I took an objective look at my front yard this week and determined it was sadly lacking in fall color. My four yellow mums in pots flanking the doorway just didn’t bring me quite enough joy. (Yes, I admit it – I have been doing a Marie Kondo purge) What I really want are huge bursts of riotous color before a long Midwestern winter with its ice, snow and freezing temperatures sets in.
While many people associate trees with the dynamic colors of fall, there are other options for bringing excitement to your fall landscape. Planting shrubs can be one quick and easy solution to what seems to be a bland autumn view. Adding well chosen shrubs to your existing design can not only bring you the pizazz you are looking for, they can also provide some unexpected benefits.
Shrubs have environmental benefits. Their leaves help to filter out dust particles and pollutants, improving air quality. Planted on hillsides or sloping ground, their root systems help to stabilize the soil, preventing erosion and potentially toxic stormwater run-off.
Shrubs can save you money. Added near to east or west facing windows, shrubs can help reduce energy bills by providing shade in the hot summer months and welcoming in warming sunshine during the cold winter days.
Shrubs can bring needed privacy or can screen out unpleasant views. They are a tactful way to hide your neighbor’s unsightly junk pile or an uninspiring chain link fence from the sightlines of your patio.
Shrubs are wildlife friendly. They provide homes in the shelter of their branches, food from their leaves and berries, shelter in rain, wind and snow storms, and a place to rest for birds and butterflies passing through.
Shrubs are easy to plant Most, especially native shrubs, require very little care and coddling. Adequate moisture and a bit of trimming now and then are all that most shrubs need to thrive and be beautiful.
Before I went searching the local nurseries and big box stores for plants to add to my yard, I contacted my friends at Embassy Landscape Group for their favorite fall shrubs – the ones they want in their own yards. The designers there instantly came up four fall favorite.
Number One on BOTH their lists is Beautyberry, Callicarpa americana. This native shrub is an easy to grow sun lover that also will tolerate some shade. It blooms with tiny pinkish flowers from June until August, but turns into a spectacular focal point in the fall. The small summer flowers turn into a show of bright violet-purple berries surrounding the stems. Pearl Glam, a variety marketed as a Proven Winner, sports what designer Jamison Wiley calls a “super cool summer color followed by glorious lavender berries all over its stems. Definitely a multi seasonal interest plant.”
Number Two, again on BOTH their lists, was a more unusual find called Seven-Son Flower. This ornamental shrub originally hails from China, but has blended well into North American landscapes. It requires a medium moisture, full sun environment. A larger shrub, often reaching 15 to 20 feet at maturity, it can be pruned to fit into the landscape. Seven-Son has fragrant flowers in September that are a welcome nectar source for later bees, butterflies and hummingbirds and features brilliant red bracts throughout the fall months. Its unusual bark patterns are gorgeous against a winter sky.
Dan Nelson, Lead Designer, added the native shrub Diervilla sessilfolia (commonly called bush honeysuckle) to his list. Dan loves the fact that it displays its brilliant fall reddish-purple fall color in either sun or partially shaded conditions. It is incredibly hardy, easy to grow and is covered in sulfur yellow, fragrant flowers in June and July. It is a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds. Unlike the honeysuckle Lonicera japonica, Diervilla is not an invasive species.
The final suggestion from the Embassy design team was an old favorite of many people – the native shrub Witch Hazel. Found in our woodlands and along our stream banks, Hamamelis virginiana has added its color and fragrance to our lives for centuries. Probably the least fussy of the list, Witch Hazel will grow in any soil type from a rich, humus filled one to a heavy clay. It will flower profusely in full sun, but will tolerate some shade too. Blooming bright yellow October until December and then offering berries beyond, this shrub can easily become the queen of both the fall and winter garden.
My friends at Embassy assure me that October is a great time to plant any of these four fall favorites. With a beautiful weekend ahead, I think the time has finally come to do a little shopping and a lot of planting. The results will be beautiful.