Fabulous Fall Plants

The other week I presented to a group of Master Gardeners about Fabulous Fall Plants. There are amazing plants that spice up our landscape in the fall when so much else is worn out and tired. Most of us are probably familiar with the typical pansies, mums, and ornamental kale, but what other plants are great for fall interest? There are plenty of perennials, trees and shrubs that provide us great fall color and here are just a few to peak your interest.

  • Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah' – Shenandoah Switch Grass
A great ornamental grass that is a native North American species (note: the variety is not native but switch grass - Panicum virgatum - is) that reaches 4 feet tall when in bloom and provides an amazing burgundy fall color. An upright ornamental grass that looks great in mass clumps.
  • Hydrangea quercifolia – Oakleaf Hydrangea
The common Oakleaf Hydrangea reaches 5 to 6 feet tall and wide, but there are other varieties out there that have a more compact variety like Munchkin which only reaches 3 to 4 feet tall. Keep in mind that these bloom on previous year's growth so pruning should be done after blooming and in Zone 5 some level of winter protection is recommended to help minimize the chance of winter damage to flower buds. The beautiful dark green oak shaped leaves turn reddish-purple to bright red in fall.
  • Ilex verticillata – Winterberry
This is a fun shrub that is great in the landscape because of the bright red berries it produces in late summer into early fall that will persist through winter. As with others in the Ilex genus, this shrub has separate male and female plants and only the female plants produce berries. One male plant is usually enough to pollinate 6-10 female Winterberries. A common pollinator is 'Jim Dandy.' They are slow growing and can reach anywhere from 3 to 12 feet tall.
  • Taxodium distichum – Baldcypress
I can't talk about plants with fall color and not mention my favorite tree. I absolutely adore Baldcypress. They are an amazing tree tolerant of a wide range of soil conditions including even really wet soil conditions as its native to swampy regions of Southern Illinois. Reaching 50-70 feet tall, Baldcypress turns a gorgeous bronze fall color and with age has a beautiful fluted trunk.
  • Ginkgo biloba – Ginkgo
Another beautiful tree reaching 50-80 feet tall, it has lovelyl fan shaped leaves that turn a brilliant yellow in the fall. It's a great tree for urban environments due to its tolerance of air pollution, Ginkgo is also tolerant of clay soils. I've seen Ginkgo growing in some of the most adverse conditions and still do decidedly well.