Blueberry bush

Blueberry bush

This is the time of year that plants start preparing for winter. Many look exhausted and withered, and many others are putting on their best show yet. 

Besides driving out to Mount Rainier and admiring vine maples in multicolor display or larches screaming yellow along Highway 2 on the way to Leavenworth, your neighborhood or your backyard can have a show just as spectacular on a smaller scale.

Leaves grow and store energy from the sun all summer long. As the tree goes dormant, the chlorophyll (greens) production goes down and eventually stops, leaving behind the carotenoid (yellows) and anthocyanin (reds) pigments to dominate. 

For several plants and trees, the colors are unforgettable. With the right plant selection, this time of year can be just as riotous as spring.

Colorful displays

One surprise plant with outstanding fall color is the Tall bush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum). This plant provides benefits in all seasons, especially the fruit in summer, with the show in fall as stiff competition. 

Enkianthus campulatus also competes for attention in spring and fall, with flaming red and orange leaves. 

For large leaves with brilliant yellow shades, Hamamelis x intermedia or Hamamelis mollis is covered in flags of copper, crimson and gold.

A common shrub seen often in commercial plantings, Euonymus alatus (Winged euonymous) nearly causes accidents when it is on fire with bright pink in October. It is a great backdrop (i.e., less colorful) for the rest of the year and will make itself known in autumn. 

If you want something more unusual, a Hydrangea quercifolia (Oak-leaf hydrangea) has large, deeply lobed leaves that will be painted bronze with hints of crimson come mid-fall.

Rhus typhina (Staghorm sumac) is a shrub that will wow you if you have the space to let it roam. The leaves are toothed and put on a show of yellow-orange and rich red all through autumn. If set among evergreens, the foliage will really stand out, as well as the dark-red velvet branches.

And a large shrub that is shocking this time of year is Cotinus coggygria (Smoke tree). It’s purple or green all summer in full sun, and it will reward you with a display of bright, neon-colored leaves as the weather cools.

Want even more color?

Trees that are dripping with color as we wind down into winter include Oxydendrum arboretum (Sourwood), Nyssa Sylvatica (Tupelo), Liquidamber styraciflua (American Sweetgum), Cornus species (Dogwood) and just about any of the maple (Acer) species — in particular, Acer circinatum (Vine maple), Acer ginnala (Amur maple) or any Japanese maple will provide an amazing display. 

Oak trees also do not disappoint. Check out these species: Quercus palustris (Pin oak) or Quercus rubra (Red oak).

Fraxinus Americana “Autumn Applause” speaks for itself and its sister tree, Fraxinus oxycarpa “Raywood” is just as stunning, with shades of deep purples. You can find these ash trees lining the streets of Seattle for a colorful display route in the fall. 

Nandina domestica (Heavenly bamboo) is an evergreen shrub that, despite keeping its leaves, still puts on a glorious show in the cooler months. This shrub has lacy, open leaves that shift into every shade imaginable, from yellow to purple. 

Other shrubs that show interest with virbrant berries this time of year include Callicarpa bodinieri “Profusion” (Beautyberry), Arbutus unedo “Compacta” (compact strawberry tree), Stranvaesia davidiana and Pernettya mucronata.

I hope this inspires you to get outside and enjoy our last few warm days and bask in the abundance of colors and textures that grace our corner of the world. 

For personalized information on how to add color to your garden, contact the Garden Hotline at (206) 633-0224