In autumn, we tend to look upward for color on the boughs of trees. But there's a kaleidoscope of color bursting forth right at eye level.
The jewel tones of fall are rearing their heads on fruit-bearing plants and trees, adding new and interesting textures to many plants. And often this flaunting stretches well into winter.
The rest of the year can be more difficult; some plants that bear berries look scrumptious in autumn but pretty darn drab at other times, which makes placing them in your landscape a bit tricky. Situate these plants where they'll be a focal point in autumn but not a draw in the summer.
You can accomplish this by placing plants that bear fruit behind perennials that lose their leaves in the fall. Keep in mind that some berry producers have heavy clusters that are quite visible from afar, while others are subtler in their berry dispersing and may require closer inspection. You might also want to keep in mind the view from the inside of your home.
Be sure to check the height and width of a mature tree or shrub; a crowded specimen won't live up to its full potential. If you plan on placing one of these fruit producers near the home's foundation, be sure to leave enough room for it to grow in all directions.
Favorite berry varieties
Everyone in this area seems to love winterberry; it's a hands-down favorite among landscape experts Mary Olson, owner of Tomorrow Landscape Design in Lawrence, and Ward Upham, horticulture extension associate at K-State Research and Extension.
Olson explains the allure.
"I love winterberry, the deciduous holly," she says. "When all the leaves fall off, they're stunning."
Upham adds, "I like winterberry because the bright red berries make such an excellent autumn show - provided the birds don't eat them first."
Many viburnum varieties also are favorites among Lawrence plant gurus. Upham mentions wayfaring tree, European cranberrybush and Lantanaphyllum as lovely viburnum varieties for this part of the country. But Olson has some advice.
"The berried viburnum is pretty when it's allowed to grow to its full height," she says. "But it takes a big spot, so make sure you have adequate room."
It's easy to confuse male and female berry plants and how to go about getting the fruit desired with these types of flora.
"Many of the berried plants are dioecious (literally 'two houses') rather than monoecious ('one house')," she says. "Dioecious means that you have male flowers on one plant and female flowers on another. This is simply a characteristic of certain species of plants. Named cultivars are normally propagated vegetatively (cutting, for example) rather than from seed. Such vegetative propagation means the progeny are exactly like the parent, including sex.
"Therefore, if you buy a named variety, you know you are getting a male or female. Most people will buy several females and one male (which they can hide behind the females) to ensure fruit."
Chinaberry and American bittersweet are a couple of species that require a male and female plant to bear fruit.
As the leaves fall off of the trees and the ground becomes blanketed with spent color, don't fret. There's plenty of color, texture and food for the birds to be found among the wonderful world of berries.
Bounty of berries
Oregon grapeholly: This plant has a yellow, sweet-smelling spring flower surrounded by leathery leaves. It produces berries in late summer to midwinter. The berries begin a greenish-blue color and become purple-black as the season progresses. The leaves are held all winter and turn a purple-green in the cold.
Redosier dogwood: This plant dons fiery red stems in the winter. Redosier, or red-twig, also sports plump, white berries in late summer. It make a great wildlife cover, and birds adore the fruit. Prune old wood annually to make room for the fresh red twigs to emerge.
Rockspray cotoneaster: This plant has a cascading shape, making it a good choice for sloping areas. With shiny petite leaves and bright red berries that grow in clusters, this is an eye-catcher. Pink flowers bloom in the spring, and the berries are visible from late summer through winter.
Black chokeberry: Has showy, white flowers in the spring, as well as shiny leaves and a plethora of clustered black berries. This plant is very hardy and adaptable, but it's large and needs room to grow. Birds love to live in the chokeberry, but they avoid the tart berries until all other food is gone, leaving the plant full of berries most of the winter.
American bittersweet: This vine bears orange berries that peek out from a more reddish-colored shell. It can be aggressive; Oriental bittersweet is a nuisance that's quite aggressive and will kill trees. Be sure you get American.
Hercules club: Has large bunches of small, purple-black fruits on 10- to 20-inch-long thorny stems. The shrub or small tree dons flowers that are greenish-white.
Beautyberry: A medium to large deciduous shrub that bears abundant berry-like purple fruits that grow in clusters. An inconspicuous plant until its leaves fall and the fruits appear.
Crabapple: An ornamental tree in many varieties. Prairiefire has reddish blooms and red, plump berries; golden raindrops has golden berries; and red jewel bears white flowers and red fruit.
Holly: This plant has red or occasionally black fruit and is mostly an evergreen shrub. Winterberry, however, is deciduous and a prominent fruit bearer.
Viburnum: Mostly a deciduous shrub with red, yellow, orange, black or blue fruits.
Common snowberry: Has blue-green leaves with white and pink flowers in the spring and fruit in the fall. The fruit may be fatal to pets, so beware.
European mountainash: This large tree has white flowers and large clusters of orange-red fruit.
Japanese barberry: Bears small, red fruit in the fall and winter with lovely fall foliage, but it can be invasive and is thorny.
Washington Hawthorn: Has white spring flowers and bright red fruit all winter. Also has thorns and is susceptible to rust.
Serviceberry: This large deciduous shrub/tree has white spring flowers and purple, edible summer fruit.