Paint Your Autumn Garden With Fall Foliage

Ilona Erwin

If there is anything that stands out in a Midwestern autumn it is the brilliant display of fall tinted foliage. Deciduous trees take center stage, and the preening perennials of the summer season now take supporting roles in the dramatic change of seasons.

This post is to remind us of the many ways we can paint our fall season with many layers of harmonious colors, varied textures, in plant choices that we may not have considered at other times of the year.

One thing that sometimes surprises in the fall season is the wonderful leaf colors of many common perennials. Right now, in my garden the platycodons are turning the most wonderful yellows and gold. The hostas also turn this color and they stand out against the purples of shrubs such a the purple sand cherry.

Perennials With Good Fall Color

Convallaria fall foliage

Convallaria fall foliage

Daylilies (Hemerocallis sp.) and Siberian Irises also have spiky foliage that turns bright yellow-gold. The Siberian Iris, in particular, is pretty year ’round. The blooms have always been my favorites, and the plant is a graceful display all year through, so the golden tints in fall are just one more reason to choose it.

electric blue flower

electric blue flower

Leadwort plants, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, have the most striking electric blue flowers starting in late summer and blooming well into autumn. Additionally, their foliage turns a lovely bronze color brushed with red. A polite groundcover plant in my garden. Plant profile for Ceratostigma plumbaginoides

Sedums, moss phlox, spurges, all give tones of reds and yellows that are harmoniously beautiful. Some sedums even have names like ‘Autumn Joy’ which clue you into the time when their at their showiest. I have a spurge, Euphorbia polychroma ‘Bonfire’, which is of great garden interest from spring to fall. You can see it in the “Autumn tints” photo in the upper right, the moss phlox showing a pool of deep yellow, and the variegated sedum center bottom of the photo. The shrubs are Physocarpus ‘Diablo’.

autumn tints

autumn tints

Strawberry plants turn a mottled red and, as Gertrude Jekyll remarked, they have a lovely scent as the season turns. Roses can have bright foliage, but their main fall beauty is their rose hips. Some types will give sporadic bloom through fall, but it is the bush hung with beads of orange and subtle rosey hues that are outstanding.

Many of the species are beautiful, and even if Rosa glauca loses its early  leaves, it is filled with rosy red  hips.

Try the Rugosa roses for both golden yellow foliage and large sized,bright rose hips. These, and the crabapple fruits give a warm glow in the garden.

Shrubs With Good Fall Color

Those may have a warm glow, but some shrubs have fiery berries: the pyracantha. My pyracantha is beautiful this year, filled with bright orange berries. Some years these blacken, but this year is exceptional. That means that I can expect bird visitors right in front of my window all winter. I am greatly entertained by birds! Would that all pleasures were so simple and easily attained.

Pyracantha coccinea is a large, strong growing bush, with sharp thorns, not for everyone, but it is a beautiful all season feature if you have the right placement for it.

autumn berries

Pyracantha berries

Many of my shrubs turn dusky colors, which weave together with the brighter points of color. I prefer it that way. I don’t have any of the Euonymous alatus (Burning Bush), simply because I can’t figure out how to work it in . Its bright scarlet is beautiful, but dominant. Wherever that bush is placed it will command the eye’s attention. But every fall I want some!

Now, of course, there are many voices against some of the plants that are not native and have aggressive or detrimental habits in some way. The “Burning bush” is one of these.

What is the complaint? This shrub spreads widely through seed, and crowds out native plants and shrubs. Oddly enough, it’s name, ‘Euonymous’, means “of good repute”. Makes you wonder whether it will be up for a taxonomic change? Read the alert from, here.

V. carlesii autumn tints

V. carlesii autumn tints

Shrubs that I can highly recommend without reservations are the Viburnums. Even though their fall colors are subtle, they produce red berries that birds love. Berries can brighten both fall and winter seasons. Viburnums are one of my favorite all season shrubs!

I’ve always been happy with the ‘Cotoneaster horizontalis’. I think mine is ‘Coral Beauty’, and it is mature now with mounding form about five feet high. Another shrub with bright fall berries, the coral red berries cover the plant and the semi-evergreen leaves complement them for the entire fall season,

Flowers that Add Color

There are a few flowers that keep blooming long into the season. Everyone knows about chrysanthemums, but in my garden the calendulas hold the stage with their bright orange and golden yellow daisy flowers. One of these years I will infuse the garden with new hybrids, but right now, it is the reseeding of the originals years ago that bloom throughout my growing seasons here.

Calendulas are hardy annuals, which persist from seed, but be aware that if you plant specific hybrids the self seeded plants will revert to the specie form. Still pretty, but not as grand a statement and only in the generic orange and yellow hues.

Trees Star This Season

fringe tree

Fringe Tree color

Trees are the ones that hold the stage during the autumn season, everything else is just a supporting player, while the trees sing golden tones as the curtain falls on the growing season.

Golden, orange russet, clear yellows, scarlets, and a blend of them all create the symphonic melange of color. I love the Sweet Gum, the Red oak, and my Sweet Cherry trees, Prunus Avium, are an amazing burst of fall gold against deep contrasting bark.




List of Trees with Good Autumn Color

Large list of trees that produce colorful fall foliage.

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Ilona Erwin, author

Meet the Author

Ilona Erwin

I started working on this website beginning in 1998, when it was part of Ilona's Reflecting Pool. Since then I've branched out into a number of online endeavors and work at writing lots of content for my sites. "Ilona's Garden" remains my primary site and is dedicated to home gardener's success.