6 Great Shrubs for Autumn Color

Fall is almost here and I am chomping at the bit to put in our autumn arrangements. My wife has been decorating for fall in the house and I will be adding all sorts of goodies to the porch and yard. Flags to go up, mums brought in, and pumpkins galore. In these last few weeks of summer, I think about the great colors of the sugar maples, the soon to be gone white ash, and the brilliant golds, rusts, and russets of gourds and pumpkins. But what about all the shrubs? Many of our favorite landscape shrubs are also very attractive in autumn for their leaf colors and berries.

Arrowwood Viburnum ‘Blueberry Muffin’ in the author’s garden, with fruits and the start of fall color

You cannot have a garden without a viburnum, says I. Viburnums can anchor any garden in, whether with flowers, fruit, or fall color. My favorite of all of them is Arrowwood Viburnum. While there are many cultivars of this great shrub, I prefer ‘Blueberry Muffin’ to all others. It has nice size at 6 to 10 feet tall and wide, white panicled flowers followed by deep blue berries in late summer. Fall colors are reds and oranges mixed well. 

Fall color is purple tinged with bronze on Doublefile Viburnum

Another great viburnum is the Doublefile Viburnum which can be obtained as a straight species plant or in cultivars such as ‘Marie’s’ or ‘Summer Snowflake’. This viburnum resembles a small tree if pruned correctly and can obtain the height of 16 feet. It spreads wide and full up to 20 feet. In part shade this viburnum really shines. The white flowers are followed by oblong, blue fruits in late summer which birds gobble up. Fall color is purple-red and fairly lights up the garden.

Black chokeberry often starts with oranges that fade and turn into reds as fall progresses

When discussing shrubs for leaf color and berries, it is hard to forget about the Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa). This medium sized shrub of 10 by 10 feet will fill a space in full sun and bring you back year after year. Cultivars have been selected for the fruit, which is considered to be a superfruit of antioxidants and vitamins. Birds also love the fruit in late winter. The autumn color is a brilliant as it gets with reds and oranges and sometimes yellow all on the same plant. The glossiness of the leaves adds to the rich hues.

Serviceberries can turn orange, red, or yellow in fall

Another shrub known for fruit and fall color is the Saskatoon Serviceberry. This clump forming shrub will grow great in slightly moist spots along a stream or pond, or fit right in next to your waterfall. They are also drought tolerant. Serviceberry blooms with fragrant white flowers in the spring, which are followed by sweet, edible fruit resembling blueberries in mid-summer. The fruit can be made into pies, jelly, and jams, or just be eaten raw. The fall color is of oranges, golds, and bright yellows mingled with red. 

Oakleaf hydrangeas have great purple color in autumn

What landscape would be such without the versatile hydrangea. While most of the more common species do not have any great fall color, Oakleaf Hydrangea is an exception. This sturdy shrub fits well into most landscapes with its peeling bark stems, large panicled flowers, and purple fall color. Cultivars have made it so you can use oakleafs as borders or backdrops, ranging in sizes from 4 by 4 feet to 12 by 12 feet. 

Purple berries of the American beautyberry linger into late winter

I personally cannot think about autumn at all without thinking about American Beautyberry. This great native shrub grows in a vase or arching branches year after year. I always cut mine to the ground in spring to rejuvenate the shrub (it blooms on new wood). In late summer, tiny pink flowers envelop the stems and are followed by bright, K-State purple berries that persist through the winter. I love to use beautyberries in arrangements and fall decorating.


Happy planting!

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