Shrubs for Fabulous Foliage

Viburnum Winterthur in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur’ (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Fall foliage is nature’s firework expo, signaling the end of one season and the beginning of another. As the last colorful petals of summer trickle to the ground, trees and shrubs continue the vibrant display across our landscapes, often extending the show for several more weeks. You don’t have to have a huge yard or a degree in gardening to have fiery beauties thriving on your property, as most color producers are low maintenance and tolerant of modest soil conditions. Following are a few of my favorite prismatic exhibitionists for your consideration:

Fall Fothergilla in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Fothergilla’s range of fall colors (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Fothergilla:  Choose from the smaller gardenii (3 foot) or larger major (8 foot), as both are sun loving natives that love life out in the open or tucked into a garden border. Before leafing out in early spring, they bear clusters of fluffy white, bottle brush shaped, lightly scented flowers.  The firm leaves offer interesting “Ruffles have ridges” potato chip texture that provides a nice contrast with other garden shrubs and perennials. Once mid-autumn arrives, Fothergilla explodes with not just one or two shades, but the whole gamut, from brilliant gold to rich merlot-all on one fabulously durable shrub. (Zone 5-8)

Hydrangea quercifolia in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Hydrangea quercifolia’s autumn foliage (Photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Hydrangea quercifolia:  Just as the sharpshooter Annie Oakley rarely missed her mark, you’ll be sure to hit your performance target with the oak leaf hydrangea; a superb native shrub that grows to about 6 feet in partial shade and crummy soil conditions.  Hydrangea quercifolia has ornamentally appealing oak leaf shaped leaves, and produces pyramidal panicles of white or pink blooms in summer. Each autumn the firm green leaves morph into blazing hues of cherry red to royal purple, and when they drop an exfoliating hazel bark is revealed. This is a truly luscious shrub suitable for a variety of settings. (Zone 5-9)

Itea virginica 'Henry's Garnet' in Fall in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Fall colors of Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Itea virginica ‘Henry’s Garnet’: Commonly known as sweetspire, Itea virginica is another stunning native shrub that forms masses of frothy white, cylindrical racimes during the spring, evolving to lush green, oval shaped foliage carried on slightly weeping branches through summer. Sweetspire will grow to 4 feet, with slight tendencies to travel, so planting it within the confines of a border is the best way to keep it in check. Itea virginica’s most noteworthy asset is its breathtaking fall climax of intense garnet red foliage that lasts from mid September to the end of November. A jewel of a shrub for full sun to light shade. (Zone 5-9)

Viburnum Carlesii's Fall Color in A Garden For All by Kathy Diemer

Viburnum Carlesii’s fall colors (photo by: Kathy Diemer)

Viburnum spp. and cvs: A genus of more than 150 evergreen, semi-evergreen, and deciduous woody plants, many viburnum species are native to North America. Usually flowering in spring; some tout exceptionally fragrant (Viburnum carlesii) blossoms, while others offer equally showy clusters, such as the lace-cap bloom of Viburnum trilobum. What most viburnums also have in common are their incredible array of autumn colors, from canary yellow to fire engine red, and some yield orange and purple fruit that only intensifies the dramatic combination. Offered in a wide range of sizes (from 3 to over 10 feet), most viburnums prefer sun to light shade and are tolerant of many soil conditions. (Zone 3-9) Enjoy ♥


  1. What stunning colors!

  2. I was glad to see you write about Henry’s Garnet sweetspire, as I’ve had two sitting in my yard in their pots for a couple of months as I try to figure out where to put them. It helps me narrow down the choices a bit.

    • You won’t be disappointed with sweetspire, Marjie! It offers abundant white flowers in spring and dazzling foliage in fall. One of my showiest shrubs, sweetspire is incredibly easy to grow and requires no maintenance other than a light prune to keep it in check. Lots of sun exposure ensures the brightest autumn display . . . be sure to plant them where you can enjoy the show!

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