Find fall color in shrubs

November 21, 2007 lawanda Newspaper Columns

      Tourism officials in Vermont are concerned that the fall color the last four years has been less than spectacular, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars in tourist spending.  Many scientists are attributing the lack of vibrant leaf color to global warming.  “Leaf peeping” isn’t quite as big a business here in Wisconsin, but this year’s fall color definitely didn’t measure up to past years.

      In mid-September I traveled through the arrowhead of Minnesota.  The fall color was amazing and I looked forward to the same around home a few weeks later.  But this year the spectacle never arrived, at least in the places that I frequent.  There were a few nice red or orange maples, but for the most part, the leaves went from green to dull to the ground, skipping their brilliant performance in between.

      We didn’t get the cool nights necessary for the bright colors to put on their show.  I was also disappointed this year in the fall color of my ‘Gold Flame” spirea that usually rivals the color of trees on any October calendar photo.  Another disappointment came from my pear tree.  Other years it turned a gorgeous red-orange that added enjoyment to my view out the kitchen window as I did the dishes.  This year the leaves went straight from green to brown to down.

      Some shrubs in my yard were able to put on their autumn show despite the lack of cool weather.  The most vivid display was put on by the cutleaf sumac.  The pure reds, oranges and yellows were a bright spot in the back corner of the yard.  Another reliable performer was the burning bush (pictured) which definitely lived up to its name, holding onto its scarlet leaves for at least a month.  The Virginia creeper that grows on the back fence provided a nice tapestry of fall color as well.  Red chokeberry, red twig dogwood, and highbush cranberry also seemed unaffected by the change in climate.  Still pretty but not quite as vivid as in years past, were the hazelnut and serviceberry shrubs.

      The lack of impressive color in the trees has forced me to look for color elsewhere.  The shrubs I’ve mentioned have provided some sparkle, and so have some flowers.  ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum keeps its deep burgundy flowerheads long after other flowers have turned brown.  Annual flowers like calendula and marigolds can stand a light frost and continue to bloom in bright golds, oranges and yellows.  If protected from frost, cheerful red geraniums still look great, as do bright gold nasturtiums.

      In the absence of dazzling fall colors in the trees we have to look downward to our shrubs and flowers.  And instead of expecting a show of crayon box red, orange and yellow we will have to learn to look closer and train our eyes to appreciate the more subtle hues like burgundy, honey, coffee, wheat, rust, cinnamon and sand.

Trees and Shrubs


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