Interesting Autumn Foliage: Top 10 Plants For Fall Color

By Teo Spengler | September 26, 2020
by Teo Spengler
September 26, 2020

Autumn may signal the end of summer, but that doesn’t mean the garden has to start wearing winter weeds yet. Nature makes it easy to celebrate this invigorating season with exciting new colors and textures in the garden. If you live in New England, for instance, you know the spectacular fall show put on by sugar maples.

Growing Plants for Fall Color

Autumn-blooming classics like chrysanthemum, aster and goldenrod are turning gardens everywhere into shades of yellow, orange and red. But that’s only a small fraction of the range of the possibilities when it comes to fabulous fall color in the garden. If you are just getting started, here’s our list of favorite colorful garden plants for explosive fall fireworks.

  • SumacSumac (Rhus spp.) rivals maples when it comes to riveting plants for fall color. These small trees or large shrubs are native to North America. Almost all species light up in autumn with brilliant foliage and red berry clusters.
  • Hyacinth bean vine – The exotic purple flowers and burgundy seed pods of hyacinth bean vine (Lablab purpureus) create undeniable vertical interest as the vine climbs a wall or trellis. It is especially attractive in fall when the unique reddish-purple pods hang heavy on the vine.
  • Ginkgo – For many years, the ancient ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) with its unique fan-shaped leaves was thought to be extinct. But specimens were located and propagated, and today you can plant one in your garden. The autumn foliage shines in hues of canary yellow.
  • Fountain grass – If you want your fall foliage display to flow across your backyard, mound-forming fountain grass (Pennisetum spp.) can work this magic. Autumn brings red-tinged foliage and soft, bottlebrush-like seed heads.
  • Autumn Fire sedum – You may not think of succulents when it comes to fall color in the garden, but take a look at Autumn Fire (Sedum spectabile ‘Autumn Fire’). The sturdy stonecrop stems are topped with rosy flowers that deepen into coppery fire at summer’s close. Autumn Joy is another must-have sedum for fall interest.
  • Sourwood – Here’s a small native tree that deserves a place in more home gardens. Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) delights with white summer blossoms followed by stunning crimson foliage in autumn that you won’t easily forget.
  • Flowering dogwoodDogwood (Cornus florida) is an easy-maintenance tree known for its beautiful spring flowers. Come fall, you’ll also love its eye-popping scarlet foliage and bright red berries.
  • Beautyberry – The beautyberry (Callicarpa) is a native shrub with pleasant foliage and spring flowers. But come fall, it will knock you over with its one-of-a-kind fall show: big clusters of berries in a dramatic shade of purple. Birds love them and so will you.
  • Sassafras – If you want yellow, purple and red fall color, you can’t beat the native shrub called sassafras (Sassafras albidum). It may be known as a culinary flavoring, but it is also an ornamental plant in its own right with attractive yellow spring blossoms and dark berries and brilliant foliage in autumn.
  • Japanese maple – Small and lovely, Japanese maple trees (Acer palmatum) are prized for their lacy leaves and graceful aspect. The foliage is spectacularly fiery in fall, making them a must have for colorful garden plants.
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