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American Beech Fall Foliage

Fantastic Fall Foliage: Native Trees

This post was originally published in September of 2017

Fall is my favorite season of the year. The changing weather transforms trees and shrubs  from bright green into a vibrant combination of orange, red and yellow. As this beautiful scene of color works its way across the landscape of our region, many customers come in wanting to know how they can enjoy beautiful fall foliage at home. One of the best ways to add fall color is by planting native trees. Each of the ones below has its own set of unique characteristics.

American Beech

One of my all-time favorite trees. American beech creates a stunning display each fall with its whitewashed bark and dark yellow foliage. Its foliage fades to a papery light brown or creamy white at the end of the season and remains on the tree through the winter, rustling in the wind and providing visual interest in the garden against the bare branches of other plants. Beech nuts are also a good source of food for animals during the winter.

Blackgum Fall Foliage

Blackgum

The vivid contrast between blackgum’s dark bark (almost black when wet) and vivid red or orange fall foliage creates a jaw-dropping fall display. This slow growing over story tree can reach 70 feet and is very strong. One of my favorite trees at our Fair Oaks location is an enormous blackgum that is surrounded by our parking lot. We literally drive directly over its root system every day and it’s still thriving!

Sassafras Fall Foliage

Sassafras

Sassafras is most notable for its display of orange, green, yellow and red foliage all on the same tree. As the foliage changes color, these trees may look like an artist threw several colors of paint over their leaves.  They are also well known for their fragrance. A fun fact about this tree: it is used in making root beer!

Silky Dogwood

Red on one side and white on the other, the foliage of silky dogwood creates a display of flickering colors as it moves in the fall breeze. After its foliage fades, the vibrant red color of new stems and branches provides winter interest. Older bark turns grey, but you can trim your dogwood back each season to keep the new growth coming, as it will grow very quickly.

Sourwood Fall Foliage

Sourwood

As fall arrives sourwood’s foliage turns yellow, then orange, and finally brilliant red. This is an excellent tree to pair with evergreens as the red foliage contrasts the deep green of evergreen to enhance the color of both plants. A two-season tree, sourwood also produces fragrant flowers in spring when it leafs out. Maxing out around 20 feet high, sourwood is a good choice for anyone looking for a large impact in a limited space.

Sugar Maple

A classic fall foliage tree, you can’t go wrong with sugar maple in your landscape. With a nice rounded look and a maximum height of 60 to 80 feet, the yellow, dark green and orange fall foliage make this tree a stunning addition to any landscape. It typically takes on a more orange color than its other maple relatives, so if you love orange foliage, this is good choice!

Source: Fine Gardening

Winterthur Viburnum

The most remarkable aspect of Winterthur viburnum is its berries, which come in a light pink and fade to dark pink and later blue as they mature. When most of the berries are blue, the foliage also transitions to vibrant red, creating a stunning contrast between the plants’ foliage and fruits. In the spring, this viburnum blooms with white clusters of flowers as it leafs out. I recommend pairing it with grasses and evergreen for a beautiful combination of texture and contrasting green color in fall.

Coordinating Color for a Fantastic Fall Garden

One of the most difficult things to do when designing a garden bed or container is figuring out which plant combinations to use. With so many beautiful plant types and varieties to choose from, how do we narrow it down to a few that will really look great together? Quite often, we end up gravitating towards plants that catch our eye, but end up clashing in the garden. The fall can be especially overwhelming, with the bold reds, crisp yellows, and bright oranges of the season. It is easy to get carried away with all the new colors that the season offers. By no means does this mean you need to shy away from them. As a landscape designer, I often refer back to the basics of color theory to inspire and direct beautiful color combinations in the garden. You too can use these guidelines to create a stunning display of fall color!

The Basics of Color

Just like selecting a wall paint or window dressing for your living room, carefully combining colors in an outdoor space can help you create a cohesive design composition. Here are the three basic color combinations that I often refer to during the design process (discussed in more detail below):

  • Monochromatic
  • Analogous
  • Complementary

These color schemes are formed based on the color wheel, which many of you are probably familiar with:

The color wheel depicts primary (yellow, blue, red), secondary (orange, green, purple), warm (yellow, red, orange) and cool (blue, green, purple) colors.  Complimentary colors are those that opposite each other on the wheel.

Combining Colors for Fall Beauty

You can use color theory to combine plants in any way you want at any time of year. Since it’s fall, I’ve selected a few of my favorite seasonal plants to illustrate monochromatic, analogous, and complimentary schemes. These plants look beautiful together, but by separating out the plants we can create a variety of distinct styles in our gardens.

Boxwood, heuchera, japanese stiltgrass

Monochromatic with Green Foliage

A monochromatic scheme incorporates only one color and its values. By selecting various shades, we can create a strong, cohesive visual effect. One of the most commonly used monochromatic designs in landscaping is variations of green in a shady part of a garden. Using green in these spaces enables us to use a wide variety of shade-friendly foliage plants. The combination pictured above includes boxwood, liriope, a green foliage heuchera, and a fern.

Burning Bush, Mums, Pumpkins

Analogous with Red and Orange Foliage, Blooms and Pumpkins

Analogous colors can be found next to each other on the color wheel. Using this combination creates a pleasingly harmonious variation. Color combinations of this type generate a pleasing energy in the garden without using too many colors. Here, I’ve combined orange and red for a display of fall color using pumpkins, mums and a burning bush.

Boxwood, Mum, Heuchera, Liriope, Fern

Complementary Colors

Pair the opposing colors on the color wheel for an undeniably bold approach to gardening. Complementary colors “complement” each other by making the other color appear more intense. If you are looking for a high energy space, pairing complementary colors in your garden is a great start. In a fall garden, combining red and green is a great choice. In the photo above, I’ve paired the green foliage of liriope and boxwood with the red foliage of heuchera and the red blooms of fall blooming mums.

Have Fun and Try a Variety of Combinations

While the color schemes used in this post are a great starting point, I always encourage gardeners to try out whatever color scheme makes them happy. The point is to have fun with color and make a beautiful garden you love!