Using Evergreens to Extend Fall Color

No matter how you feel about the transition to fall, the unmistakably rich hues of our autumn foliage are something to look forward to.

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’

Though deciduous trees have lost their leaves and winter is on its way, there are still many plants that can brighten your garden with colorful foliage. You don’t have to wait for the first blooms of snowdrops and hellebores to appear in late winter and early spring.

There are two categories of plants that will add colorful foliage to a winter garden: conifers (plants with needles and cones) and broad-leaf evergreens (plants that keep their leaves year ’round). Of course, these plants add depth to your garden during all the seasons, but when flowering plants and deciduous trees are dormant, these become important players and move onto center stage. Whether positioned en masse as a backdrop or at the forefront of a planting, colorful foliage provides contrast, supporting the rich shades of deep green in the surrounding plants and trees. And, if you add strategic lighting, you can brighten even the shortest day and darkest winter night.

Here are a few plants that will lighten up your garden this fall and winter.

Buxus sempervirens ‘Variegata’ (Variegated English Boxwood) has dramatic fine-textured foliage with creamy yellow margins that contrasts well with other darker green foliage. This boxwood can be grown as a clipped or unclipped specimen, suitable for use as a hedge, or a focal plant in a container garden, or repeated in a symmetrical composition. A versatile plant, it’s easy to grow in a variety of conditions.

Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’ (Sundance Mexican Orange) produces bold yellow-green new growth that matures to a vibrant grass-green. This bright foliage creates dynamic combinations with other colorful foliage such as blue, gray, burgundy and dark purple. Tolerant of many soil types, but needs some sun for the best color.

Elaeagnus pungens ‘Maculata’ (Maculata Golden Elaeagnus) has dramatic leaves with chiffon yellow centers that contrast with rich, two tone-green margins. Each leaf of the plant has a different pattern, giving the plant amazing depth and texture. You’ll find it performs well in sun or shade. It’s perfect for a dark spot in your garden.

Fatsia japonica ‘Camouflage (Camouflage Japanese Aralia) has big palmate leaves and highly textured yellow, lime, and green foliage that will illuminate the dappled shade locations where it does best. The large leaves and open habit give it an exotic, almost tropical look.

Ligustrum sinense ‘Sunshine’ (Sunshine Ligustrum) has intense golden-yellow foliage that makes a statement. Plant it en masse, or as part of a vibrant foliage combination, or use it as a centerpiece in a container garden. Be sure to use this plant strategically, ensuring it will not visually dominate a combination planting. Not that this ligustrum requires a sunny location.

As you create the master plan for your garden, keep in mind that artful composition—balanced with repetition for continuity—will minimize seasonal downtime and ensure that all parts of your garden flow together seamlessly from just about any viewpoint. Avoid the temptation of random plant selections! You want to make sure whatever you plant is part of a thoughtful, comprehensive plan.

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or the best plants for any spot in your garden.

When Is The Ideal Time To Plant?

Acer griseum (Paperbark Maple)

Fall’s cooling air and still-warm soil are ideal for establishing new transplants. Perennials and evergreens alike can establish root systems before winter—and they require less water as the weather cools down and precipitation is more likely.  

If you are not ready to plant but garden projects are on your mind, fall and winter are great times to think about changes to your garden that would make it more enjoyable at this time next year or plan a new one.

Last spring I wrote the following, and it’s worth repeating now:

Consider making a list of goals for your garden and prioritizing them in case you can’t get to everything you would like to do this year. A garden log is an easy way to stay on track, measure your progress, and celebrate your accomplishments. You can add notes throughout the year as new ideas come to mind.

Gardens are built over time, improving as they mature, and benefitting from adjustments along the way.

Here are some basics to consider when setting out your priorities:

  • Screening and privacy. Do you have the coverage you want when deciduous trees lose their leaves?
  • Circulation. Are pathways and patios in the best location? Is it easy to walk the entire garden and keep your feet dry?
  • Structure. Are garden focal points and plant groupings positioned to provide good views from inside the house as well as in the garden?
  • Winter color. Do your perennial borders need something added to create dormant season interest? Would evergreen color and texture add depth?
  • Outdoor living. Would a covered outdoor structure create a quiet, dry place to get out of the house and enjoy your garden on a rainy winter day?

If you’re looking for more ideas, please contact me for a design consultation to learn about landscape design or the best plants for any spot in your garden.

Deciduous Delights

Birch trunksNovember is a great time to plant deciduous trees. With fall foliage all but gone, trees with interesting bark take center stage, giving a new dimension to the winter landscape. Many deciduous trees also bloom in early spring, before most other flowering plants, making them a welcome sight after a long winter.

Bring in Jaquemontii Birch trees to create layers that pop when set against a backdrop of dark conifers and other broadleaf plants and trees. Their bright white trunks and branches reflect light and cast dramatic long shadows in the low winter sun. Add early blooming white Snowdrops and Helleborus for lovely bright spots that relieve the post holiday-doldrums. If a stone patio or walkway is part of your plan, considering incorporating silvery quartzite that sparkles as it reflects light. Up-lighting and elegant holiday lights can add an almost-ethereal dimension.

Red Twig Dogwood, the handsome Paperbark Maple, and the exotic-looking Snakebark Maple also have striking bark that stands out in the winter landscape. Plant the trees in groves for a dramatic affect on a large property or use one in a planter to create a focal point on a tiny in-city balcony.

You might not spend as much time outdoors this winter but a look out the window at a beautiful winter garden can lift the spirits on even the darkest days.

Contact us to learn more about garden planning, landscape design, and fall planting.