Lesser known plants for fall color

By Cynthia Bee, Conservation Garden Park

It seems we’ve gone from the heat of summer to the crispness of fall nearly overnight. Leaves in the mountains have begun to change color but we’ve got a little more time before the glory of fall is upon us in the valleys and there’s still time to plant before the end of the season. When we think of fall color, most of us think of exactly the same plants: maples and Burning Bush for reds or aspens for their bright yellow leaves. But there are other lesser-known plants that also provide a brilliant seasonal display.

Flowering Tree: ‘Autumn Brilliance’ Serviceberry (Amelanchier grandiflora)

The Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry is a hybrid form of the native serviceberry that’s a showier but also slightly less drought tolerant version of the native form. This small tree produces white flowers in the spring and beautiful orange-red fall color. The tiny berries it produces are edible for people but especially important as a food source for overwintering birds.

Large Shrub: ‘Tiger Eyes’ Sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Bailtiger’)

A hybrid version of a variety that’s native to Utah, Tiger Eye Sumac offers the same water-efficiency benefits of its parents while providing a few upgrades: fewer suckers, stunning foliage, and awesome texture in the landscape. The leaf colors start as screaming yellow in the spring, fade to a lemon-lime color in the heat of summer, and then shift to gorgeous shades of yellow, peach and orange in the fall.

Ornamental Grass: Flame Grass (Miscanthus purpurensis)

While we usually choose ornamental grasses because they add great texture, movement, and sound to the garden, some grasses also boast stunning seasonal color. Perhaps the most colorful (and remarked upon by visitors to the Conservation Garden Park) is the aptly-named Flame Grass. This compact grass (2-3 feet tall by 1-2 feet wide) lets other plants shine during the growing season but when temperatures drop in the fall, the brilliant streaks of yellow and orange of its foliage steal the show.

Perennial Flower: Bloody Cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum)

A native perennial, Bloody Cranesbill is an excellent choice for Utah landscapes. This low-mounding perennial produces magenta blooms in the spring with some minor rebloom through the summer. As temperatures cool, the foliage of this plant heats up into a blood-red shade that is likely the source of the hideous common name!

Groundcover: Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginodies)

One of our favorite groundcovers for sun to part-shade areas. Plumbago boasts deep, true blue flowers from mid-summer through much of the fall. The medium green leaves turn a deep, rich red as fall progresses. Like all groundcovers, it will spread (though it’s less obnoxious than most) so it’s best to use it in areas where you would like it to completely fill the space.

For more planting ideas, check out our online plant database where we not only provide information on more than 1,000 great plant choices for Utah but also show photos of the plants in each season of the year. conservationgardenpark.org/plants