Top Ten Plants for Fall Colour

Garden Clippings for October 3, 2020

A few evenings ago, I took a gallop through Wawanosh Wetlands and the Suncor Nature Way.  I have not been there in months and was particularly stuck by the colours that early fall triggers.  For those interested in bringing fall colour into their landscapes, here is my top-ten list of superb fall coloured plants.

  1. Burning Bush: This gem really lives up to its name, with green leaves that turn scarlet in October and persisting into November.   Colour is most vibrant if planted in full sun.  During spring and fall, Burning Bush is a large growing dense bush with plain green leaves.  For home gardens, choose a dwarf Burning Bush variety.
  2. Sugar Maple: This native tree is what fall drives through Northern Ontario are made of.  Colour ranges from yellow to orange to red.  Sugar Maple is highly adaptable and grows easily in both light and heavy soil.  The tree becomes quite large, up to 75 feet high, but is in no hurry to do so.
  3. Autumn Fantasy and Autumn Blaze Maple. These Maples are among a larger selection of Maple cultivars that have been selected for their suitability in home gardens.  Highly adaptable, and willing to grow in any soil conditions, these Maples have brilliant red fall colour.  Trees are straight and have a tidy canopy.
  4. Japanese Maples: Almost all varieties of Japanese Maples have exceptional fall colour.  Many, such as the popular ‘Bloodgood’ have red leaves throughout the growing season with red colour being most vibrant early in spring, then slowly losing some luster as the season progresses.  Japanese Maples put on a second show in October.  Japanese Maples do not become large, making them a favorite ornamental plant for home gardens.
  5. Sumac: This plant has questionable value for home gardens because of its eventual size.  The large spreading shrub with a growth habit like raspberry plants can become 20 feet high with even more width.  For a scaled down, well-behaved version, look for ‘Tiger Eye’ Sumac with golden leaves that escalate into brilliant yellow to orange beginning in later October.
  6. Ornamental Kale: This cabbage is lovely to look at but not to be eaten. Leaves are green till late summer when they begin to turn red, pink, and purple.  Easy to grow and pest free, Ornamental Cabbage loves cool weather beginning in late summer and remaining showy until Christmas.
  7. Oak Leaf Hydrangea: A neglected member of the popular Hydrangea family, Oak Leaf is aptly named for its oak shaped leaves.  Leaves are green through the growing season, with white cone shaped flowers appearing in summer.  Leaves are burgundy, maroon, or purple.  Oak Leaf Hydrangeas love shade but will tolerate some sun.
  8. Ornamental Grasses: There are hundreds of varieties of Ornamental Grasses, ranging from the small ‘Blue Fescue’ to the large ‘Skyracer.’ Ornamental Grasses enter springtime slowly, finally putting on a show in mid-summer.  By fall they take centre stage with coloured stems and showy plumes.
  9. Boston Ivy and Virginia Creeper: These cousins are vines that grow up the stone walls of heritage homes and Ivy League schools.  Leaves are dense and green in spring and summer, turning vibrant red in fall.  Choose the right spot for these Ivies because most would find them too aggressive.
  10. Smoke Bush: With its year-round maroon foliage, Smoke Bush is a good substitute for the less reliable Purple Leaf Plum.  Flowers arrive in late summer, resembling puffs of smoke.  Once flowers diminish, leaves put on their own revival in bright colours.  Smoke bush likes sun and needs room to grow.