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Alabama Gardener

Alabama Gardener
October 26, 2021 |

By Lois Chaplin

What comes to mind when someone says, “fall color”? The Blue Ridge Mountains? A brilliant maple in the neighborhood? What about something closer to eye level, such as leaves of oakleaf hydrangea? Or purple fruit of beautyberry? Or the blooms of a sasanqua camellia?

In a garden, fall color is a whole lot more than trees. It’s the sum of everything that happens during the change of season — from the turning of leaves to the appearance of flowers and coloring of berries. It can be a delightful time, like a second spring — if one plans for it. 

The next time you eye a plant at the nursery, check its seasons of interest, especially fall. For example, forsythia is known for yellow spring blooms, but it also has yellow fall leaves. Oakleaf hydrangea has white summer blooms and red fall leaves. Shrubs that offer multi-seasonal interest can take a yard from ordinary to remarkable.

This is a good time to plant, so here are a few to consider so you can enjoy these from the kitchen window, porch or deck. Include some natives because of their ecological value.

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). A broad shrub with arching branches that sports purple berries and yellow fall leaves. Native.

Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium). This has three features: white spring blossoms; purple, reddish-bronze or crimson leaves in autumn; and blue-black berries in the fall. Native.

Blueberry. Brilliant red fall leaves — and you get blueberries! Plant two varieties for cross-pollination. Check with the local Extension office for the right pairing. Native.

Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). A big, tree-like shrub, this is a two-season show with white blooms in summer followed by red leaves in the fall. This is a nice understory shrub in the woods. Native. 

Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii). A small shrub with white flowers in the spring and red, orange and yellow foliage in the fall. Native.

Goldflame spirea (Spirea bumalda ‘Goldflame’). Naturally chartreuse foliage turns a coppery orange in the fall. In late spring, it is covered with panicles of pink blossoms.

Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii). Clusters of fragrant, white spring flowers are followed by leaves that turnvarious shades of red in the fall. 

Sasanqua camellia (Camellia sasanqua). Sasanquas kick off camellia season in November with flowers in white or shades of pink and red.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin). Although reputed to be hard to transplant, its beautiful golden fall color is worth a try. It is also a larval host for the spicebush swallowtail and other butterflies. Native.

Asian spicebush (Lindera glauca var salicifolia). This spicebush is known for beautiful orange-to-purple leaves that turn parchment brown and hang on through winter, like lingering leaves of a beech tree. It is adapted only to north Alabama.

Sumacs (Sumac species). Several native sumacs are sculptural shrubs with brilliant fall shades of yellow, orange, red and purple. Female plants have flowers and berries. Native.

Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica). A two-season beauty with white flowers in the spring and shades of bright gold, red, purple and orange foliage in the fall. Native. 

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