Dazzle 'Em with Fall Shrubs
Want to add vibrant color to your backyard and do it quick? Then it's time to start thinking small!
By Teri Dunn, Gloucester, Massachusetts
When the maples begin to flame in autumn, those of us who don't have any in our backyard always feel a pang of envy. And yet, adding a tree, maple or otherwise, may not be practical. Your yard may already have enough trees, enough shade or not an inch of extra space for a major addition.
For those longing for a spectacular landscape as cooler weather arrives, there are smaller options. Just think shrubs. A number of easy-to-grow, manageable-size shrubs can bring sensational autumn color to your yard.
Shrubs may be the best way to fire up any fall landscape. They grow on a smaller scale than trees and are admired at eye level. Their size also means it's easier to find spots for them in an existing landscape, and they won't create unwanted shade. As an added bonus, you get to enjoy their spring and summer appearance before they take center stage.
And when they do leap into the autumn spotlight, dazzling us with vivid foliage, glorious berries or even remarkable flowers, it's as though you've suddenly discovered an old friend's hidden talent!
Read on...you'll see it's easy to add autumn sparkle to your fall landscape.
Step One: Savvy Shrub Shopping
It makes sense to choose plants known to have great fall color...ones that harbor vivid pigmentation under their green hues until cooler temperatures unleash their fall potential.
But how do you find them, especially since you're going to buy the plants during the growing season, when they don't show a hint of their autumn hues?
The answer is to do a little homework first. Find out which shrubs have the best autumnal shows...ask at the nursery, check plant tags, consult reference books or catalogs. If the shrub has fall foliage (or fruit or flowers) worth praising, you can be sure it'll be mentioned in one or all of these places.
Another more informal way is to talk to your neighbors, especially the ones who have fall landscapes you've admired. Ask if they can identify their fall beauties by variety, or at least direct you to the nursery where they purchased them. The advantage to this method is that you'll already know it grows well and shows lots of color in your area.
Step Two: Finding the Right Spot
The time to think—and dream—about autumn color is in the fall. Walk around your property as the gardening year winds down and take a long hard look. Where are the gaps? Where is lively brilliant color really needed? Where would it be welcome?
The best time to assess these questions is after summer-blooming perennials and annuals have had their glory days. That way, you're not distracted by their beautiful shows.
Now that you see where you need color, the logical question for those with established landscapes is how to make room or where to put them. Here are a few suggestions:
Replace shrubs you don't like.
It sounds harsh, but if they're overgrown, or no longer excite you, it just may be time to make way for something new.
Plant shrubs in new areas.
Look to the back of a flower border, for example. Maybe you want to install a hedge as a boundary line, or you may want to cover up your home's foundation or the lower part of a deck.
Steal some lawn.
Every keen gardener has probably already done this once or twice. Making your lawn smaller by digging up some turf even reduces the regular upkeep!
Look to the sun, or at least partial shade.
Full shade, often created from trees directly above, stunts the growth of many shrubs, decreases fall color and also creates a problem of competing root systems. Most often, long-established trees win.
Avoid elevated or exposed sites.
This leaves them vulnerable. Full-on bright sun can dry or bleach out leaf and flower color, especially in the South. Most shrubs do well in more moderate light conditions. Give them a break from the blazing heat of midday, whether it's the shadow of your home or garage, or the dappled shade of nearby trees.
Gone with the wind.
Exposing plants to wind stresses them out, too, causing them to wilt and struggle. Plus, wind strips off foliage that you want to stay on the plant as long as possible.
Don't forget to size it up.
Before breaking ground, consider a shrub's eventual size. Make sure it has the space it needs to grow.
Step Three: Smart Planting
Planting a shrub is really very easy, and the vivid color you long for will be up and running quickly. If you plant at summer's end, you'll get a show that very fall. If you plant in springtime, expect to see the results at the end of the growing season.
Here are a few shrub-planting practices that bring out the best in shrubs:
Strength in numbers.
When brilliant shrubs are planted in groups, either in a small gathering or as a long hedge, they join together to make a much bolder statement.
Some shrubs look really spectacular in the fall when sited in the middle of a lawn or set off from similar-size plants. This is worth considering if your shrub of choice forms a handsome profile. The lowering autumn sun can sometimes cause some dramatic "backlighting" effects for shrubs of finer texture, especially in the evening hours.
The dark green of conifer trees, or even an arborvitae or laurel hedge, makes a beautiful dark wall behind colorful shrubs. Yellow or multihued fall displays look better than dark reds when planted against evergreens.
Keep 'Em Looking Good!
To get maximum impact from your fall-show shrubs, take good care of them. If they are thirsty, not getting enough sun, or growing in thin or poor soil, they simply won't be able to perform. Color always looks best and lasts longer on healthy well-hydrated plants.
So there you go—the simple tricks to getting fall color quick. Go ahead...dream big and think small. Shrubs will make your autumn landscape come alive with color, and I guarantee you won't have to wait years to see the dazzling results.