How to bring color to your autumn garden
Erik’s Gardening Tips
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By Erik Hagiwara-Nagata  November 19, 2009 05:28 pm

This is a great time to plant almost everything. Cooler day temperatures mean plants are under less transplant stress and warm soil temperatures mean the roots can continue to grow until cold weather sets in.
Fruit trees planted from containers now will be further ahead from later bare root plants. You are more likely to get a crop if your tree is mature enough and has flower buds. I can’t guarantee bees for pollination, though.
Fruit from your fruit trees the very first year means you don’t have to wait to sample the tree-ripened bounty of nature.
Actually, a great many plants can be planted now. Wait until warmer weather if you plant tender things like citrus, semitropical plants or warm weather plants such as annuals for spring and summer. Shade trees benefit from planting now, as well as ornamentals such as flowering dogwoods, magnolias, maples (including Japanese maples), flowering cherry, crabapples and a host of other things will do quite well when planted now.

Colorful blooms of fall
Chrysanthemums are in full season now. You can enjoy spider mums, pompoms, quills (like spider type but without hooked floret tips) and those huge exhibition types - the incurved, reflexed and decorative types. These are all floral designations in describing chrysanthemums, detailing the way the petals are shaped and arranged to give the flower its unique characteristic.
There are still other plants in bloom. Abutilons (flowering maples), flowering gingers, Lobellia laxiflora, some aloes, sedums and a pre-winter favorite, the winter blooming honeysuckle bush is starting now.
Here you will find stiffly arching shrubs (the honeysuckle family is a large one), oval leaves (starting to fall off now) and honeysuckle shaped creamy flowers which are opening from the branches and come in creamy white. They are small but very fragrant.
The shrub is very easy care, tolerating sun to a good amount of shade and the cut branches are wonderful material for the vase.
Japanese and other maples are showing good fall color this year. Many other plants are also showing color or soon will be. Dogwoods are displaying crimson reds, and there will soon be yellows and oranges to accompany those colors. If you have Cornus kousa (one of the Japanese dogwoods), there will likely be abundant pendulous red fruits hanging from the branches as well now. They are edible but insipid and mealy.

Easy and colorful
If you want an easy care ornamental shrub with very showy berry clusters, try some of the Viburnum species. V. opulus (the fruiting forms, not the common snowball bush form which does not fruit), V. sargentii and V. setigerum are relatively easy to come by and will have many hanging clusters of red berries along with the colorful autumnal foliage. These are large shrubs generally, but there are dwarf and semi-dwarf selections if you look hard. They are easy care shrubs, notable in fall seasonal colors of foliage and berries (the berries hang on a long time), and if you have placed them so they have room to fill-in at the mature dimension, they will need almost zero maintenance and give quite a spectacular display of fruits in season annually.

Colors for underfoot
The Japanese forest grass Hakonechloa macra is showy all during the growing season but will soon turn fall colors in bronzes and other autumnal hues before it goes deciduous. It is a special grass, always wonderful and easy care and very forgiving if you miss a watering. It will grow back if not left bone dry for an excessive period of time.
Something along the same lines of accent low-to-the-ground plant is Acorus gramineus. This comes in yellow striped green besides the typical green form and also a white striped form. The yellow variety “Ogon” is tough and easy to care for, sun (water it a lot if it is in a hot location) to shade.
There are also dwarf selections in green and yellow which are showy with easy care. They are sometimes called sweetflag, but just think of them as filler plants and showy if you choose a yellow variety. They are evergreen and look good in rock garden or border plantings, containers.
Container colors for fall
A note about container plantings. You can choose a planting without any flowers and still be very colorful and showy if you choose from among the variegated or colored leaf plants. Heucheras, acorus, hakonechloa, other colored leaf smaller grasses, small succulents (many have colorful leaves, flowers).
This is color for the long term. There will always be color if you choose these since that color comes from the leaves, not the flowers. You can add flowers also for an added bonus. With the cooler season upon us and holidays fast approaching, a colorful container of plants is a warm, cheery greeting to anybody that visits.
Cyclamen come in smaller plant sizes (many of which are fragrant) and they can be permanent. Christmas cactus are wonderful plants with colorful flowers at the tips of jointed stems.
If you get small sized poinsettias, you can add them to the display. Be mindful of what colors you combine together to achieve a pleasing combination.
This is just a starting point and you can have fun making your own selections and combinations. If you are not versed in colors, then by all means visit a library or get an art book explaining details, color and its use. The time tested classic combinations work well, but a quick perusal may reveal unexpected ideas.

Erik Hagiwara-Nagata is the owner of Garden Delights Nursery in Penngrove. He can be reached at 665-9112 or

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