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Fall Color in Every Garden



If you’re like me, each autumn you probably enjoy viewing those TV weather/news reports that track the weeks-long southward progression of our world-renown “peak” fall color. But the fall-foliage season always seems to pass-by so quickly. And if you’ve ever traveled to any of the most popular viewing regions during “leaf-peeping” season, you’ll likely recall the traffic delays, lodging/meal frustrations and costs that can make the trip less than fully enjoyable.

On TV we mostly get reports on the larger trees maples, oaks and birch that dominate the forests, rarely hearing mention of those less-recognized trees and shrubs we grow in our individual gardens. As impressive as those vast panoramas of fall foliage are in the wild, similarly-appealing scenes can be enjoyed in our own gardens. Yes, this scale is surely less monumental. But with a bit of astute planning, your personal fall-color-spectacular, right in your own yard, can last for many weeks, and be less challenging than traveling.

Here are some suggestions for reliable, smaller-scale trees appropriate for many garden settings and offering colorful autumn foliage from August into November.

  • Dozens of cultivars of Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) are available in such a broad range of growth habits; you can enjoy their fall foliage colors for weeks and weeks, depending upon which types you choose;
  • Dogwood (Cornus) and Flowering cherry (Prunus) cultivars offer many choices of size, form and color to suit most any garden;
  • The multi-seasonal features of Stewartia make it one of our most popular trees;
  • Sourwood (Oxydendrum) foliage effectively complements its gracefully-weeping seed panicles for many weeks;
  • Callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) is always the latest to display its glossy red foliage every fall.

I also notice a number of fall-coloring deciduous shrubs that are well-mannered and suited for gardens in this region, some of which tend to be surprisingly underutilized. These are among my favorites:

  • Azaleas, both deciduous and evergreen, in cultivars that color-up over a long season each fall;
  • Shrub dogwood (Cornus) species and cultivars offer a range of foliage and stem colors that last for weeks, often into winter;
  • Enkianthus is a favorite in my yard for its persistent red-orange-yellow autumn foliage, and also for its attractive golden seed pods that follow the fragrant lily-of-the-valley-like June flowers;
  • Sweetspire (Itea), yellowroot (Xanthorhyza) and sumac (Rhus) are all underappreciated plants in many gardens–they haven’t been widely promoted in this region, and many homeowners aren’t familiar with their autumn appeal;
  • Various cultivars of oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) can grow large or compact, all with distinctive multicolored autumn foliage colors;
  • We all know that blueberry (Vaccinium) is a fine choice for its fruiting benefits; it also offers attractive, long-lasting autumn colors, varying by the cultivar.

Fall is such a terrific season to look around and appreciate the appeal of our own yard and gardens!

About the Author

Wayne Mezitt is a 3rd generation nurseryman, a Massachusetts Certified Horticulturist, now chairman of Weston Nurseries of Hopkinton, Chelmsford & Hingham MA, and owner of “Hort-Sense”, a horticultural advisory business. He currently serves in various capacities on several horticulturally-related organizations, including the Massachusetts Horticultural Society at The Gardens at Elm Bank in Wellesley MA, and chairman for the Massachusetts Invasive Plant Advisory Group (MIPAG).

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