Get It Growing: Fall color in the landscape

Daniel Gill, Bogren, Richard C.  |  9/9/2009 9:50:32 PM

Get It Growing News For 11/23/07

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

Many plants seem to save up all summer for the spectacular display of flowers, fruit and foliage showing up in our gardens now. If you want to punch up the color level in your garden from October through December, here are some trees, shrubs and perennials you might consider including in your landscape.

Although decidedly less than spectacular this far south, this is the month that the leaves of some deciduous trees turn various colors as they get ready to drop. A few of the trees that reliably color up well here include: ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – yellow; Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) – oranges, reds, yellow and purple; sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) – purple, burgundy, orange and yellow; and Chinese pistachio (Pistachia chinensis) – purple, red, orange.

Don’t forget that old leaves of broad-leaved evergreens such as gardenia, azalea, Indian hawthorn, holly and cherry laurel also turn yellow, orange or red and drop now. Many of these plants shed old leaves in the fall and will lose some more this spring. The loss of old leaves is natural and no need for concern.

Trees also provide color now and through the winter with fruit. Hollies are notable in this regard and are beginning to color their brilliant red berries now. Excellent choices for our area include the popular Savannah holly and Foster’s holly (Ilex x attenuata Savannah and Fosteri), both small trees. The Savannah holly grows to about 25 feet and the Fosters grows to about 15 feet tall. A great thing about holly berries is that they are excellent food for birds.

Two beautiful native hollies are the yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) and deciduous holly (Ilex decidua and Ilex verticillata). The yaupon possesses one of the most beautiful berries in the group. The fruit are the typical red, but they are translucent. When sunlight shines through them, they glow like stained glass. The deciduous hollies are quite unique since they drop their leaves in winter, unlike other commonly grown hollies which are all evergreen. Once the leaves fall, the bright red berries, which literally cover the branches, put on a traffic-stopping display. The deciduous hollies are not planted as much as they deserve. Two other excellent native hollies for berries are the American holly (Ilex opaca) and dahoon holly (Ilex cassine), which are the parents of the Savannah and Foster’s holly.

The most outstanding shrubs for bloom now are sasanquas (Camellia sasanqua) and everblooming roses. Sasanquas are one of those indispensable shrubs for our area. Dwarf types stay under 3 feet tall while standard varieties will slowly grow to 10 to 12 feet tall and can be trained as a clipped hedge, large shrub or tree shape. The 2-inch to 3-inch fragrant flowers are produced in abundance and come in shades of light red, rose, pink and white depending on the variety you choose.

Soon, camellias (Camellia japonica) will begin to bloom and continue through the winter.

Although generally not known for their fall blooming, azaleas that bloom during seasons other than spring are becoming more available and popular. Particularly notable are some of the Robin Hill azaleas such as Watchet and Conversation Piece, the popular Glen Dale cultivar Fashion and the relatively new Encore azaleas.

In addition to the popular chrysanthemum, herbaceous perennials such as the toad lily (Tricyrtis formosana) also contribute to the late-year floral display. Lots of herbaceous perennial wildflowers are in bloom now, and two that make excellent additions to the garden include wild ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) and goldenrod (Solidago species).

Wild ageratum is one of my favorite garden plants. In October and November, powder puff clusters of lavender-blue flowers are produced on plants about 24 inches tall and grow well in full sun to part shade. The color combines with anything and is a refreshing relief from the yellows, golds and oranges common in flowers this time of year.

Goldenrod is a well-known fall bloomer that often gets blamed for causing hay fever. It doesn’t, but it does produce spikes of intense yellow flowers that enliven the garden. There are several species and cultivars available – from dwarfs that stay around a foot tall to background plants that grow to be 5 feet or 6 feet tall.

Although they bloom through the summer, salvias always seem to look especially good in the fall. Two species, Mexican bush sage (Salvia leucantha) and forsythia sage (Salvia madrensis), are outstanding. Mexican bush sage produces spikes of furry purple or white flowers on 3-foot-tall to 5-foot-tall plants. Forsythia sage is an unusual yellow-blooming salvia that makes large spikes of mellow yellow on a 5-foot-tall plant with dark-green, quilted leaves.

I have just scratched the surface. Look around, and you will be inspired by many other outstanding late-year performers.

Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-2263 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu

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