Fall can be depressing. The leaves are falling, leaving behind bare-limbed and dead-looking trees for the winter to come. Dismal, steel-gray skies create a dreary cast over everything. Some types of grass actually turn brown. It's cold and monochromatic.
The landscape doesn't stay that way, thank goodness. The spring and summer months burst with color and wonderful scents that remind you that you're alive. With some smart selection and good placement you can create a new palate of color in your yard after season's end. Some plants show their stuff in the fall and can help lighten your spirits. While your neighbors shuffle sadly and aimlessly about their homes with nothing to look at but dead leaves, you'll be feeling fine.
Here's HowStuffWorks' top five picks of plants that bring renewed vigor to a fall landscape, in no particular order.
Blue Rug Juniper
Blue rug juniper (Juniperus horizontalis "Wiltoni") is a nice, low-growing evergreen shrub. Its foliage is thick and hugs the ground, achieving a maximum height of 6 to 8 inches (15.2 to 20.3 centimeters). During the warmer months, blue rug juniper foliage is silvery blue-green; during the autumn and winter, the evergreen becomes purplish blue. It brings an unexpected splash of color to any fading landscape.
Blue rug junipers make a great, hardy addition to embankments (they hold soil and prevent erosion well) or to any sunny area. They're also highly adaptable to different soil and water conditions [source: Nature Hills Nursery]. Installing some around a tall plant or shrub like a gardenia or dwarf crape myrtle will provide colorful contrast all year [source: Wilson Bros. Nursery]. In the fall, the purple juniper will pop against dark green evergreen leaves of broadleaf plants.
Autumnalis Cherry Tree
The Autumnalis cherry tree (Prunus subhirtella "Autumnalis") has a lot going for it. (For one thing, it's immune to the Asian ambrosia beetle -- a parasitic bug that's usually lethal to other cherry varieties.) The Autumnalis also has the added benefit of blooming during both the spring and fall. During moderate winter temperatures in the Southern United States, these cherry trees may bloom several times [source: Wilson Bros. Nursery]. Because of the late fall and early winter, the fragile, light pink flowers of Autumnalis provide an elegant contrast against the tree's leafless limbs. Even on the gloomiest days, Autumnalis flowers pop.
Be selective where you plant an Autumnalis, as these trees can get fairly large. They grow 25 to 35 feet (7.6 to 10.7 meters) tall, with a canopy spread of the same width [source: University of Florida]. Giving an Autumnalis enough room to grow will keep you from having to prune it -- yet another check in this tree's favor.
Rose Glow Barberry
You'll want to be careful with the Rose Glow barberry (Berberis thunbergii "Rose Glow"). Like many other things, the most beautiful plants can also be the most dangerous. Rose Glow barberries, which are woody deciduous shrubs, protect themselves with extremely sharp thorns all over their thin limbs and trunks. Amid these thorns, however, grow some of the most beautiful fall foliage around.
The tiny variegated leaves of a Rose Glow barberry are either a deep metallic burgundy or a purple mottled with light pink accents. When viewed from a few feet away, the leaf contrast gives the shrub an otherworldly glow. This glow is common during the spring and summer months, but as other plants are dying in the fall, the Rose Glow barberry has a chance to shine even more than usual.
These shrubs are slow-growing, and reach mature dimensions of about three feet (0.9 meters) in height and width [source: Lowe's]. They prefer full to moderate sun and are hardy in most climates [source: Nature Hills Nursery]. Just be sure to wear gloves when installing and pruning this fall stunner.
Autumn Flame Red Maple
One of the best aspects of the Autumn Flame Red Maple (Acer rubrum "Autumn Flame") is that, as a native to North America, it thrives in most continental climate zones. This means that just about everyone in the United States and Canada can enjoy this maple's amazing autumn leaves. The star-shaped leaves of the Autumn Flame maple burst into a yellowish red hue in the fall, and have a way of seemingly lighting the area around them.
Even once they've fallen, the leaves of the Autumn Flame maple manage to color the ground for several days. Since some varieties of the tree can grow to heights of 60 feet (18.3 meters) and spread as wide as 50 feet (15.2 meters), this beautiful carpet of leaves can be substantial. Even better, this type of red maple tends to hang onto its leaves longer than other maples, so you'll have more time to watch them fall [source: University of Florida]. Be sure to plant the Autumn Flame maple in a part of your yard that gets lots of rain, as these trees love water. They're worth any extra irrigation you may have to undertake.
Sweet Autumn Clematis
Long after other types of clematis have shed their foliage, the leaves and long, delicate flowers of the sweet autumn clematis (Clematis terniflora) remain. The waxy, dark green leaves and white flowers contrast each other, and in a dormant garden, they provide a quiet reminder of summer. Even better, the scented flowers remain into the middle of fall. After the flowers die off, delicate silver seed pods are produced [source: University of Oklahoma].
Because sweet autumn clematis is an aggressive (and in some people's opinion, invasive) vine, you'll want to plant it in an area where it won't overtake other plants. You'll want to give it an arbor, chain link fence or other structure to attack; the vine can grow up to 30 feet (9.1 meters) in height (or width, depending on how you train it to grow). You'll also want to cut the vine back tremendously after it flowers to prevent the vine from seeding. Sure, it's a bit of work, but when fall rolls around, you'll likely find the sweet autumn clematis is worth the effort.
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More Great Links
- Gilman, Edward F. and Watson, Dennis G. "Acer rubrum 'Autumn Flame'; 'Autumn Flame' Red Maple." University of Florida. November 1993. http://hort.ufl.edu/trees/ACERUBC.pdf
- Gilman, Edward F. and Watson, Dennis G. "Prunus subhirtella 'Autumnalis'; 'Autumnalis' Higan Cherry." University of Florida. October 1994. http://hort.ufl.edu/trees/PRUSUBA.pdf
- Ingram, Dewayne and Barrick, William. "Junipers in Florida." University of Florida. January 1990. http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/MG109
- "Barberry - Rosy Glow." Nature Hills Nursery. Accessed December 9, 2008. http://www.naturehills.com/product/rosy_glow_barberry.aspx
- "Cherry trees - flowering." Wilson Bros. Nursery. Accessed December 9, 2008. http://www.wilsonbroslandscape.com/TreeFileCherryFlowering.html
- "Clematis terniflora; Sweet Autumn Clematis." University of Okalahoma. September 3, 2004. http://www.plantoftheweek.org/week273.shtml
- "Juniper - blue rug." Nature Hills Nursery. Accessed December 9, 2008. http://www.naturehills.com/product/blue_rug_juniper.aspx
- "Low maintenance shrubs for the South." Wilson Bros. Nursery. Accessed December 9, 2008. http://www.wilsonbrosonline.com/ShrubsLowestMaintenance.html
- "Rose Glow Barberry." Northscaping. Accessed December 9, 2008. http://www.northscaping.com/InfoZone/FS-0083/FS-0083.shtml
- "Rose Glow Barberry." Lowe's. Accessed December 9, 2008. http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=howTo&p=PlantGuide/_PLA72.html