My Favourite Ornamentals For Fall Foliage Colour

by | Oct 1, 2018

Sourwood Tree

I can’t make up my mind if I like a sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) better in August or in October. In August, its cascades of white flowers are a nice treat. Then in late summer, its foliage turns to red, lasting well into late October. It’s a superstar in the garden.

Parrotia persica

A little known, and seldom planted, tree is ‘Parrotia persica’. It’s a smaller tree that always looks unique. It has tiny, red flowers in February, but earns its stripes mostly in fall with truly vibrant, scarlet-orange leaves. It also has smooth, grey bark that flakes off to reveal white patches, making it a nice winter specimen, too.

right: Parrotia p. ‘Henny’s Dwarf’

Golden Smoke Tree

Nearly everyone plants a purple smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) in their garden. Few people, however, plant its gold-leafed cousin, and that’s a shame because golden smoke trees are beautiful throughout three of the four seasons. They are particularly beautiful in autumn, with their multitude of sophisticated, vibrant reds and oranges.

Enkianthus campanulatus

Another great plant that is neglected too often is the enthralling Enkianthus campanulatus. A mid-sized shrub with Pieris japonica-like red flowers in spring, it lights up the garden at this time of year with its fluorescent red foliage. This Japanese native fits in well among rhododendrons, azaleas, and heathers.

left: Continus ‘Grace’

Burning Bush

Speaking of red foliage, the burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is the most well-known for being the reddest of all reds in the fall. Truly a head-turner, it’s a great fall plant, with corky-winged stems, that continues to look terrific in winter too. A compact variety is also now available, and it’s a must have!

Fothergilla gardenii

One of the lesser-known garden jewels is Fothergilla gardenii. This slow-grower (only up to three feet) has beautiful, fragrant bottle-brush-like flowers in April and May, and then in October, it throws a colour party of vibrant yellows and oranges. It’s a standout.

right: Fothergilla
above: Blueberries offer wonderful autumn foliage colour and bright stems throughout winter too!


One unique plant that turns colour now and keeps its leaves all year round is the lovely nandina, also known as heavenly bamboo. Don’t panic, though, it’s a false bamboo, not even in the bamboo family, and has no spreading roots. Not really a grass, although all year it shimmers like one, it is a plant no sunny or shady garden should be without. It now comes in a wide selection of compact varieties and works especially well near an entryway. All the varieties are unique in their own way, but my favourites are the very compact varieties, like ‘Gulf Stream’. It turns such beautiful, red shades in winter and keeps that colour until spring.

Other Fall Favourites

The many deciduous varieties of viburnums create a fabulous riot of colour, often with berries, as well. Even the Chinese witch hazel, with its fragrant, yellow, winter flowers, is a little bit of a show-off in fall.

If you already have some of these great plants in your garden, congratulations! If not, I guarantee the addition of these plants to your fall garden will not only create a new and exciting season for you, but they will also be something beautiful to anticipate and enjoy each autumn and now is a great time to get them started.