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Shrubs that Burst into Color for Fall

Learn about what shrubs you can add to your garden to get fresh late summer and fall color for your garden, year after year.

Contributors: Stacey Hirvela

The best gardens have plants that add color and interest in all seasons.  Spring and summer are usually pretty simple to fill with color.  It can take a bit more planning to keep the garden looking great late summer into fall and winter.  However, with a bit of careful plant selection your garden can brim with interest in every season.  This article covers some perennials that will add late summer and fall color.  Now we are going to concentrate on shrubs.

Shrubs are a natural source for adding late summer and fall colors, after all fall is known for the colorful foliage of deciduous trees and shrubs.  However, fall color in shrubs certainly isn't limited to foliage.  Flowers, seed pods and berries are additional sources of interest.  Today's newer shrubs are powerhouses that can provide interest in multiple seasons.  The choices are almost limitless, but here are a few that we feel are especially good performers.

New and improved Hydrangeas are being introduced every year and it seems like there is at least one that works for any situation. Late summer and fall interest are no different, where Hydrangea paniculata shines. Two of the best cultivars are 'Limelight' and Little Lime.  They start blooming in mid-summer, when they show off lime-green flowers.  As the flowers mature they turn white, then light pink, then deep rose and eventually turn cinnamon brown and persist into the winter where they continue to add value to the landscape.  'Limelight' isn't an especially large plant, although under ideal conditions and without pruning it can reach up to 8 feet tall.  With yearly pruning, it can easily be kept under 6 feet tall.  The better choice, if you are looking for compactness, is Little Lime which tops out at 5 feet tall without pruning.  Both are hardy in zones 3 to 9 and do well in part sun to sun.  If you are in a climate with hot summers, afternoon shade is helpful more for the impact on moisture than heat.  Consistently moist soils will help keep the flowers fresh and looking good for the duration of their bloom.  Fire Light, a brand new introduction for spring 2014, is one to watch for the future.  The fall flower color is an especially deep pink.  Hardy in zones 3 to 8.

It is possible that Brandywine Viburnum nudum is the perfect plant.  It has glossy foliage which turns dark maroon-red in fall.  It blooms with white flowers in spring which become clusters of vivid pink and blue berries in fall.  It will have good berry set without a pollinator plant, but adding a pollinator ('Winterthur' is a good one) will really amp up the number of berries.  It is a native plant that has good deer resistance and it attract birds.  It grows up to 6 feet tall, is hardy in zones 5-9, prefers sun to part sun and does best with moist, well-drained soil.  If pruning is necessary, do so shortly after flowering.  However, leave the flower clusters so that you are able to enjoy the fall berry display.

Red Wall Parthenosisus (Virginia creeper) is another native plant with great fall color.  The foliage is deep green through spring and summer, then turns fire-engine red in the fall.  It does produce blue berries in fall, but it's the red foliage color that is its calling card.  It is fast growing and salt tolerant and can quickly turn a fence into a mass of foliage and amazing autumnal focal point.  It is hardy in zones 3-9 does best in shade to part shade.

Caryopteris begins flowering in late summer showing off blue to purple flowers through fall.  The shrubs are drought tolerant, once established, not very tasty to deer and are attractive to butterflies.  They are hardy in zones 5-9, prefer a sunny location and good drainage.  Petit Bleu has dark green, glossy foliage and tops out at only 30 inches tall.  Sunshine Blue® II gets about 4 feet tall and has the added interest of golden yellow foliage all season.  The contrast of blue flowers with the sunny foliage is gorgeous.  The newest addition to our lineup of Caryopteris is Lil Miss Sunshine This plant was created by crossing Petit Bleu and Sunshine Blue® II which resulted in a compact, 36 inches tall, shiny,yellow foliaged plant with loads of amethyst-blue flowers.  How can you not love that!

Ghost Weigela starts out with green foliage and deep reddish-pink flowers in spring.  Light pruning will encourage repeat blooming throughout the summer and often a second heavy bloom period in fall.  Over the course of the summer the foliage becomes butter-yellow.  It is deer resistant, about 5 feet tall, prefers a sunny location and is hardy in zones 4-8.  It is best with well-drained soil, but can adapt to a range of soil types.

Itea is an often over-looked native plant with truly outstanding fall foliage color.  While other Iteas tend to be quite large, Little Henry® is well-behaved, getting only 3 feet tall or so.  In addition to the brilliant fall folige, white, lightly scented flowers appear in summer.  In nature, it is usually found in moist areas, but once established can be quite drought tolerant.  It is a versatile plant, doing will in both sun and shade, although fall foliage color is best when the plant is grown in a sunny locale.   It is deer resistant, the butterflies love it and it is hardy in zones 5-9. 

Purple Pearls Callicarpa (beautyberry) is another shrub that produces a copious show of purple berries in fall that appear after the pink flowers fade away.  The foliage is deep green, tinged with purple.  The purpling is most pronounced in fall when the berries appear.  This shrub is about 5 feet tall, prefers full sun and well-drained soil.  It is deer resistant and hardy in zones 6-8.

While Abelia, in general, provide fall interest - they begin to flower in mid-summer and continue until frost - Ruby Anniversary is an especially showy fall plant thanks to glossy ruby-red fall foliage.  A fairly large plant, up to 6 feet, it is deer resistant, fragrant and attractive to butterflies.  It is best in sun to part sun and is hardy in zones 5-9.

From blazing foliage, to pretty flowers and showy berries, shrubs are a great way to add interest to your late summer and fall garden.

Patent Info:  'Limelight' Hydrangea paniculata PP: 12874 Can. PP: 2319; Little Lime Hydrangea paniculata 'Jane' PPAF Can. PP: 3914; Fire Light Hydrangea paniculata 'SMHPFL' PPAF Can. PBRAF; Brandywine Viburnum nudum 'Bulk’; Red Wall Parthenocissus quinquefolia 'Troki' PPAF; Petit Bleu Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Minibleu' PP: 14674 Can. PP: 2317; Lil Miss Sunshine Caryopteris x clandonensis 'Janice' PPAF Can. PP: 3911; Ghost Weigela florida 'Carlton' PP: 20025 Can. PBRAF; Little Henry® Itea virginica 'Sprich' PP: 10988; Purple Pearls Callicarpa 'NCCX1' PPAF Can. PBRAF; Ruby Anniversary Abelia chinensis 'Keiser' PP: 21632 Can. PP: 3910; Sunshine Blue® II Caryopteris incana 'SMNCVH' USPPAF.


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Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 10/31/2015 - 11:16am

Beautiful flowers with the weight of the flowers will i need something to hold the flowers up and in winter will you be able to see true if it by it, it is for a fens and a divider I like the 8 feet tall

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Mon, 11/02/2015 - 1:53pm

It sounds like panicle hydrangeas will be a good choice for you - they do reach 8' tall in time. They will hold their flowers up just fine on their own as well, provided that they get enough sun (at least 6 hours a day); we would also recommend pruning them back by about one-third their height each spring.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 04/06/2015 - 1:29pm

Can someone recommend plants for Tennessee that would be colorful in early-mid October, but quick-growing because they cannot be planted for another month or so but are needed to provide ambiance by this fall.

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Mon, 04/13/2015 - 10:02am

Fall color depends primarily on temperature, so it will vary a bit year to year. But you can count on probably oakleaf hydrangea, Little Henry itea, Brandywine viburnum, our new diervilla (, and most spiraea are all reliable choices.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sat, 10/12/2013 - 1:39pm

Bought two Proven Winners Hydragea Limelight three years ago at local Meijer's store....they look stunning happy that I have them...planning to buy more next spring...Dubravka

Stacey Hirvela's picture
Stacey Hirvela Mon, 10/26/2015 - 12:31pm

If your Limelight hydrangeas are not turning a nice pink color in fall, there are three possible reasons:
1. The plant dried out while it was in bloom. In this case, the flowers turn brown instead of pink or red.
2. Night time temperatures were too warm when the plant was in bloom. In hot climates, this is often the reason you won't see good color.
3. The plant is in too much shade. Shady conditions encourage muddy, rather than bright, colors.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Sun, 10/25/2015 - 4:59pm

I have 2 standard limelight hydrangeas that are 12 feet tall but they don't turn cinimmon in the fall. they get a little pink the bronzeover winter

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 09/23/2013 - 4:09pm

Lots of great information at this site, I will be using this site again!

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Mon, 09/16/2013 - 5:25pm

Hi proven winners,

I look at the emails and ideas I get from you guys because I love gardening and have 8acres to fill with my plants, what I don't have is a very good idea of the fall flowering shrubs for my zone. everything I have tried leaves a mess all over the ground or it does not work all that well for wintering out here in Alberta. Can you send me something for my zone please. Most of our green houses have very young people working only part time and they really are not sure of any good wintering plants unfortunately .. Thanks in advance for a list of good fall colors for my area.
Please help


Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 09/13/2013 - 6:36pm

We are near Denver, CO, and have Virginia Creeper in Full Sun all day, not watered here in the altitude. Can kill it! It is invasive.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous Fri, 06/20/2014 - 2:13pm

Roundup! It kills everything!

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