Shorter shrubs seem to get short shrift in a landscape, the main emphasis usually centering on tree placement; but when designed well into the plant scheme short shrubs really add a dimension and interest that trees never can. So this week my focus is on interesting shrubs that bring character, charm, and color to a landscape.
Low-Grow Fragrant Sumac is the natural starting point when discussing fall colored shrubs. Related to the larger wild-growing native sumac, this tamed version grows only 2' tall spreading into the perfect super-hardy ground cover. It creates the most beautiful spreading bank of red autumn shrubs that will cover the poorest, driest soil in the yard, but it is so pretty that it can be displayed in a perennial border amongst the taller shrubs. When its leaves are brushed up against in spring a fresh sumac fragrance fills the air. Plant this shrub where everything else has died in the landscape and the results will make you one happy gardener!
In my designer's eye, shrubs and grasses serve much the same purpose for any landscape. In fact, Regal Mist Muhly Grass and Low Grow Fragrant Sumac planted together complement each other beautifully. Growing to 3' high this perfect pink grass looks wonderful when planted in a mass with a solid wall background to highlight the flowers. The pink autumn plumes that are so pretty right now make striking warm weather pond and pool accents. Its relatively small size, glossy green foliage, and delicate, airy, pinkish-red flowers shimmering in the wind, come together perfectly in this extraordinary plant. Regal Mist can grow as a native in a xeric setting, but looks best when irrigated during hot dry spells. It's at its best in fall, and prefers to be planted in fall.
Gilded Edge Silverberry, Golden Euonymus, and Royal Smoke Bush are other important plants for autumn sparkle. My all-time favorite, because it blooms so nicely through fall, is the Autumn Sage. If you notice a cheery little knee-high plant with red blooms right now it's the Autumn Sage.
It is misconceiving to think that fall-colored shrubs will be bare through the winter season ahead. Four evergreen shrubs that sport vibrant colors in autumn and deliver winter interest come to mind: First is the Oregon grape, mahonia, which shows off intense red through its evergreen foliage that often is mistaken for holly leaves. The more sun this shrub receives, the more reflective the colors become. Two big pluses of this plant are its extreme drought hardiness and its bright lemon-yellow flowers that explode into early spring bloom.
There are many varieties of Heavenly Bamboo, nandina, but Fire Power and Sienna Sunrise have better fall colors than others, and look and perform better in mountain landscapes. Naturally evergreen, the green leaves turn to fire reds, then back to green as our four seasons progress. Considering their clusters of white flowers in spring, these plants truly have every season covered. They have soft bamboo-like leaves, but are much hardier than regular bamboo and less invasive.
Fourth is Burning Bush, the most famous of all the red colored fall shrubs. Although godly voices are not heard from this six-foot tall shrub, biblical characters could have mistaken this shrub as being on fire. Runner up to no other red plant in the landscape, the red is so intense this bush can give even the stupendous reds of the Autumn Blaze Maple a run for their money.
Because of their popularity, an economy that is turning round, and the shrinking inventory at farms, maples, especially the best varieties have been difficult to find this fall. The Autumn Blaze Maple is a good example. In this gardener's opinion Autumn Blaze is the best red maple for mountain landscapes that receive a lot of wind and sun. Although its blazing red leaf has just started its autumn display, retail garden centers and wholesale nursery growers have run out of inventory. The last few years we've experienced a glut of plants on the market, but those overages have been sold at the wholesale level and growers haven't planted enough to meet retailers' demand.
What should have been more than enough fall colored trees to get through the end of the year, stocks have run out leaving local gardeners wanting. I begged, borrowed, and used all my good guy charm to bring in 50 additional maples for my customers; most of the trees already have sold. Here's my point: Not just regarding maple trees, but if you find a plant you really like at your favorite plant place, don't wait to buy it; it probably will be gone within days and wholesale growers have no more stock for retailers.
Plant of the Week – is the gorgeous Delta Pansies and in full bloom right now. Like its fairy-faced cousins, this fragrant pure blend has the perfect balance between color and contrast. Mammoth blooms smother this 12" plant right through the holidays, making it perfect for winter flowerbeds and containers at the front door. Hardy and care free when planted in borders, they'll cover bare soil when planted 12" apart. One of the hardiest winter bloomers, Delta will bring gardens to life with color. It's one of my winter favorites because it is long lasting, gorgeous, and, at well under $6 for a big bold plant, it is easily affordable!
Until next week, I'll see you at the garden center.