Looking for a shrub with leaves that turn brilliant shades in autumn? Here are 8 outstanding choices.
Redvein enkianthus produces clusters of bell-like, creamy white flowers in spring through early summer. Luminescent red veins on the flowers give this shrub its colloquial name. Its deep green leaves transform into striking shades of yellow, orange and red in fall. The horizontal gray branches with upright red twigs offer some winter interest.
Habit: Redvein enkianthus has an upright, spreading habit, generally growing 6 to 15 feet in height with a similar spread.
How to grow it: Redvein enkainthus is a slow- growing shrub that thrives in well-drained, acidic soil. It prefers full sun to part shade and it is most successful in Zones 5 through 8.
Oakleaf hydrangea meets all the requirements of an excellent garden shrub: year-round interest; beautiful flowers; long bloom time; interesting foliage; and ease of care, including pruning. It puts forth large flower heads in the summer, against a backdrop of large, lobed leaves. The foliage turns to reds and purples in the fall. The leaves fall to reveal this shrub’s exfoliating bark in winter.
Habit: The species can reach 12 feet tall and wide, but newer varieties offer smaller dimensions.
Origins: Riverbanks and damp woodlands of the southeastern United States.
How to grow it: Site oakleaf hydrangea in full sun or part shade. It prefers moderate moisture and good drainage. It can tolerate some drought once it is established in the soil. Like bigleaf hydrangea (H. macrophylla), this shrub sets its flower buds on old wood, so avoid pruning it in the fall, winter or spring. If pruning is necessary, do so immediately after the bloom. Zones 5–9. (To protect the flower buds, provide a winter mulch and a burlap wrap in Zones 5 and 6.)
Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum
Doublefile viburnumn boasts showy spring flowers and red to purple fall foliage. This beautiful garden shrub also has a very nice branch structure, which gives it some year-round appeal as an architectural element in the garden. White flowers appear in mid- to late spring. These flowers consist of large florets that ring a center of tiny ball-like florets. Flowering can be profuse. Birds enjoy the red to black berries that follow. The four-inch, broadly oval leaves are dark green in summer and turn red and purple in fall.
Habit: Deciduous shrub that grows 10 to 12 feet tall and 12 to 15 feet wide, with very even horizontal branching that gives a ladder- or pagoda-like effect.
How to grow it: Grow this viburnum in average soil with moderate watering. Drainage should be good. Doublefile viburnum will grow in full sun or part shade. It can tolerate some drought, but it does best with even watering. If the shrub needs pruning, do so just after it finishes flowering. USDA Zones 5–8.
This coarse-textured deciduous shrub has large, white spring flowers and golden fall foliage. It is a great flowering shrub for the shade. Its flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and overall it is a deer-resistant plant. The large spikes of white flowers appear in late spring through early summer. They look very much like bottlebrushes, as the common name suggests. Inedible nuts called buck- eyes develop in the warmer regions of its growing range. The large compound leaves, made up of five to seven leaflets, give the shrub a bold, coarse texture. The leaves are medium green in summer and they turn golden yellow in fall.
Habit: Deciduous suckering shrub, 8 to 12 feet tall and wide.
Origin: Rich woods of the lower southeastern United States, into northern Florida.
How to grow it: Grow bottlebrush buckeye in part shade to full shade. It prefers evenly moist, well-drained soils, but it tolerates wet soil as well. The seeds and foliage are poisonous if ingested. Zones 4–8.
Chokeberry is a medium-size deciduous shrub with a delicate spring bloom, long-lasting red berries and bright red fall foliage. Its attributes make it a good substitute for invasive burning bush (Euonymus alatus). Its common name comes from the sour taste of its fruit. Birds generally eat its berries only after they have exhausted other food sources and cold temperatures have mellowed the flavor, so this shrub’s ornamental quality persists deep into winter. ‘Brilliantissima’ is a cultivar often seen at retail; it is slightly more compact than the species and it boasts even brighter red fall color and fruit. This is a good plant for spring pollinators and fall and winter birds.
Habit: Deciduous vase-shape shrub, 6 to 10 feet tall and 3 to 5 feet wide.
Origin: Open swamps and bogs and dry thickets of eastern North America, from New Brunswick and Ontario south through New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the Southeast and the Gulf States.
How to grow it: Grow chokeberry in full sun to part shade. Its growth is fuller and more compact in sun, and the berry production is better. Chokeberry adapts to a wide range of soil types and conditions (wet to dry), as long as drainage is halfway decent. It may slowly spread by suckers; remove suckers if a colony is not wanted. It is less likely to sucker in full sun. Zones 4–9.
SCARLET BEAUTY VIRGINIA SWEETSPIRE
Itea virginica Scarlet Beauty (‘Morton’)
This shade-loving shrub blooms in summer, with drooping clusters of white flowers with a delicate fragrance. It maintains a small, compact shape with- out pruning. Its foliage turns from medium green to scarlet red in fall and the colorful leaves will persist through a hard frost. The foliage may even hang on through winter in the warmer zones.
Habit: Deciduous shrub, 3 to 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide.
Origin: Itea virginica is native to swamps and freshwater shorelines of the southeastern U.S. This variety was selected in 1999 by horticulturist Kris Bachtell at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., and released for sale in 2011.
How to grow it: Virginia sweetspires prefer moist to wet acidic soil. This variety is noted to tolerate neutral or alkaline soils better than other selections or the straight species. It grows best in partial shade, but it will tolerate full sun if given adequate moisture. Zones 4–9.
Crapemyrtles are instantly recognizable by their beloved frothy flowers that appear throughout summer. These large shrubs or small trees can also offer interesting exfoliating bark and vivid fall color from their leaves.
Habit: Crapemyrtle grows as a multitrunked small tree or a large shrub. It can reach 30 feet tall in warm regions, but it remains much smaller in colder areas where winter temperatures kill it back to the ground.
Origin: Lagerstroemia species are native to Asia. Several species have been used to create the cultivars found in gardens.
How to grow crapemyrtle: Site crapemyrtle in full sun or partial shade. Full sun will result in the best flowering. They tolerate clay soil but require good drainage. They flower best with little to no fertilizing and can withstand drought once established, though they prefer more regular watering. Varieties can be found that are hardy from Zones 6–9. In Zone 6, the top growth is not hardy but the roots are; the plant can be cut to the ground in winter with the expectation that it will resprout in spring. This may be possible in Zone 5, too. Provide a winter mulch in the colder areas of its range.
‘AUTUMN AMBER’ SKUNKBUSH (OR SUMAC)
Rhus trilobata ‘Autumn Amber’
Rhus trilobata ‘Autumn Amber’ has lustrous, aromatic, deep green foliage that changes into radiant shades of amber, yellow, orange and red in fall. In spring, before the new leaves emerge, bundles of tiny yellow- green flowers bloom, followed by rounded red fruits that persist until winter. This low shrub makes a distinctive woody groundcover.
Habit: ‘Autumn Amber’ sumac typically reaches 18 inches in height and 6 to 8 feet wide.
Origin: This is a selection of a species native to dry slopes, canyons and streambanks of western North America, where it’s also known as skunkbush.
How to grow it: Skunkbush sumacs will grow successfully in most well-drained soils in full sun to part shade. These low-maintenance, low-growing shrubs are drought-tolerant, requiring little watering to flourish. Zones 4–8.
Image credits: Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum by Oregon State University/CC BY-SA 2.0; Enkianthus campanulatus by Koichi Oda/CC BY-SA 2.0; Aesculus parviflora by F. D. Richards/CC BY-SA 2.0; Aronia arbutifolia by Joe Calhoum/CC BY-SA 2.0; Itea virginica: public domain; Crapemyrtle by carlfbagge/CC BY 2.0; Rhus trilobata by USFWS Mountain-Prairie/CC BY 2.0; Oakleaf hydrangea by Michele Dorsey Walfred/CC BY 2.0