KC Gardens

Fall for color

Plicatum popcorn viburnum

Tip of the Week

Looking out my office window I see the colors of fall starting to develop. The outlook for fall color at this time is good. Clear, sunny days and crisp autumn nights are ideal for bright autumn color.

Weather patterns are only part of the formula for good fall color. Plant species are also important for a brilliant fall season. Plants in the Kansas City area will never look like New England due to environmental conditions that control the types of plants that grow well under our conditions. Although our native plants are not very colorful, made up of mostly browns, dull yellows and an occasional red, there are many landscape plants that will provide excellent fall color.

Now is an excellent time to visit local nurseries and garden centers and look at the fall colors in the small containers. This helps to give you an indication of how that plant might look in the landscape. Keep in mind this is not a guarantee, as color varies from season to season. Also, the effects of native soils and fertility levels have not influenced color when plants are grown in nursery soil.

Often too much emphasis of fall color is placed on trees. Granted, trees in full color are wonderful in the landscape. Climatic factors make it difficult to grow some of the best trees, such as sugar maple, for color. Shrubs in the landscape, although not as impacting, are wonderful additions for fall color.

Many newer shrub species are excellent for fall color. The pallet of shrubs for excellent fall color probably includes nearly 20 species. Colors range from the treasured oranges and reds to nice shades of yellow. An outing to the garden center is the best way to learn the range of colors available.

A few of my favorite shrubs for fall color include these plants: Purple ranges are Itea or Sweetspire and a variety of Common Ninebark, called ‘Diablo’ which has dark purple foliage most of the spring and summer. Burning Bush euonymus is the best known red plant, but others to look for are Oakleaf Hydrangea and sumac. Sumac, depending on the variety, may also turn a brilliant orange. Fothergilla, Tor Spirea and Witchhazel are excellent choices, with a mix of treasured reds, oranges, purples and yellows.

Do not overlook berries for fall and winter interest in the landscape. Many of the viburnums have red, black or dark blue fruit that is interesting to the eye and birds. Winterberry holly is loaded with bright red berries well into the winter, and there are several species of Beauty Berry that provide berries of interest.

Think out of the box when it comes to fall color. With a little bit of research and planning the landscape can be a blaze of color in the fall and well into winter. Don’t get hung up on the ordinary — stretch and try many of the newer plants for a garden that will please during all four seasons.


  1. 6 months, 1 week ago

    I highly recommend an Arrowwood Viburnum ‘Chicago Lustre’. It’s gorgeous in flower in the spring, and it has beautiful lustrous foliage in summer. Then the blue berries appear before the red-wine colored foliage in fall. Several Viburnums are beautiful in the fall, but Chicago Lustre is my favorite. And like most Viburnums, it never needs pruning and has virtually no pest or disease problems.

  2. 6 months ago

    Many of the viburnums are wonderful for fall color!

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