Greg Alexander

Add Some Glorious Color to Your Yard

Mason-Dixon Arrive, October 2007

Watching the leaves on trees and shrubs transform from summer’s green to vibrant gold, orange, red, burgundy and purple is an annual rite of passage and signals the onset of autumn. As you drive around the region this time of year, myriad colors appear, painting a tapestry on the Mason-Dixon landscape.

If you want to add a splash of color to your yard this autumn – and for autumns to come – the choices are endless, whether you have a small plot of land or acres and acres.

To give you some suggestions, we decided to ask some local experts from gardening centers, public gardens and educational institutions. Of course, when you ask people what their favorite tree or shrub for fall color is, you’re bound to get some repetition (red maple, anyone?), so we’ve sorted through their responses to give some fresh ideas.

Sally Barker of the Horticultural Society of Maryland is a big fan of colorful shrubs, especially the ‘Mount Airy’ variety of Fothergilla major. “I just planted one in my own yard. It grows to be about five to six feet high and wide and gives you brilliant yellows, reds and oranges. It’s multi-colored, so you get lots of different colors, all in one shrub,” says Barker. Another favorite of Barker’s is white enkianthus, which she says prefers to be planted in partial shade and will mature to a height of six feet. “This one gives you magnificent scarlet foliage and has season-long interest. It has white blooms in the spring, too.” Everyone loves hydrangeas, but Barker says the key is selecting the right variety. “The oakleaf hydrangea with its bright red color in the fall is one of my favorites, especially the ‘Snow queen’ variety, which has a strong red color with a hint of burgundy. It’s great because the flowers stand up straight, providing extra height.” Barker suggests planting this one in full sun to partial shade.

“For a smaller shrub, hypericums are nice – some have gold leaves, some purple, and they can be planted on hillsides. Plant them together for a mass effect. My favorite variety is the ‘Albury purple’ with its velvety purple-topped leaves with red fruit; it also has yellow flowers in the summer,” Barker says. Another favorite shrub of hers is the Viburnum trilobum. “It’s a good size shrub. I like the ‘Hahs’ and the ‘Wentworth’ varieties. The ‘Wentworth’ is larger and has brilliant fall foliage with bright red berries.” The ‘Wentworth’ also has white flowers from mid- May to mid-June.

For trees that provide an array of vibrant colors in the fall, Alan Summers of Carroll Gardens in Westminster suggests the October glory red maple, Hawthorne and crab apple. “For shrubs, I like the winterberry, American beautyberry and burning bush, which can be planted this fall and will give your yard beautiful colors next year,” Summers says.

Meanwhile, Jason Sersen of Kingsdene Nursery and Garden Center in Monkton recommends a couple of native trees for your yard. “I like the blackgum with its brilliant dark, deep red leaves. It’s a true red, too, which is a nice contrast, and very uniform in color, which is appealing for a lot of gardeners. The misconception is that it’s a messy tree to have in your yard, but it’s actually not related to the sweetgum. The sweetgum can be messy but does give you all four fall colors on one tree – yellow, orange, red and purple,” says Sersen, who adds that his favorite native shrub is chokeberry, which also has a deep, vibrant red color.

Another fan of the sweetgum tree is Ellen Nibali, horticultural consultant with the University of Maryland College of Agriculture & Natural Resources and the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center in Ellicott City ( “It’s a fast grower, which is nice, and prefers to be in the shade. I like the star shape of the leaves, and you get orange, red, yellow and purple – all at once. It also has multi-season enjoyment, but don’t plant it over a sidewalk or driveway because it is messy,” says Nibali. “I also like the sourwood, a small ornamental tree that looks great in an area by itself. It flowers in the late summer, giving you an early start on adding color in your yard and then has purple leaves in the fall.”

On the shrub front, Nibali touts the spicebush, a Maryland native. “It turns yellow in the fall and has shiny red berries in the late summer/ early fall. Another favorite shrub of mine is the Carolina allspice. It has maroon, brownish flowers and is yellow in the fall. In the spring, it smells like strawberries.” Nibali, who says it is hard to limit her choices to just a few because there are so many great trees and shrubs for Zone 6, adds one more shrub to her list of favorites. “Blueberries give you great fall foliage and shiny flowers in the spring. And who doesn’t love blueberries?”

Nibali adds that anyone can call the Home and Garden Information Center hotline for advice at 800-342-2507 Monday-Friday from 8am to 1pm or send a question via the Web site to have answered by a certified professional horticulturalist.

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