The end of October is a great time to celebrate all that is dark and orange in the garden. Great foliage color makes these plants perfect partners for the fall garden and for laid-back gardeners that just want to enjoy the change of seasons from an armchair.
Best trees for fall color
Japanese maples. No place in the world do Japanese maples grow better than Western Washington. Yes, better even than in Japan — because our gardens are bigger so our Japanese maple trees get to spread out.
There are Japanese maples for every size garden, including grafted plants that will thrive for years in a container, perfect for a deck or small patio. You can use Japanese maples as an understory tree in the shade of giant evergreens, as a street tree and as an accent tree to dress up a home’s curbside appeal. The small leaves and graceful form make Acer palmatums easy to live with.
Look for the ‘‘Bloodgood’’ Japanese maple if you want a slender tree for the lawn or entry garden that will turn brilliant scarlet in the fall.
Coral bark Japanese maples have vivid orange bark that will showcase a winter theme garden and the dwarf “Crimson Queen” Japanese maple has a delicate weeping form perfect around water features.
You can also be original and pick out a different variety from the hundreds offered at local nurseries. Fall is the best time to pick out a maple for your landscape because you’ll be able to see just how colorful the foliage will become each year.
Another less common tree that celebrates autumn glory in our climate is the Sourwood or Oxydendrum arboreum with year-round interest from spring blooms and winter catkins and spectacular fall foliage. This is a small and slow-growing tree with a narrow profile — great-looking in a bed with shrubs and perennials, plus the unusual leaves will not smother or shade the plants below.
Hot Italians for autumn beauty
The burning bush, or Euonymus alatus ‘‘Compacta,’’ is the fiery red shrub heating up hillsides along the interstate and most often planted in drifts in public spaces. But there are so many other fall foliage shrubs from which to choose. Spiraeas, especially the variety ‘‘Goldflame,’’ are shrubs just as drought tolerant and easy to grow in full sun, but the spiraeas also offer summer flowers. For a more shaded area consider nandina “Sienna Sunrise’’ for brilliant foliage in both spring and fall. This nandina was named after a town in Tuscany with rich, red soil – nobody loves drama like an Italian so plant a “Sienna” Nandina while you sing some opera and enjoy a colorful performance in both spring and fall.
All about the birds and the berries
Cotoneaster is the go-to groundcover for slopes or large areas that need evergreen cover and winter berries but garden centers and nurseries also have beautyberry or balliocarpa for sale this month. Look for the variety “Profusion” beautyberry with abundant and intensely purple berries on a hard-to-kill shrub. Once you have this colorful, berry-filled shrub in your landscape you’ll wonder how you ever survived the winter without its profuse beauty.
Other plants, including natives like Oregon grape and salal, will multiply your fall and winter interest because they attract birds to the garden without the need for filling up the feeders with seed.
Going dark but not spooky
Black mondo grass, “Chocolate Chip” Ajuga, and “Black Lace” Elderberry are all plants with rich, dark foliage. Nurseries and garden centers are highlighting dark foliage in their October displays so they make it easy to visit the dark side and add a touch of black as an exclamation point in a garden design.
Add easy-care trees, shrubs and groundcovers with fantastic fall foliage to your landscape now and you’ll be able to sit indoors and enjoy the show for years to come.Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of several books. For gardening questions, write to her at P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, WA 98022. Send a self-addressed stamped envelope for a personal reply. She also can be reached at her website, binettigarden.com.