Top Shrubs for Fall Performance

Shrubs have always been the backbone of good garden design, but with recent improvements to flowering, foliage color and plant form they are becoming popular for more than their structural assets.   

The merits of this new generation of shrubs transform their purpose from hedges and backdrops to something more like a perennial; a low maintenance perennial with interesting attributes in each season.  Many of the shrubs are especially dramatic when the garden is clothed in the brilliant hues of autumn. 

Here is a list of a few exceptional shrubs for the fall garden.

Proven Winners Caryopteris Sunshine BlueCaryopteris SUNSHINE BLUE®
Caryopteris incana 'Jason' ppaf, cbraf
Autumn Appeal:  Late summer and early fall blooms are rich blue.  A beautiful contrast to the large, bright yellow leaves. 
Hardiness:  Zone 5
Bloom Time:  Mid to late summer
Bloom Color:  Rich, amethyst blue
Foliage Color:  Sunny yellow
Size:  3 feet tall, 2 feet wide
Exposure:  Full sun
Soil:  Well-drained, loose soil. Does not like wet soil.
Pruning: In Northern states, this plant will dieback to the ground though roots are hardy. In the South, cut back in late fall or early spring if needed. 
Watering: Medium moisture
Of Note:  Although cold hardy to Zone 5, northern gardeners may experience some die back in Caryopteris plants.  As the blooms are produced by new growth, this will not affect summer flowering.  The flowers and foliage have a pleasant scent, and may be cut for use in arrangements.

Proven Winners Euonymus Fire BallEuonymus FIRE BALL®
Euonymus alatus 'Select'
Autumn Appeal:  Vivid scarlet fall foliage on a compact form.
Hardiness:  Zone 4
Size:  5-7 feet tall, 3-5 feet wide
Exposure:  Full sun
Soil: Tolerant of most soils except extremely wet conditions. pH adaptable.
Pruning: Withstands heavy pruning at any time, but best done in late fall.
Watering: Medium moisture but does not tolerant drought.
Of Note: Other varieties of burning bush may experience stem die-back during harsh winters; FIRE BALL® has had no winter damage even in the coldest of winters.

Proven Winners Limelight HydrangeaHydrangea 'Limelight'   
Hydrangea paniculata 'Limelight' pp# 12874, cbraf
Autumn Appeal:  Bright green summer blooms persist into autumn when they become tinted with deep pink. The fall foliage is green with a tinge of yellow and sometimes reddish-purple.
Hardiness: USDA Zone 3
Bloom Time: Begins in late July - early August and remains showy through autumn.
Bloom color:  Soft lime green, not affected by pH like Hydrangea macrophyllas.
Foliage color: Dark Green
Size: 6 to 8 feet high and wide with age. Can be easily maintained as a smaller plant or trained into a small tree
Exposure: Full sun to light shade
Soil: Prefers good, loamy soil. Most adaptable of all hydrangeas to different soil types. Most urban tolerant and very difficult to kill.
Pruning: Best if done in late fall or early spring. Blooms on new wood. Make sure to prune off spent flowers when they turn brown.
Watering: Medium moisture. Will tolerant drought.
Of Note: The flowers are large ranging from 6 to 12 inches long and are held upright on the shrub. The blooms are evenly distributed, making for an effective floral display.  'Limelight' blooms are great cut flowers in both fresh and dried bouquets. 

Proven Winners Pinky Winky HydrangeaHydrangea PINKY WINKY™
Hydrangea paniculata 'DVPpinky' 16,166, cbraf
Autumn Appeal:  Blooms open cream and mature to pink in the fall.  Foliage is green with a slight hint of yellow or reddish-purple.
Hardiness:  Zone 4
Bloom Time:  Mid-Summer to Frost
Bloom Color:  Bicolor – white darkening to pink in the fall, not affected by pH.
Foliage Color:  Green
Size:  6 – 8 feet
Exposure:  Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Prefers good, loamy soil. Most adaptable of all hydrangeas to different soil types. Most urban tolerant and very difficult to kill.
Pruning: Best if done in late fall or early spring. Blooms on new wood. Make sure to prune off spent flowers when they turn brown.
Watering: Medium moisture. Not as water dependent as Hydrangea macrophylla. Will tolerant drought.
Of Note:  The stems are extra sturdy and don't hang low under the weight of the extra large blooms.

Proven Winners Little Henry IteaItea LITTLE HENRY®
Itea virginica 'Sprich' pp# 10988
Autumn Appeal:  This North American native plant has green summer foliage that changes to brilliant orange in autumn.
Hardiness:  Zone 5
Bloom Time:  Summer
Bloom Color:  White
Foliage Color:  Green
Size:  2-3 feet tall, 3 feet wide
Exposure:  Full sun to shade
Soil: Best if planted in moist, wet areas. Once established it can be quite drought tolerant.
pH adaptable.
Pruning: Itea sets bud on the previous year's stems so it best to prune immediately after the shrub blooms.
Watering: High moisture. Native to swampy and boggy areas.
Of Note: Itea is one of the most adaptable plants.  Although it prefers moist soils, it is drought tolerant as well.  It will grow in full sun to full shade, and requires little pruning or other maintenance.

Proven Winners Golden LanternsLeycesteria GOLDEN LANTERNS®
Leycesteria Formosa 'Notbruce' ppaf
Autumn Appeal: With sunny yellow foliage, red new growth and pendulous flowers, Golden Lanterns® is already a colorful shrub.  In autumn it produces dark purple fruit to add to the kaleidoscope of colors.   
Hardiness:  Zone 6
Bloom Time:  Mid-summer
Bloom Color:  Pendulous, 4-inch long white with dark purplish red bracts
Foliage:  Bright yellow with reddish new growth
Fruit:  Dark purple
Size:  3-5 feet tall and wide
Exposure:  Full sun to partial shade
Soil: Any fertile soil. Thrives in wet conditions near ponds.
Pruning: Best if done in late fall or early spring. Tolerant of hard pruning.
Watering: High moisture.
Of Note: The edible berries taste like caramel or chocolate. Golden Lanterns® does best if planted in Spring.  In the north this is a dieback shrub; extra thick mulch may be needed in colder climates.

Proven Winners Coppertina PhysocarpusPhysocarpus COPPERTINA™
Physocarpus opulifolius 'Mindia' pp#16,371
Autumn Appeal:  Rich red foliage with bright red berries.  The bark on older plants exfoliates into papery strips providing winter interest as well. 
Hardiness:  Zone 3-8
Bloom Time:  Mid Summer
Bloom Color:  White
Foliage:  Copper in Spring
Size:  8-10 feet high, 5-6 feet wide 
Exposure:  Full sun
Soil: Adaptable to difficult situations. Withstands acidic and alkaline soils.
Pruning: Best if done immediately after bloom.           
Watering: Medium moisture. Can tolerant dry conditions once established.
Of Note:  Coppery spring foliage turning red in fall, summer flowers and interesting bark make this deciduous shrub interesting in all four seasons.

Proven Winners Brandywine ViburnumViburnum BRANDYWINE™
Viburnum nudum 'Bulk'
Autumn Appeal:  Loads of berries that transform from green to shades of vivid pink and blue.  Foliage turns dark maroon in autumn.
Hardiness:  Zone 5
Bloom Time:  Early Summer
Bloom Color:  White
Foliage Color:  Green
Size:  5-6 feet
Exposure:  Full sun to partial shade
Soil:  Well-drained, loose soil. 
Of Note: Deer resistant.  A great companion for 'Winterthur' because planting two distinct clones in close proximity results in bumper crops of berries.

Proven Winners Weigela GhostWeigela Ghost™
Weigela florida 'Verweig' pp# 16,824, cbraf
Autumn Appeal:   The lemony foliage transforms to a butter cream color by the end of summer.
Hardiness:  Zone 4 to 8
Bloom Time:  Spring
Bloom Color:  Dark red
Foliage Color:  Iridescent yellow green leaves change to luminous butter cream color as season progresses 
Size:  5' tall x 4'wide
Exposure:  Full sun
Soil: Adaptable to most
Pruning: Prune to shape in late winter/early spring; again after flowering to encourage reblooming.     
Watering: Medium moisture
Of Note:   This shrub will rebloom if lightly pruned after flowering. 


Proven WinnersThe plants featured in this article are from Proven Winners®.  Visit to find a retailer in your area.


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