The trees are just past the peak of their gorgeous autumn colours. But how many blazing red sugar maples can I pack into my front garden? Not many, in fact, none at all. I’ve been trying to find small shrubs (or shrubs I can trim to a reasonable size) that will take on bright autumn hues. My first effort was red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia, Zone 5), a leggy shrub with charming white flowers in spring, clusters of black berries and brilliant wine-red fall colour. It was probably not the best choice, as Aronia species tend to sucker and make colonies as they mature, and are better placed in a less confined site. But that never became an issue because Japanese beetles quickly discovered my two Aronia shrubs, and skeletonized the leaves long before the temperature dropped in autumn. I had to remove them, and scored another one for the voracious beetles.
Next, I planted a dwarf Japanese maple called ‘Pixie’ (Acer palmatum ‘Pixie’, Zone 6), with a mature height of about eight feet (2.5 m); mine is now five feet (1.5 m) tall. The leaves are dark maroon in summer, turning to flaming red in fall. This little tree has a tight, bushy habit with many side branches and looks exactly like a miniature ‘Bloodgood’ Japanese maple. It’s never had any dieback through three winters, and in colder zones it could probably be grown in a large container and taken into a garage for winter storage. I also have a lace-leaf ‘Viridis’ Japanese maple (A. p. dissectum ‘Viridis’, Zone 6) in the garden, and it’s a strong grower with gold and orange colours this week.
Last year I added a dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla x intermedia ‘Mount Airy’, Zone 5), with honey-scented white bottle-brush flowers and gold stamens appearing in spring on naked branches, a lovely picture in the early light. The shrub’s form is open and airy, with graceful wand-type stems holding green to blue-green small leaves that turn gorgeous orange-apricot flushed with raspberry in autumn. It’s quite a lovely specimen today, and will perhaps heighten in colour before dropping its leaves. This is a real winner!
I feel I’m making headway with adding autumn shrub colour, and have one more plant to pursue, the common hedge cotoneaster (Cotoneaster lucidus, Zone 5). This cotoneaster has small, lustrous dark green leaves and the potential to be a vigorous grower; but it has a sparse root system, and that makes it not so difficult to get out of the ground if necessary. It is also tolerant of hard pruning (hence the use for hedging), and will accept poor, dry soil. This is the kind of shrub that can mask a compost area (my potential purpose for it), or can be set into a vacant corner to fill space in summer, but will turn to flaming red in autumn.
My goodness, but I’m already making a spring shopping list!
Others posts by Judith: