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Explosive Late Fall Colour within the Northwest


Fall is a wonderful time of year in the Pacific Northwest. I enjoy the slower pace in my garden and in my clients’ gardens. My walks around the neighborhood and in parks and gardens make me appreciate the plants that really stand out in the cool, wet late fall weather. Here are some deciduous plants that are easy to grow and that are great color at this time of year.

Cranberry-red leaves of heart-leaved Disanthus glow pink in the light of the sun. Photo: Richie Steffen

Heart-leaved Disanthus

Disanthus cercidifolius, zones 5-8

Heart-leaved Disanthus, also called Redbud Hazel, is a less common shrub with amazing fall color. The heart-shaped leaves turn yellow, then red and purple. Even smaller specimens that weren’t yet fully developed kept me on my toes with their lush autumn show. Give this slow grower some space as it will mature in a vase shape like a witch hazel (Hamamelis spp. And cvs., Zones 3-9) and grow to be 10 to 20 feet tall and wide. It appreciates dappled light and shows fall colors even in shadier areas. Well-drained, moderately rich, acidic soil with plenty of summer water will make this plant happy.

Arnold promise witch hazelThe fall leaves of ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel often show many different colors at the same time – like these leaves that turn both yellow and purple. Photo: Jason Jorgensen

‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel

Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, zones 5–8

‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel is one of my favorites for fall colors, with the bonus of later winter blooms. Hamamelis × intermedia is a mixture of Japanese witch hazel (Hamamelis japonica, zones 5–8) and Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis, zones 5–8). ‘Arnold Promise’ is one of the best varieties of this cross. The leaves last a long time and change to yellow, orange, red and purple in autumn. It is heavily adorned with fragrant, bright, lemon-colored flowers in late winter. I have an “Arnold Promise” in my own garden and it is growing faster than I expected. ‘Arnold Promise’ matures 12 to 15 feet tall and wide and is vase-shaped. Grow this witch hazel in partially sunny locations with regular moisture in rich, well-drained, acidic soils for a wonderful, multi-colored fall display.

Silver vein creeper changes colorEven when the silver vein creeper changes from green to warmer colors in the fall, it retains its waxy sheen and silver hue, and gives its foliage a uniquely metallic look. Photo: Jason Jorgensen

Silvervein Creeper

Parthenocissus henryana, zones 6–9

Silvervein Creeper is an excellent vine to grow on an arbor, fence, or garden shed. This grape relative has beautiful dark green leaves with silver central ribs, which give it its common name. It shares some similar traits to its relative Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata, Zones 4–10), such as beautiful fall colors and suction cups that allow it to adhere to garden structures. However, it’s not that aggressive. Once the cool, humid weather of late fall sets in, this vine really shines. The dark leaves turn astonishingly purple and brighten up gray days. Even when they fall, the leaves are beautiful; The backs are also dark red. A terrace or path covered with them looks breathtaking. Make sure you are growing this vine in a sunny spot for the best fall color. It grows well in neutral soils with normal water until it is established and has little water requirements after that. This smaller vine grows 15 to 20 feet tall and wide, which is perfect for a smaller garden fence or arbor.

You can find more fantastic plants with autumn interests in the following plant recommendations:

Hope you are inspired to take some fall walks this year. Not only will they give you a glimpse of what’s happening in nature, but they may also find a new favorite plant for the fall color.

– Jason Jorgensen is a landscape architect based in Seattle.

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Robert Dunfee