Dream, Knock Out and the low-growing Drift series, are excellent landscape choices for fall blooms.

Lots of herbaceous perennial wildflowers are in bloom now, and two that make excellent additions to the garden include wild ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) and goldenrod (Solidago species).

Wild ageratum is one of my favorite garden plants. In October and November, powder-puff clusters of lavender-blue flowers are produced on plants about 24 inches tall, which grow well in full sun to part shade. The color combines with anything and is a refreshing relief from the yellows, golds and oranges common in flowers this time of year.

Goldenrod is a well-know fall bloomer that often gets blamed for causing allergies. It doesn’t, but it does produce spikes of intense yellow flowers that enliven the garden. Several species and varieties are available, ranging from dwarfs that stay around a foot tall to background plants that grow to be 5 or 6 feet tall.

Although they bloom through summer, salvias always seem to look especially good in fall. Two species, Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis), are outstanding. Mexican bush sage produces spikes of furry purple or white flowers on 3-to-5-foot-tall plants. Forsythia sage is an unusual yellow-blooming salvia that makes large spikes of mellow yellow on a 5-foot plant with dark green, quilted leaves.

I have just scratched the surface. Look around, and you will be inspired by many other outstanding late-year performers.

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