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Minter: How we love the yellows, oranges and reds of fall foilage

One of the most fascinating fall trees is the Japanese stewartia. It is a summer bloomer that often carries right on into the fall, writes master gardener Brian Minter.
Burning Bush 4

The following column was submitted to the Tri-City News from Brian Minter — master gardener, best-selling author, Order of Canada recipient and co-owner of Minter Country Garden Store.


The foliage colour of many garden ornamentals can be simply outstanding every fall.

While some gardens will be ablaze with fabulous foliage, many others are missing this important seasonal event.

It is so easy to choose flowering and ornamental trees that bloom in the spring, but with a little extra care you can, at the same time, select trees that provide a beautiful fall display as well.

Dogwoods are a prime example. 'Florida' dogwoods, native to the eastern United States, provide outstanding fall colour.

As a rule, they are shorter and bushier than our natives, making them ideal for screening.

The most popular 'Florida' is the 'Rubra' or pink dogwood. Its masses of dark-pink blossoms in May of each year are a welcome sight.

The 'Rainbow' variety displays a profusion of rich, tri-coloured leaves and produces some of the most spectacular fall colour. Few sights are as beautiful in autumn as sunshine illuminating these leaves. ‘Eddie’s White Wonder’, a great native cross, has brilliant red fall foliage, as do its cousins, C. ‘Starlight’ and C. ‘Venus’.

The many varieties of 'Kousa' or Chinese dogwoods bloom in June and July when other varieties have finished their blooming period. They also tolerate quite a bit of shade, which may be of interest for those of you living in heavily treed areas.

Their fall leaves are a brilliant, vibrant red with huge edible seed pods hanging like giant raspberries throughout the tree. It is such an interesting plant to have in the garden, and I truly hope that more folks plant them.

There are many new varieties, some with stunning variegated foliage that also turns amazing colours.

Japanese maples certainly lead the pack in the outstanding colour department.

The only problem these days is making a choice between the many fine varieties. One of the best, 'Acer griseum', often called the 'Paper Bark' maple because of its arbutus-like peeling red bark, has brilliant red foliage.

The Coral Bark maple ‘Sango Kaku’ has yellow fall foliage that contrasts nicely with its coral coloured stems. The autumn colour range of red maples is everything from deep burgundy to the most vibrant fire engine red. Even green-leafed varieties, like ‘Osakazuki’, offer an incredible range of fall colours; many changing to a vibrant red as the season progresses.

Another unique tree that has not been readily available until the past few years is the Persian parrotia. It is a small and rather slow-growing shrub that provides a beautiful display of dense-headed flowers with red stamens surrounded by woolly brown bracts before the leaves open. In fall, the filbert-type leaves turn brilliant scarlet to orange.

When the leaves disappear, it reveals quite an interesting smooth, grey, winter bark that flakes to show intriguing white patches.

One of the most fascinating fall trees is the Japanese stewartia. It is a summer bloomer that often carries right on into the fall. The flowers are truly distinctive, starting off as little round white balls that burst open like a camellia, revealing bright yellow anthers. That's why it is often referred to as a pseudo-camellia. Those white flowers, combined with foliage that first turns scarlet, then bronze and finally purple, make this tree a wonderful fall specimen.

One of my favourite small trees is the little-known and unfortunately, seldom-planted 'Sourwood' tree. Oxydendrum arboreum has multitudes of long creamy white flowers in drooping racemes that add lots of interest to a July and August garden. Almost immediately after flowering, the long, narrow leaves turn a brilliant scarlet that lasts well into the fall. It's a beautiful smaller tree for sunny or shady locations.

Every garden should have at least one 'Burning Bush', and if you have only a small garden, a compact form is now available. 'Euonymus alata' has dense, twiggy branches with interesting corky wings, making it very attractive in winter. Its small, deep green leaves turn brilliant red in fall, along with hundreds of tiny orange-red fruits. These plants also make a nice deciduous hedge.

'Enkianthus' has, perhaps, one of the most attractive fall colours of any flowering shrub. It looks somewhat like a small-leafed rhododendron with red Pieris japonica-like flowers in spring. Its tiny leaves turn brilliant red for the longest time each fall, making it a super addition to any autumn garden.

These are a few of the more unique and beautiful plants that deserve a spot in any garden, not only for fall, but also for interesting, year-round contributions.

Fall is one of the best times to plant, so why not add at least one of these hardy plants to your garden collection for an autumn show. A sunny location and well-draining soil create the best scenario for vibrant fall colour.