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Saturday, July 20, 2024
Growing Together: Bring your fall garden to life with colour
Black gum trees produce vibrant red-orange to red wine colours. JOANNE YOUNG

I think that I have probably said it before, but I just love autumn!

I love when all of the plants start to show off their gorgeous leaf colours and try to outshine the others in the garden.

Even though this fall the colours may not have been quite as strong as other years, you will never hear me say that I am disappointed with such beauty.

So many people say that they don’t like fall because it is followed by winter, but we must take the time to stop and appreciate fall for what it is.

Our gardens can still be a magical place at this time of year.

Here are a few of my favourite plants for fall colour.  

Red maple (Acer rubrum)

When it comes to shade trees, there are few that will stand out as vibrantly as our native red maple tree, not to be confused with the Norway maple, which sports burgundy leaves all summer.

The red maple has smaller green leaves during the summers months and then turns a brilliant red fall colour.

As we are seeing this year, some years the fall colours can vary according to our weather, but this maple is always consistent with its stunning fall leaf colour.

Considered a moderate to fast-growing tree, it can reach a height of 50 to 60 feet high.

There are different cultivars commonly seen for sale: Armstrong red is a more slender growing tree with an upright, pyramidal form, while red sunset has a bit more of a rounded head. It makes for an excellent specimen tree.

Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

The black gum tree (also known as tupelo) is another native to southern Ontario, especially along the shores of Lake Erie.

It is one that has not been used as much in the industry but should be used more often.

The black gum is a moderate tree, which can eventually reach about 60 feet tall.

Its smaller, oval, dark green, glossy leaves add an interesting texture in the summer months.

In late spring, the tree bears small clusters of whitish green flowers that attract bees and other pollinators.

Its small, half inch fruit provides food favoured by foxes, pileated woodpeckers and wild turkeys.

In the fall, the leaves will turn a bright reddish orange to wine red, depending somewhat on the variety of black gum.

The brilliant colour along with the horizontal branching habit makes this tree a great addition to any garden.

Tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

The tulip tree is also a native tree to this area. Its large, tulip-like leaf is easy to recognize.

Its fast-growing nature will provide you with a large shade tree that can reach 70 feet tall and 30 feet wide.

It is also known for its unique yellowish/green tulip-like flowers with orange centres.

In fall, the leaves turn a consistent, brilliant golden yellow in colour.

If you do not have a large space, you may want to consider a much narrower cultivar – the columnar tulip tree (Liriodendron tuliperifera ‘Fastigiata’).

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)

When it comes to fall colour you can never go wrong with any of the varieties of Japanese maples, either an upright growing or in a weeping form.

From brilliant yellows to amber oranges to crimson reds.

The Japanese maples do best in a part shaded location with a well-draining moist soil.

There are so many cultivars to choose from: one of my favourites for fall colour is a small green leaf variety called shishigashira (also known as lion’s mane).

Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenia)

A shrub that does not get near the attention it deserves is fothergilla.

This slow-growing, deciduous shrub bears fragrant, white, bottlebrush-like flowers in late April or early May.

The flowers alone make this worthy of space in your garden.

Its fall colour never disappoints either. The fall leaves are a mix of gold, bright orange and wine-red tones.

The shrub does well in full sun or part shade and in a well-draining soil.

It is a compact growing shrub reaching three to four feet high. Pruning is seldom required!


The family of viburnum is vast. There are too many species and cultivars to mention in this article.

One thing that they have in common is that they’re all very consistent with their fall colour, ranging from copper red to crimson red.

Viburnums can tolerate full sun to shadier locations.

Some species have fragrant, snowball-like flowers and some have more flat-topped, lacey flower clusters.

They are a versatile family of shrubs to consider.

So, if your garden is missing fall colour and you are wanting to extend interest in your garden, these are just a few plants that will make your fall garden magical. 

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca

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