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With adequate moisture and cooler temperatures in many regions, it is an ideal time to add some of these trees and shrubs to your landscape. Container grown material makes this easy to manage. Just make sure you continue to water on a regular basis even when the weather cools off. I live in Zone 7 where we often have long mild falls, perfect for getting back out in the garden, especially after a long, hot summer.
Maples, both native and exotic types, are some of the most reliable trees for their display of brilliant autumn foliage. In my garden I grow four different selections of Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, including one that I inherited when we moved to into our house six years ago. Their fall foliage varies from the pale yellow/apricot of the Coral Bark maple, Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku,’ to the striking orange and red of an unnamed seedling. The native dogwood, Cornus florida, and the hybrid smoke tree, Cotinus ‘Grace,’ are also showy. Considered a large shrub or small tree, Aesculus parviflora , Bottlebrush Buckeye (Zone 4 to 8), is a native that I recommend not only for its butter yellow fall foliage but for its beautiful white summer blooms.
Like many gardeners I am subject to plant lust, especially for plants that are hard to grow in my own garden. This is the case with the large shrub, Disanthus cercidifolius, a show-stopper with its deep red, orange and purple redbud-like leaves in fall. I have admired this tree in other people’s gardens in the northeast US and in Seattle; however, in my own dry woodland, it struggled and died.
If you are looking for a large ornamental tree, Ginkgo biloba (there are dwarf cultivars available) is a winner in every season. Fall is my favorite, when the leaves turn brilliant yellow. Every year we look forward to watching them in our neighborhood. Once it reaches peak color, the leaves all drop at once, creating a gold carpet. The effect is stunning.
Katsuratree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, makes an elegant and stately specimen. It can grow 40 to 60 feet tall but there are also dwarf cultivars available for smaller gardens. When the handsome round oval leaves turn from green to apricot/orange and red in the autumn, they give off a delightful fragrance that reminds me of burning sugar or cotton candy. Yellowwood, Cladrastis kentukea, is a medium size native tree that grows in a wide range of conditions and is hardy from Zone 4 to 8. The smooth gray bark, the white wisteria-like fragrant flowers in spring and yellow to orange autumn foliage all add up to an outstanding native tree.
Berried beauties in fall include viburnums. I like Viburnum nudum ‘Winterthur.’ With lustrous foliage that turns from green to red and purple in the fall and berries that start out pink and then turn to dark blue, it’s no wonder this selection is popular. I especially like the Tea Viburnum, Viburnum setigerum, which displays clusters of egg-shaped bright red fruits appearing in early autumn and persisting for months. It does have a somewhat leggy habit which means it will look best in the middle or back of the border.