Planting for Fall Color

Experienced gardeners know that the early fall is a very good time to install new plants. This timing anticipates our Mediterranean climate’s rainy season, during which Nature provides the moisture that new plants require, and the winter months allow time for them to establish their roots in preparation for above-ground growth in the spring.

It is quite natural in this season for gardeners to plant with spring flowers in mind, with their greatest interest focused on spring bulbs. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, especially when gardeners explore the lesser-known geophytes, as well as the always popular spring- and summer-blooming bulbs.

Still, this season is the ideal time to plan for next year’s fall season. This planning begins with a critical look at your own garden. Is it visually exciting and beautiful during the next few weeks, or does it appear tired and eager to enter dormancy? If it could be more pleasing to the eye, plant now to ensure a better look a year in the future.

An easy and reliable way to find plants to add fall color to your next-year garden is to take a walk through your neighborhood to spot attractive plants that look healthy and vigorous. By scanning gardens with growing conditions like yours, this approach automatically directs your attention to plants that are likely to do well in your garden.

Another productive strategy is to ask at your favorite garden center about plants for fall color. A trustworthy garden center will be ready to point out such plants and recommend winners for your garden setting.

Research also can identify good candidates. The Sunset Western Garden Book lists several trees, shrubs, and vines for fall color, and provides details for each in its Western Plant Encyclopedia.

Here are a few popular selections.

Trees

Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nattallii) A spectacular tree that can grow to 50 feet tall. It flowers white or pink in the spring and again in the summer> In the fall it displays yellow, red and pink leaves and clusters of decorative red fruit.

Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo biloba ‘Autumn Gold’) An ancient, actually prehistoric genus that can reach 30 feet tall. It produces gold-colored leaves that drop quickly in the fall to produce a golden carpet.

Flowering Crabapple (Malus hybrids) Small trees (usually 20 feet tall) that flower in the spring then hold their attractive fruit through the fall. Many varieties are listed in the Western Garden Book.

Shrubs, Perennials

Cotoneaster varieties (e.g., C. lacteus, C. franchetii) This shrub, native to China, comes in various sizes from groundcover to twenty feet tall and wide. Produces bright red berries in the late summer followed by fall.

Windflower (Anemone x bybrida) The popular Japanese Anemone (A. japonica) produces white, pink, or rose flowers on arching stems up to four feet high, followed by unusual cottony seed heads.

cotoneaster-anemone

Cotoneaster & Anemone

Aster (Aster x Frikartii ‘Monch; Symphyotrichum spp.). Only the European and Asiatic species are still called Aster officially; North American species have that long new name. Hundreds of varieties are available to produce an abundance of flowers from white to pale blues and pinks to deep scarlet and purple.

Vines

Chinese Wisteria (W. sinensis). This vine, the most common wisteria in the west, produces clusters of violet-blue, slightly fragrant flowers that open all at once in the fall.

Roger’s California Grape (Vitis californica cultivar ‘Roger’s Red’) A central California native often grown as an ornamental plant grows so vigorously that gardeners can boast of their green thumbs. Many American and European varieties are available for table grapes.

There are many more plants that can beautify your garden environment in the fall with colorful flowers, foliage or fruits. Plan and plant now, as we enter the planting season, to set the stage for attractive seasonal displays in future years.

For ideas, visit presentations by Sunset, This Old House, and Fine Gardening.

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