Don't you love fall colors in your garden? Even though it has been dry, our spring rains and recent cool night temperatures have set the stage for some lovely autumn colors. Your landscape will be particularly beautiful if you plant perennials known for their fall color.
This week, we will introduce four shrubs that will make great additions. Planting these beauties will result in brilliant foliage next year, and now is the time to put these plants in the ground for next year's beauty.
One plant that is common in our Oklahoma countryside is the staghorn sumac, with its chartreuse foliage in the spring. The cutleaf staghorn sumac has lacy, fernlike foliage that changes from green to bright yellow in the summer. In autumn, it is stunning with scarlet red leaves among the yellow-orange ones. This shrub grows very fast to heights of 3-6 feet tall and just as wide and tolerates cold from Zones 4-8 (we are in Zone 7.)
This sumac tolerates full sun to part shade, so it is ideally suited as a specimen plant in a Japanese garden, in a mass planting or even a mixed border. Except for pruning dead wood, it doesn't need much attention, and you can find it in any local garden center.
Another shrub that is great for yellow, red and crimson leaves in mid-to-late fall is the cranberry bush viburnum. It has flat clusters of showy white blooms in late spring, which attract bees and butterflies. In autumn, leaves go to red, yellow and crimson, often lasting until late in the season.
This shrub grows 8-12 feet tall and wide and should be planted in average, well-drained soil. It is drought-tolerant and relatively pest-free and disease-free. It can be used as a focal point, screen or hedge and produces bright red edible fruits tasting like cranberries, which are great in jams or preserves. The cranberry bush vibernum likes full sun to part shade and has a hardiness zone from 2-8.
The bottlebrush buckeye is among the best summer-flowering shrubs for shade, producing showy flowers and yellow leaves in the fall. Buckeyes are tough and rarely need attention, but make sure they get plenty of water when first planted. This shrub is also rabbit- and deer-resistant and great for erosion control on a shady hillside.
It likes part to full shade and lightly moist, well-drained soil. Growing 8-12 feet tall and 8-15 feet wide and tolerating cold Zones 4-8, this buckeye makes a great hedge or as a picturesque stand in a woody area.
One final shrub that produces autumn color is the birchleaf spirea. It is very different from the common spireas we usually see in many gardens. This spirea holds its shape well and offers interest for three seasons of the year. In the spring, clusters of small white flowers appear, giving way to deep green foliage in the summer.
In mid-to-late fall, the leaves become brilliant shades of purple, red and orange. It is small, only 2-3 feet tall and wide and prefers full sun. It makes a great hedge, a foundation planting or a specimen in a rock garden. It is tolerates cold from Zones 4-8 and needs average but well-drained soil.
Finally, here is a shrub that we do not plant for blooms or foliage but for its stems. Bloodtwig dogwoods are recommended for the yellow, green or red stems they display flamboyantly in winter.
The shrub Dogwoods normally grown in Oklahoma have yellow or red stems, but try "Midwinter Fire" for a stunning display. The bottom of the stems are tawny yellow; the tops and twigs are blood red, and an added bonus is good fall color. Make sure you plant this shrub in well-amended, organic soils and afternoon summer shade.
With these and other choices of shrubs offered in your local garden centers, you should be able to find the ideal perennials to give you beautiful color next fall. Now is the time to plant.