Fall Color: Use These 10 Shrubs Instead of Burning Bush

Our gardening season in the  northeast is short enough. By the time we begin to enjoy the bounty of August and September, its over. Maximizing my own gardening season has become a main priority in the past few years. One area that always fell short was fall foliage color. It's the last hurrah before months of grey. With that in mind, I've been working hard to increase the varieties which really pop in the fall. Burning bush is not the only answer- there are a myriad of alternatives for us to use. Here is a list of my Top 10 favorite environmentally-friendly substitutes for the well known burning bush:

1) Highbush Blueberry-Vaccinium coryombosum Berkeley

This North American native not only produces beautiful white, bell-shaped bloosoms in spring, plump, delicious berries in summer, but also (depending on variety), gets a flaming red in the fall! Don't forget to plant two for good pollination.

2) Diervilla 'Kodiak Orange'-Bush Honeysuckle

Unlike the honeysuckle vine we are all so familiar with, this underused shrub is a champion in the garden. It can handle tough soil, sun or shade and is deer resistant! 'Kodiak Orange' has the added benefit of a fire flame orange foliage in the fall! You can't go wrong with this low maintenance garden trooper.

3) Weigela 'Wings of Fire'

If you are familiar with Weigela, you probably don't think of them as having good fall color. This hybrid 'Wings of FIre' is truly different than your average Weigela. There is almost nothing that rivals this shrub in the landscape for it's red fall color. Add to it a compact stature, with tolerance to a range of conditions and you're sure to enjoy red in your fall garden year after year without any hassel!

4) Aronia 'Brilliantissima'

An underused native stunner, this narrow, upright growing shrub is ideal for grouping in sandy or moist soils and will perform like a champ with landscape interest throughout the season. Foliage emerges dark green and shiny and provides a great backdrop for profuse flattened heads of small white flowers in mid to late May that are filled with nectar for native bees. From these flowers, berries occur, filling the plant with brilliant red fruit in the fall that many of our most prized bird species consider a delicacy. The brilliant berries match breathtaking, bright red foliage as the weather cools.

5) Myrica pennsylvanica

One of my favorite all time plants for its versatility. This semi-evergreen has aromatic, dark, glossy foliage in the summer followed by a deep burgundy fall color. Blue-gray berries in winter. Very hardy, very tolerant with both leaves and berries extremely aromatic. Superb for group plantings in rough areas. Tolerates sun and shade. Nice fall color.

6) Larix decidua Pendula

A superb three season plant ! Fast growing, strongly weeping branches are covered with whorls of lime green needles giving this selection a unique garden look and texture. Needles turn golden yellow in autumn and fall. 

7) Schizachyrium 'Blaze"

Upright, narrow blades form a narrow, vase-like clump of bluish-green color that tops itself with purple-red inflorescens in August. Foliage turns a brilliant orange-red in fall lighting up the landscape. Easy to grow. Drought resistant, deer resistant and perfect for massing in the landscape.

8)Callicarpa Early Amethyst

Why isn't this plant used more? With a dense rounded form and a bird-attracting berry show that will light up the landscape, this underused plant deserves a little more attention. 'Early Amethyst' grows well in part shade or full sun and carries season long interest starting as new foliage emerges bronze in the spring and matures to a lush, deep green. Small, soft pink flowers bloom in late June followed by masses of small berries that start green and change to an electric purple color earlier than all the other Callicarpa in late August. Nice yellow fall foliage color makes the berries stand out even more!

9) Amsonia Blue Ice

Narrow, deep green, willow-like foliage gives rise to showy, pyramidal clusters of deep, lavender-blue flowers in late May through June. It's hard not to fall in love with this plant when it's in bloom but you'll find that you might appreciate its tight, upright form, its drought tolerance, and its incredible bright yellow fall color even more!

10) Dryopteris Autumn Brilliance

This solid, trouble free evergreen fern is a perfect plant for shade and semi-shade areas forming a dense clump with upright, finely cut, nearly lustrous fronds and deep green color. It's a perfect plant for grouping in the landscape to give that soft, forest floor feeling and is very drought tolerant once established. It all sounds great, but why is this plant named 'Brilliance'?? Even with all its great virtues, the time when this plant jumps into your consciousness is when its new growth emerges such a bright reddish-orange that you'll think the plant is spontaneously combusting! An amazing show of color also comes to fruition in the fall. It will make your sedate shaded area a brilliant center of attention!


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  • Ulysses Hedrick