Three plants that will ignite your yard with fall color

Keeping our landscapes changing is so critical to keeping our interest in gardening. With change, there’s the anticipation of something new and exciting. With change, our garden compositions take on whole new personalities. And with change, we find opportunities to experience our gardens in ways we may not have originally conceived.

Fall is one of those forces that bring change to our gardens. Plants that may have been smoldering all season are all of a sudden coming alive with brilliant colors. Shrubs, like forsythia, that entertained us way back in early spring are once again coming to front stage for an encore performance. Only this time, it’s foliage and not flowers that are sparking our interest.

We are blessed with an abundance of plants that turn spectacular colors in the fall. Unfortunately, many yards are missing this key element in their garden design. Consumed with not wanting to rake leaves or look at “dead” sticks in the winter, we pass by these marvelous plants that keep our landscapes changing and interesting through the different seasons of the year. Here are three examples with incendiary names that will surely set your landscape on fire.

Smoke tree: This plant gets its name from the flowers that appear in the summer that look like feathery plumes of smoke. But that’s not it strong feature. The most popular varieties have dark purple foliage that is translucent in the sunshine. The leaves take on reddish tones in late September. Smoke trees can become small trees (15 feet tall) or be treated as large shrubs. They can even be cut to the ground in March and forced to re-sprout from the base. This will cause them to produce strong stems with beautiful new foliage reaching 6 to 8 feet tall. You won’t get many flowers this way, but the foliar effect will be dynamic. Plant smoke trees in full sun, average soil and reasonable drainage for best results. “Royal Purple” and “Velvet Cloak” are my favorite flavors.

Burning bush: The name says it all. The pleasingly textured foliage turns a brilliant red in the fall and only lasts for a few short weeks. But that’s not the end of the story. Small reddish purple fruits that attract birds appear after the leaves fall off. And there’s more. The bark is “winged” and adds winter interest as well. Who could ask for anything more out of a plant? Burning bushes grow in full sun or part shade, average soil and some moisture. Too dry and they will look bleached. “Compactus” is the most common variety and grows to 4 to 6 feet tall.

Fire Power heavenly bamboo: Don’t panic, this is not a true bamboo. This is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that doesn’t lose its leaves in the winter. However, those leaves turn bright red in the fall and stay that way all winter. A soft textured form of Nandina, Fire Power only grows to 2 feet tall by 2 feet wide. Nandinas will grow in full sun or full shade in our mild Northwest climate. Most garden centers stock several varieties of heavenly bamboo. Their textures are pleasing and provide a fine backdrop for other coarser textured shrubs. Most have white terminal clusters of flowers that produce red berries that persist throughout the winter. Fire Power is an exception, but the foliage is so spectacular that you will never miss the flowers.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. You can send your gardening questions to him at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

Free terrarium class

Sunnyside Nursery will host a free class on terrariums at 10 a.m. Saturday. For more information, visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.

Talk to us

More in Life

Nathan Welton/ Dreamtime Images
Photographer David Welton’s work has appeared in the South Whidbey Record and The Daily Herald.
The camera is Whidbey Island man’s second calling

After retiring from a career in medicine, David Welton of Langley focuses on his first love: photography

When battling a summer cold, a quick trip to the drugstore and a painless test to rule out Covid helps provide peace of mind. (Jennifer Bardsley)
When you get a cold even though you’re still wearing a mask

She stocked up on over-the-counter medicine at Walgreens after getting a drive-thru COVID-19 test.

How to cope with pandemic letdown in face of delta variant

It’s not over until it’s over. The whole world is still dealing with a COVID-19. It is OK to be disappointed and sad.

Coffeeshops in Amsterdam sell marijuana.
Rick Steves’ Europe: Dutch Tolerance: Red lights and pot shops

Amsterdam is a laboratory of progressive living, bottled inside Europe’s finest 17th-century… Continue reading

What should she do about expired flight credit on Expedia?

When Heidi Edmonds tries to use her Expedia flight credit to book a flight from New York to Dublin, Ireland, she finds her luck has run out. The vouchers are expired. But whose fault is that?

Sugar beets with fresh leaves in the garden. The Red Veined Leaves of Beetroot (Beta vulgaris).
Love it or leave it: The gardener’s to-do list for August

If you do this month’s chores, you’ll no longer be referred to as a “yardener,” or a casual gardener.

The 13-inch-high antique wooden San Rafael figure with wings and holding a staff and a fish sold at a Cottone auction for $9,600. (Cowles Syndicate Inc.)
Wooden figure of San Rafael the Archangel made circa 1763

Fra Andreas Garcia, an 18th-century Mexican Franciscan friar and folk artist, carved and painted the figurine.

"Blackadder" hummingbird mint features flower spikes of dark red-purple peppered with tiny mauve blooms. (Rick Peterson)
Great Plant Pick: Agastache ‘Blackadder,’ giant hyssop, hummingbird mint

The highlight of this clumping perennial are the flower spikes of dark red-purple peppered with tiny mauve blooms.

Everett indie rockers Moondoggies will perform for A Dick's Drive-In Summer Series at Wetmore Theatre Plaza on Aug. 6. (Jason Neuerburg)
Get ready to rock ‘n’ roll outdoors in Everett this August

The events Music at the Marina and Dicks Drive-In Summer Series have eight outdoor shows set through August between the two of them.

Most Read