Here in Dallas, we’re not always assured a fabulous fall foliage season when it comes to trees. The key to stunning fall foliage color is warm sunny days, cool nights, and a decent amount of rainfall the previous year or season. It kind of has to be the perfect storm for us to score great fall color. Often, temperatures stay too warm and cloudy right up until a hard frost; then foliage turns brown and drops before it has a chance to turn color. Strong fall tree color happens every few years or so here and we feel lucky when it does. Watching the weather I’d say that we’re looking to be set up for some good fall color this year; but again, there’s no guarantee.
There are, however, certain shrubs and perennials that deliver reliably on foliage color each autumn, regardless of the weather. By incorporating a few of these foliage powerhouses into your landscape, it will still feel like fall even if the trees disappoint.
Nandinas: Sure, you might think they’re boring. But I’m in love with many of the new varieties on the market. Their foliage color is stunning, even through the summer season. Come fall, color is even more intense. ‘Obsession’ is my favorite new selection, growing to only about 3 1/2 feet tall, plants produce rich burgundy and pomegranate colored leaves. An added bonus? Nandinas are super-tough water-wise plants.
Purple Smoketree: Plant one of these as a feature specimen and you’ll not only be rewarded with beautiful purple foliage and puffs of flowers through they spring and summer, but a mix of bright red and orange foliage come fall.
Oakleaf Hydrangea: While their grown primarily for their beautiful big blooms, these shade lovers put on a spectacular show of fall foliage color once temperatures cool.
Japanese Barberry: There’s a profusion of new barberry cultivars available to gardeners these days, with colors ranging from deep crimson, to bright orange to chartreuse. ‘Orange Rocket’ is a particular favorite of mine. Also keep an eye out for Cherry Bomb® and Golden Nugget™. Barberry will exhibit nice color throughout the grower season, but really puts on a show in fall.
There are many other shrubs and perennials that put on reliable fall color. Fall is a great time to shop for foliage color, as you’ll get a preview in the garden center.