Disanthus produces great reds for fall

Great Woody Plants for Fall Color

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Henry Homeyer

Think Beyond Maples!

This foliage season seems like a great one to me. Plenty of brilliant colors, and the maple leaves have been holding onto the trees nicely even now, past mid-October. I’ve been enjoying the yellows, too, and not lamenting an occasional dearth of red on some hillsides.

I like yellows. They contrast nicely not only with the sky, but with the greens of pines and hemlocks. There are plenty of them, too. Beeches turn a nice yellow. Birches turn yellow. Moose maple (Acer pennsylvanicum), despite its maple status, only turns yellow. Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana) not only has yellow blossoms now, it has yellow leaves. In fact, yellow is much more common a fall color than red. Most maples turn yellow, too.

Beech trees produce nice yellow, often with a green stripe

But if you want reds, there are plenty trees and shrubs that will provide your favorite color. Oaks, for example, turn color later than the maples, but turn some fabulous colors: not only reds, but mahogany, auburn, burnt sienna and flavors of orange. And many oaks are in no hurry to drop their leaves, holding onto them well into winter, and sometimes even until spring.

Oaks produce nice reds, too

Of the fall red-leafed shrubs, burning bush (Euonymus alatus) is the best known. Unfortunately, it is a thug. Its sale, propagation or transport is banned in most New England states including Vermont and New Hampshire. Why is that? Because its seeds are eaten and then deposited by birds, turning up in our woods – and crowding out our native understory plants. It is from Japan and has no natural enemies.

This burning bush was bird-planted by the side of Rte 120 in Meriden, NH

Although no one can force you to dig out your burning bush, I recommend it. I have two alternatives to offer, neither one terribly well known, but both are easy to grow: large fothergilla (Fothergilla major) and disanthus (Disanthus cercidifolius). Both are relatively slow-growing so pruning is not required very often, if at all. My disanthus is 4 years old and essentially the size it was when I got it at EC Brown Nursery in Thetford, VT. My fothergilla is 10 years old, and now about 5 to 6 feet tall and wide –its mature size.

Fothergilla often displays multiple colors of leaves including purple and red

Fothergilla has the advantage of wonderful spring blossoms, in addition to striking fall foliage. In May it displays white bottle-brush flowers soon after the leaves appear. In the fall it displays great colors late in the foliage season: not only deep reds, but yellow, orange and even purple!

Fothergilla blossoms in May

Disanthus has deep, pure red leaves in the fall. It turns color early, and holds the leaves nicely. It does not have noticeable flowers, but is a handsome rounded shrub all summer with glossy leaves. I got mine at EC Brown Nursery. It is attractive to deer in winter, so after the first year I have attached garlic spikes on the shrub to discourage them, and this has worked. Garlic spikes are like little green clothes pins that contain garlic oils; they available at your garden center.

Disanthus has brilliant deep reds

So enjoy the rest of the foliage season and think about planting some plants just to enjoy for their fall color. Or check them out now at the nursery and buy them next spring. But don’t overlook the yellows! They’re great, too.

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Henry is the author of 4 gardening books. Visit his website by clicking here.  









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