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The Homeowners Column
Shrubs and Perennials for Fall Color
Extension Educator, Horticulture
The changing seasons mean anticipation ... of cooler weather, clear autumn nights, no mosquitoes and brilliant fall colors. The fall colors reset my internal clock and eternal optimism. Fall color intensity does vary from year to year. It depends on the health of the plant and sunny autumn days with cool nights, but most of the color variation is just good old genetics. If you want a plant for fall color, buy it in fall when it is showing off on the shrub lot. Even plants with the same name can vary. Pink fall colored burning bushes nuzzle right next to brilliant red burning bushes.
For just about everything you ever wanted to know about fall color, check out U of I Extension website http://www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/fallcolor/ Wanting to plan a fall trip? The website gives sites with live foliage cams from across the U.S. or check out some of the great driving routes for fall color.
Red maple, white oak, and sweet gum are just some of the trees known for their magnificent fall color. However we often overlook shrubs and even perennial flowers with spectacular fall color.
Virginia Sweetspire, Itea virginica, is finally getting the attention it deserves. It is a native shrub found growing along shady streams. In autumn the glossy leaves turn a combination of red and purple, which often persist well into December. If that wasn't enough, it has fragrant white flowers in June and July. It grows 3–5 feet tall with a suckering mounded habit. 'Henry's Garnet' is a magnificent cultivar with flowers up to six inches long and a consistent red purple fall color.
Hybrid Witchhazel, Hamamelis x intermedia, offers several attractive cultivars with nice fall color. These witchhazels would prefer a moist, well-drained soil but are pretty adaptable to even partial shade. 'Arnold Promise' has been around for years and remains one of the best cultivars. It has bright yellow flowers and yellow to orange fall color. 'Arnold Promise' can get to 20 feet tall. 'Jelena' is a nice shrub with horizontal branching, coppery colored flowers and orange to red fall color. The interesting thing about witchhazel is the flower color matches the fall color. A yellow flowering witchhazel equals yellow fall color. The red varieties give a red fall show. 'Pallida'offers extra early yellow flowers and a smaller shrub size.
Oakleaf hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia, at four to six feet tall makes a dramatic show with large white flower panicles, large "oak looking" leaves and cinnamon brown bark. In fall the leaves turn a deep rich burgundy color that persist well into December.
Like other sumacs the Flameleaf Sumac, Rhus copallina, has great red purple fall color. It also has other sumac properties such as a suckering habit. At 20 to 30 feet tall it requires plenty of space.
Plumbago also known as leadwort, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, is a nice perennial flower for sunny spots. It makes a nice groundcover. In late summer it produces cobalt blue flowers and as the cool weather comes the leaves turn reddish often along with the blue flowers.
Perennials with clear yellow fall color include Blue Stars, Amsonia tabernaemontana and Amsonia hubrechtii and Balloon Flower, Platycodon grandiflorus.
Join Master Gardener Ernest Young at the Master Gardener Idea Garden on south Lincoln Avenue at the U of I Arboretum on October 19 at 10:00 am to learn all about growing, harvesting and using gourds.
Home composting class will be held on October 22 at 7:00 p.m. and repeated October 24 at 1:30 p.m. through the teleconference system at U of I Extension Champaign County office at 801 North Country Fair Drive in Champaign. There is no charge but registration is required. To register call U of I Extension at (217) 333-7672.