As summer ends and the last of the annuals put on a showy grand finale, the old cliché holds true: “All good things must come to an end.” Apples and pears are ready for picking and it’s harvest time in the vegetable garden. Meanwhile, taking center stage are the variety of deciduous trees, veiled in vibrant shades of golden yellows, oranges and deep reds. These grand trees are an amazing addition to any fall landscape scene – but what about the showy shrubs of fall?

The Many Sides of Sumac

We can start off with varieties of sumacs which can be used in landscape plantings. With their wild habits and rhizome roots it is easy for us to underestimate their value in a landscape. Sumacs, with a little trimming, can have a very tropical elegance to them. For all of us who live in Southern Idaho and wish to re-create that Japanese tropical garden, a sumac will be the foundation of a tropical oasis.

“Harlequin” is a good word to describe the fall color of ‘Gro-Low’ fragrant sumac (Rhus typhina, Zone 3-8). Like all members of its clan, this shrub is a marvel in autumn when its leaves become a crazy quilt of red, orange, and yellow before scattering in the breeze. ‘Gro-Low’ has nearly prostrate, fast-growing stems that provide great cover on erosion-prone slopes and other difficult areas.

Another great fall color sumac which possesses a very interesting leaf structure is the Cutleaf sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Laciniata’, Zone 3-9). With its ornamental possibilities that go beyond heavy-duty applications like transitional planting between tamed and wild areas, this vibrant orange-colored sumac is definitely a show stopper. Size controlled by pruning and/or root confinement, cutleaf sumacs can be used in manicured gardens. It can serve as a bolder, textured alternative to the ubiquitous dogwood and Japanese maple when planted off the corner of a structure to anchor a foundation planting.

Meet Virginia

When we mention the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus, Zone 3-9), you may say, “No way! That weed gets out of control!” Now hold on to your magazine because this deciduous woody vine can be largely misunderstood. If you stand back and look at this graceful specimen vine, you may be surprised with its beauty from spring to fall. In our backyard we have a wonderful Virginia growing on an open pergola. This vine may need a little guidance, but it will always put on an impressive fall show. Grasping for support with its tendrils, it can climb as high as 50 feet. Its leaves morph into a fall foliage color ranging from reddish-orange to burgundy with a pleasing dark blue berry.

Viva Viburnum!

Speaking of blue berries, the viburnums always have a nice grouping of berries with outstanding fall color to go with them. Winterthur smooth withered viburnum (Viburnum nudum, Zone 5-9) begins its display in late summer, as clusters of half-inch diameter fruit begin to blush pink and become more intense over the course of a few weeks until the entire shrub looks bedecked in bubble gum. Its fruit quickly changes to a deep blue as the glossy, leathery leaves become infused with maroon and red. The ‘Winterthur’, along with the Mariesii viburnum (plicatum var. tomentosum, Zone 4-8), maintains a compact, multi-stemmed habit that produces a great look year-round. Similarly, the American cranberry bush (Viburnum Trilobum, Zone 2-8) has an excellent array of exciting colors. From its finely-textured foliage to its bright red berry that attracts tons of wildlife, this viburnum is a showstopper.

Order a Combination Platter

For a sizzling combination of fall plants to add to your landscape, be sure to look at the following shrubs to complete your pallet.

The Diablo ninebark (physocarpus, Zone 3-7) is a fantastic shrub with purple-bronze foliage great for color contrast with grasses and perennials. In autumn the leaf color changes from a Halloween pumpkin orange to a shimmering burgundy red in November. With a colorful clown-like appearance the Purple Leaf Smoke bush (Cotinus Coggygria, Zone 4-9), is definitely a large shrub that will keep you entertained with its changing foliage colors and cotton-looking flowers. If you are a bird watcher, the Purple Beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma, Zone 5-8) will have the birds singing. Grown for its row of tiny violet, round, glossy fruit, it offers a striking contrast with its purple berries and a backdrop of yellow fall foliage.

Questions about fall plantings or helpful tips?

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