10 Shrubs for Stunning Fall Color (Better than Burning Bush!)

Low Scape Mound® Chokeberry

10 Shrubs for Stunning Fall Color (Better than Burning Bush!)

 

Spring flowering trees, summer blooming perennials, and ornamental evergreens are all important features of a well-rounded landscape. But no landscape is complete without beautiful fall color. We live in the mid-Atlantic region, home of red and sugar maples –  there’s no excuse for a boring fall landscape.

For aeons, burning bush has been the iconic shrub for fall color. While it does have impressive fall color, I want to share some others that I actually think do it better.  If you don’t have any of these, especially in front landscape, I recommend you do!

This is a longer post, but my point is to extoll some wonderful plants in the hopes you’ll “fall” for at least a couple of them.

 

  1. Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Scentlandia® in fall.

Little Henry® in summer.

One of my favorite shrubs is Virginia Sweetspire, or Itea. It’s one of the best landscape shrubs because of its adaptability, hardiness, and attractive, cascading habit. The gorgeous white flowers in summer are also a boon to pollinators. Though this plant delights in part sun and moist soil, it will tolerate full sun and even full shade. It will thrive in wet, clay soils and even tolerate occasional dry spells.

Virginia Sweetspire also has excellent deer resistance. Like everyone around here, White-tail deer are abundant around my home so I get up-close experience on what plants are subject to browse and which ones are not.

Per the main subject, this shrub has excellent red to scarlet fall color and in my casual observations, generally holds longer than any other other landscape shrub. Virginia Sweetspire usually hold color well into November and I’ve even seen some hold their foliage into December.

 

 

These are the selections we usually carry:

  • Little Henry®, matures around 3’ high and wide. We have a grouping of three in our display beds in front of the garden center.
  • Short N’ SweetTM, matures around 3’ high and wide.
  • Scentlandia®, matures around 3’ high and wide, features more fragrant blooms.
  • Henry’s Garnet, matures around 5’ high and wide.

 

  1. Possumhaw Viburnum (Viburnum nudum)

Fall color on Winterthur.

 

Also known as Smooth Withered viburnum, this is my favorite shrub species. Like Virginia Sweetspire, this viburnum loves moist soil and full to part sun but is quite adaptable. I have 7 in my landscape and they are doing superb!

Possumhaw viburnum has glossy green leaves, and assuming the soil doesn’t dry out extensively, has a very lush habit. The foliage turns glossy red in fall, typically in October (although may turn earlier if there are long dry spells). It tends to hold longer than burning bush too!

Blooms open in early summer on Winterthur.

Other perks are the large white flowers in early summer, its disease resistance, and the colorful ornamental fruit in fall and winter. Even though it’s not evergreen, I think this is a good alternative for cherry laurel which is not hardy in our area.

Possumhaw viburnum also has excellent deer resistance. Unlike many of my garden plants which I have to spray with a repellant, these I never have to worry about.

These are the selections we usually carry (you’ll need both for fruit set):

  • Winterthur, an upright form that matures around 7-8’ high and 4-5’ wide.
  • BrandywineTM, a smaller, rounded form that matures around 5’ high and wide.

 

3. Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

All That Glows® in summer.

Fall color on Chicago Lustre®.

 

Another excellent and underutilized plant, arrowwood viburnums are as versatile as the above-mentioned shrubs! They are adaptable in full or part sun, and in wet or average soil. Arrowwood viburnums flower in early summer and produce ornamental fruit which form in fall and last into winter.

Fall color is fantastic, ranging from red to purple, but sometimes with orange and gold too.

While not a top target for deer, Arrowood viburnum has only mild resistance. If you live in a deer prone area, I suggest using a deer repellant or to net them. Don’t let this deter you though, the durability and hardiness of this shrub – and of course, the beauty – make it worth planting.

 

These are the forms we usually carry (you’ll need two for fruit set):

  • Wild species, matures around 10’ high and wide, with dark blue ornamental fruit.
  • Chicago Lustre®, matures around 8-10’ high and wide, with dark blue ornamental fruit.
  • Blue Muffin®, matures around 8’ high and wide, with brighter blue ornamental fruit.
  • var. deamii All That Glitters®, matures around 5-8’ high and wide, with glossy foliage and shinier blue ornamental fruit.
  • var. deamii All That Glows®, matures around 5-8’ high and with glossy foliage and dark blue ornamental fruit.

 

  1. Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Fall color begins on a 2 gallon Sugar Shack®.

 

Buttonbush is another underutilized landscape shrub. This lush informal habit of this medium to large native shrub brings a relaxed feel to the landscape – and it’s one of the best shrubs for stubborn wet, clay soils.

Small white flowers appear a rounded floral structure, giving the appearance of white pincushions. The unique flowers transition to a reddish fruiting structure, which in fall is supported against a kaleidoscope of fall colors: reds, purples, oranges, and golds.

This shrub is hardy, versatile, beautiful, and has reliable deer resistance. I’ve witnessed some browsing, but no serious damage.

These are the forms we usually carry:

  • Wild species, which matures around 8-10’ high and wide.
  • Red Moon RisingTM, which matures around 6- 8’ high and wide. The fruiting structure maintains a brighter red color than other selections.
  • Sugar Shack®, which matures around 4-5’ high and wide.

 

  1. Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii, F. major)

Fall color on Fothergilla gardenii.

Spring blooms on Mt. Airy

Fothergilla, also known as witch alder, is sought after for its quaint spring blooms, its attractive habit, and in the case of the cultivar ‘Blue Shadow’, for its blue foliage. Like the aforementioned shrubs, Fothergilla is hardy, durable, and has excellent deer resistance. Full to part sun, and average to drier soils are best. I have dwarf Fothergilla in a well-drained bed in part sun and they are doing great – with no deer browse.

Fall color is a kaleidoscope, like buttobush, sporting mostly reds and purples but with oranges and yellows too. A happy Fothergilla will begin to turn in late September or October and change throughout November.

 

 

 

These are the forms we usually carry:

  • Dwarf Forthergilla, matures around 4-5’ high and wide.
  • Mt. Airy, a vigorous and compact form, matures around 5-6’ high and wide.
  • Blue Shadow, similar to Mt Airy but with bluish foliage, matures around 5-6’ high and wide.

 

  1. Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Summer flowers on Gatsby Gal® .

Fall color on frosted leaves of Gatsby Moon® .

 

All hydrangeas have excellent summer flowers but only species has noteworthy fall color: the oakleaf hydrangea! Once cooler temperatures arrive, the foliage turns beautiful reds and purples. Like panicle hydrangeas, the flowers go from white to pink in and then dry on the plant. I leave the dried floral heads on the plants as they add texture in late fall and winter. I also love the textured bark on mature specimens, which adds winter interest.

Oakleaf hydrangeas like full to part sun but they also thrive in reasonable shade. All they ask for is moist, well-drained soil – hydrangeas are not one for soggy or dry soils. No deer resistance here, sorry, but I recommend deer repellant because the oakleaf hydrangea is a grade A landscape plant!

Selections we often carry:

  • PeeWee, a dwarf form that matures around 5’ high and wide.
  • Alice, a larger form that matures around 8’ high and wide, and more in optimal conditions.
  • Snow Queen, matures around 4-6’ high and wide.
  • Gatsby Gal® larger than average blooms, matures 5-6’ high and wide.
  • Gatsby Pink®, white blooms turn a vibrant pink, matures 6-8’ high and wide.
  • Gatsby Moon®, tightly packed white florets, unique shape, matures 6-8’ high and wide.
  • Gatsby Star®, white star-shaped double florets, matures 6-8 high and wide.
  • Ruby Slippers, a dwarf with white flowers that turn a solid pink, matures around 4-6’ high and wide. See our in our display beds in front of the garden center.

 

  1. Blueberry (Vaccinium spp.)

Jelly Bean® blueberry in fall.

Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Jersey.’

Blueberries aren’t considered an ornamental shrub…but they should be. They have nice flowers, edible fruit of course, nice habit and terrific fall color. Consider a blueberry hedgerow for ornamental use – with the fresh blueberries being a perk!

Blueberries are also easy to maintain. Average to moist soil is important and while part sun is fine, you’ll have the best fruiting and fall color in full sun. Deer resistance is middle-of-the-road. Protect young plants but browse on established blueberries is usually minor.

We usually have ten or so different cultivars in stock so I won’t list them all here. Come on in and see for yourself.

 

 

 

  1. Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa, A. arbutifolia)

Low Scape Mound® in fall.

Low Scape Hedger® in spring.

 

This beautiful shrub is as tough as one gets. Full sun, part sun, dry soil, wet soil, clay, road salt, heat, wind, you name it and it can handle it. Delightful spring flowers, crisp leathery foliage, nice ornamental fruit, and stunning red or orange fall color make this plant a terrific landscape plant! It’s Achilles’ heel is deer but if you don’t have that worry, this is an excellent choice.

Cultivars we usually carry:

  • Brilliance, an upright form, maturing around 8′ tall, 4′ wide.
  • Viking, an upright to rounded form, blooms earlier than other cultivars, matures 5-6′ high, 4-5 wide
  • Iroquois BeautyTM, a spreading form, maturing 3’ high, 5’ wide
  • Low Scape Hedger®, matures around 3-5’ high, 2-3’ wide
  • Low Scape Mound®, matures around 2’ high and wide
  • Ground HugTM, a groundcover form, matures around 1’ high, 3’ wide

 

  1. Redtwig Dogwood (Cornus spp.)

Fall Color on Arctic Fire®.

Arctic Fire® in summer.

The hallmark of redtwig dogwood (and yellowtwig!) is the bright, colorful stems in winter. But the fall color is fantastic too. While it prefers cool, moist soils, it is quite adaptable and is a prime candidate for a backdrop in perennial beds – so when summer flowers fade, it can become the star in fall and winter.

Redtwig dogwood can grow large like burning bush but are easily to prune. Pruning involves removing the oldest stems at the crown every couple years or so, which also keeps the plant vibrant as the best color is on younger stems.

Not a candidate for an area with heavy deer traffic. If you don’t have that problem, this shrub should be at the top of your list.

 

 

Cultivars we usually carry:

  • Bailey’s Redtwig, matures around 6-10’ high and wide.
  • Ivory Halo, a variegated form, matures around 5-6’ high and wide.
  • Arctic Fire®, matures around 4-6’ high and wide.
  • Garden GlowTM, unique for its golden foliage, matures around 4-5’ high and wide.

 

  1. Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)

Clethra alnifolia ‘Ruby Spice’ in fall.

Sugartina® ‘Crystalina’ in summer.

 

Summersweet, or Clethra, is another one of my favorite shrubs. This one doesn’t have red fall color like the others but is one of the best for a reliable gold.

Before putting on its fall display, Summersweet sports lustrous green, disease-resistant foliage and super fragrant flowers in summer. Personally, I like the fragrance more than any other flower – even roses! Pollinators love it too and you’ll see it ablaze with activity. This is an excellent native alternative to butterfly bush for this reason. Deer resistance is middle-of-the-road on this one.

Cultivars we usually carry:

  • Ruby Spice, pink blooms and matures around 6-8’ high and wide.
  • Hummingbird, white blooms and matures around 4’ high and wide.
  • Vanilla Spice®, white blooms and matures around 6’ high and wide.
  • Sugartina® Crystallina, white blooms and matures around 3’ high and wide.
  • Sixteen Candles, white blooms and matures around 3’ high and wide.

Fall is For Planting!

We almost always have a few cultivars of each plant in stock, from spring till we close in November. If we don’t, check back with us as we receive shipments all season long. As I mentioned, fall color is important for any well-balanced landscape. If you find yours lacking, come on in and we’ll help you out. Now is a great time to plant and get a glimpse of the wonderful plants I’m talking about.