Tag Archive | fall color

Ornamental Grasses (conclusion)

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Indian Grass

In Part 1 of this discussion of ornamental grasses, we talked about grasses for part-sun, for cold climates, and those that provide fragrance. Today we’ll cover grasses that provide fall and winter interest.

Blades of Color

The most common fall color for grasses is a warm tan, but there are also some that are as bright as autumn leaves. Plant them where they’ll show up: the pale ones backed by dark evergreens, stronger shades where they will blaze against the pebbles of a courtyard or an open sky.

Yellows include many of the molinas, especially Molina caerulea cultivars, and Phragmites australis.

Shading more toward orange and red are the big bluestems (Andropogon gerardii) and switch grasses (Panicum virgatum), especially the variety ‘Haense Herms.’ Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) does double duty, starting out yellow and shading toward orange as the season progresses.

For darker reds, consider Miscanthus sinensis ‘Graziella’, which has warm brown undertones, the purplish Hakonechloaa macra; Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’; and Miscanthus sinensis ‘Purpurascens.’

Winter Grasses

The best grasses for winter interest are those that are quite sturdy, able to stand up to rough weather, including the feather reed grasses (Calamagrostis spp.), Ravenna grass (Erianthus ravennae), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and those that have decorative seed heads, such as Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and cat tails.

For the prettiest effect, they should be planted in groups of varying heights of where they will be set off by evergreens, garden sculptures, or other structural elements that give them a context. If you just dot them here and there, they tend to look like something you forgot to clean up.

Cutting Grasses Back

In nature, nobody cuts down grasses, so why should we? Well, in nature, the open areas where grasses grow are periodically renewed by the cleansing effects of fire. In the absence of this very efficient remover of dead material, we need to cut back our grasses.

The best time to do it is in early spring, after the grasses have done winter landscape duty but before the new growth starts. Wearing gloves (many grasses have sharp edges) and using hedge clippers if the clumps are large, cut off the dead stalks right above the ground. This will not only open up the plants, bringing light and air to the centers and thus forestalling disease, but it will also remove a potential fire hazard.

Note: Grasses will let you know they need division by flowering less and/or dying out in the center of the clumps. Be on the alert for the start of these symptoms and divide the grasses then. You want to get in there before things get ugly, but there’s no need to divide plants that show no signs of needing it.

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Small Trees with Big Fall Color

by Lisa Johnson, horticulture educator for Dane County UW-Extension

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Carpus caroliniana

The color of trees and shrubs this time of year is one of the best things about fall. Maples are often the stars of the show, but some small-scale trees can bring the colorful leaves closer and light up the mid-level of your garden. One native tree hardy to Zone 3 that thrives in partial shade and moist to average soil is musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana). Its fall color ranges from yellow to orange to red orange. It grows 20-30 feet tall. Musclewood, sometimes called blue beech or hornbeam, has interesting sinewy-looking bark (hence the name) and ornamental seedpods. Local Wisconsin nurseryman Mike Yanny of Johnson’s Nursery and JN Plant Selections introduced a lovely variety, Firespire (‘JN Upright’), with a tight, upright growth habit and red-orange fall color.

Amelanchier, or serviceberry, trees are Wisconsin natives, hardy to Zone 4 with a similar range of fall color and height as musclewood. Many cultivars are available and most are multi-stemmed plants. They display best fall color in sun, but tolerate some shade and need a moist to average soil. They sport beautiful clusters of white flowers in spring, bird-attracting fruits in summer and silvery bark and an elegant form in winter.

Eastern fringetree (Chionanthus virginicus) is a native multi-stemmed tree hardy to Zone 4, growing to about 15 feet tall. It prefers full sun to part shade in soils with adequate moisture. Fringetree bears large panicles of confetti-like, white, lightly fragrant flowers in spring, shiny green leaves in summer and a good deep golden fall color.

Plant Now for Fall Color

Ground covers are a frequently neglected part of garden design. How else to explain the overwhelming use of Vinca minor, English ivy, and pachysandra when so many other choices are available?

Instead of thinking only of very low-growing evergreen selections, broaden your possibilities to include other plants that can be massed to tie together areas of the garden. The relationship between a ground cover and its location and use should determine the appropriate height, not some limiting idea that anything more than 4 inches tall cannot qualify.

Fall color is an important part of garden design, and it should be part of your ground cover selection process, just as it is for trees and shrubs.

Some ideas for ground covers:

 

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Fragrant sumac

Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica ‘Gro-Low’): The glossy, deciduous leaves, which are aromatic when bruised, turn a fiery orange-red in the fall. The wide-spreading shrub grows to 2 feet tall and works very well, even on a slope, in full sun or partial shade.

Bigroot cranesbill (Geranium macrorrhizum): This

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Bigroot cranesbill

mound-forming semi-evergreen perennial has leaves with a distinctive medicinal scent that turn reddish in the fall. It grows from 12 to 15 inches tall and spreads well through a thick, rhizomatous root structure. It is easy to grow and is both heat and drought tolerant. Different cultivars have different spring flower color

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Leadwort

Leadwort (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides): Fall color and flowers occur at the same time. The shiny green leaves turn strawberry tints, then bronze-red in fall, while the cobalt blue flowers last from late summer until frost. Cut back the bare wiry stems in late winter.

Siberian

Siberian carpet cypress

Leaves appear in late spring, just after you’re convinced it is dead. Grows 8 to 12 inches tall. It works well in full sun or shade, but colors up better in the sun.

Siberian carpet cypress (Microbiota decussata): This wide-spreading evergreen grows to2 feet tall, with arching, scaly, feathery foliage that turns bronze after a frost. It’s unusual in that it is an evergreen that tolerates shade. It really is from Siberia, and very cold hardy.

 

 

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Rockspray cotoneaster

Rockspray cotoneaster (Cotoneaster horizontalis): The dark, shiny deciduous leaves turn orange-red, complementing small red berries growing along the stems. This densely branching woody shrub grows from 2 to 3 feet high, spreading to 6 feet. Its arching habit makes it looklike the perfect refuge for rabbits or chipmunks as it covers and cascades down a bank. Lower-growing cultivars are also available.

Beyond the Blooms

by Jess Wickland

When you think of landscaping or putting together a small flower garden, many people don’t think past the flower colors and bloom times. However, there are many different aspects that plants provide that will increase interest in the garden, whether it’s seedheads, or different leaf textures, or (my favorite) fall berries and fall color. When the green foliage bursts forth in spring and gives life to the boring winter landscape, I often breathe a sigh of relief. And while flowers do provide plenty of color in the landscape and often leave me giddy with excitement over their blooms, nothing can compare to the breathtaking yellow, orange and red hues of a sugar maple tree in the fall.

Speaking of blooms, there are two shrubs that wait to hold their flowers until almost everything else has gone dormant for the season: witchhazel and seven-son flower. Witchhazel is a native shrub that grows quite large — almost 15 feet tall — and waits until October to send out its spiderlike yellow blossoms. Many times, the blooms occur as the shrub’s foliage has changed to the bright yellow color, or has dropped off already. Seven-son’s fragrant flowers blooms white in late September or early October, but perhaps the best show isn’t the blooms, it’s the pale red calyces that appear after the flowers have dropped off. This is also a fairly large shrub, growing to 15 feet tall and wide as well, and grows best in part shade conditions.

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The bright red berries of the Hawthorn stand out against the frozen branches

Many shrubs get berries as well, clinging to the branches and giving the landscape splashes of color throughout the fall and winter seasons. I always enjoy watching the hawthorn berries develop and change color in late summer. The red berries aren’t often eaten by birds in summer (they’re too busy devouring the serviceberries), and persist into the winter. After a fresh snowfall, I enjoy photographing the vibrant red berries blanketed by the glittering snow. An added bonus: hawthorn trees have a variable fall color, ranging from orange to red to maroon. Another fantastic red berry is found on Ilex shrubs: holly and winterberry. While holly are a little more finicky about growing conditions (though it can be done!), winterberry are tough shrubs that wait until the rest of the landscape is dormant for their moment to shine. In fall, clusters of bright red berries cling to the upright branches. They are offset by the yellow fall color of the shrub. Both holly and winterberry look like a picture off of a Christmas card after a new snowfall.

Chasing fall color throughout the state used to be my grandparents’ favorite thing to do in October, and I think I inherited that gene from them as well. I can’t believe the different shades of red, orange and yellow that erupt as the daylight hours get shorter. I can’t wait to go outside to see what I might capture on my camera’s memory card. Perennials aren’t just for flowers anymore, either. Gillenia trifoliata, a native perennial commonly known as Indian Physic, isn’t very showy throughout the summer. The green foliage set underneath the star-shaped white flowers may cause a passerby to glance at it a second time. In autumn, however, the foliage changes to a pale orange that gives the plant a whole new look. Mukdenia rosii also changes from emerald green to dark red and even maroon, rivaling its cousin, Heuchera, in color wars.

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Fothergilla blazes it’s colors during Fall

My favorite shrub for fall color is Fothergilla. While the fragrant white spikes of flowers and robust foliage (tinged just a hint in blue-green) are attractive, I haven’t met someone yet who didn’t fall in love with it in the fall. The foliage is much the same as a sugar maple, keeping us guessing as it changes from yellow to orange to red. It’s like watching a 4th of July fireworks show; many people “ooh” and “ahh” at the beauty cast by this wee shrub (the dwarf species only reaches 3 feet tall and wide).

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The familiar sugar Maple leaves

As you may have guessed by how much I’ve brought it up, my favorite tree for fall color is the sugar maple. Serviceberry isn’t far behind because although the berries are long since picked off by hungry robins and cedar waxwings, the fall color still rivals the maple in terms of orange and yellow coloring. An interesting plant for fall color is the larch, or tamarack. It’s a deciduous evergreen, meaning it has needles, but sheds them each year. The golden yellow needles in fall are gorgeous, especially near the end of the day when the sunlight hits them just right.

I hope I’ve inspired you to think beyond the blooms, and try to plant a few trees, shrubs or even perennials