This time of year, the trees are the stars.
While their leaves are turning brilliant shades of crimson, maize and pumpkin, your garden may have settled into its brown autumn slump.
But you don't have to live with it. A dose of the same color and oomph you worked for all spring and summer can carry over into your fall garden with the right plants.
The ideal garden is a multiseasonal one, but many people blow their garden budgets in the spring, when nurseries tempt with a dazzling array of flora in bloom. But now also is a good time to peruse garden centers, where plants that put on an autumn show are plentiful.
They can be layered into beds and borders, adding spark where spring and summer bloomers are spent. Try placing spring showstoppers, like Shasta daisies, near autumn sedum, then mix in a tall phlox to billow over the void created by the spent daisies.
Plan for every season by investing in some "anchor" plants of constant interest, such as evergreens or an ornamental tree. Dramatic color and texture contrasts create stunning autumn displays. Try a bright red Virginia Sweetspire near a yellow-leafed tree, or the bold foliage of an oakleaf hydrangea paired with a willow amsonia.
Amy Albright, owner of Vinland Valley Nursery, has been busy preparing for the season. In fact, she starts thinking about fall flora a year in advance.
"I've spent the summer collecting and planting new woody plants for this fall and next spring," she says. "You have to experiment. Fall is an excellent time to see plants in their autumn colors, making it easier to select the best placement of scarlets, purples, oranges and yellow foliage throughout your landscape.
"It's also a great time to find places that can be punctuated with evergreen trees, shrubs and ground covers to extend the beauty of a garden into the winter months."
The number of gorgeous fall bloomers has grown with new varieties such as Knock Out roses, which flower from spring until frost and are a great anchor plant. In Albright's opinion, every garden needs a couple of focal points.
"Every garden needs someplace for a small ornamental tree of some sort. No matter the size of the yard, it's nice to create a smaller-scale setting with a beautiful little tree surrounded with complementary plantings. Japanese maples are commonly used, but there are some more unusual choices, including a dwarf ginkgo called 'Chi Chi,' a weeping redbud, a dwarf elm named 'Yatsubusa' and a wonderful dwarf Japanese emperor oak."
Albright has one more suggestion for a fall task that will reap benefits in the spring.
"Together with daffodils and crocus, pussy willows are the plants that make me glad in the spring," she says. "Black pussy willow is an interesting color variation, with deep red stems and jet-black catkins. My spring self always thanks my fall self for having the foresight."
So add a little spice to your autumn landscape by bringing the color from the treetops down to your beds and borders.
Colorful fall flora
Amy Albright, owner of Vinland Valley Nursery, and Jozie Schimke, owner of Earth Flowers, compiled a list of flora that will add color to the autumn landscape: ¢ Seven-son flower: A large shrub with green foliage persisting into November, with creamy white, fragrant flower panicles late summer into October. Long-lasting blooms age to a showy, reddish-pink in October and November. ¢ Witchhazel: A late winter- to very early spring-blooming large shrub. Fragrant blooms of yellow or red, depending on the cultivar, cover the stems before new foliage emerges in spring. Fantastic looking when underplanted with evergreen ground cover. ¢ Sedums: autumn fire and purple emperor are great, the latter having dark leaves with pink flowers. ¢ Knock Out roses: These bloom and bloom and need almost no care. ¢ Plumbago: A beautiful ground cover that has gorgeous blue flowers all summer. In the autumn, its leaves turn a lovely red. ¢ Asters: The wood varieties are outstanding at 12 to 18 inches tall. Among the short asters are Professor Kippenburg and purple dome. The short ones are best in Kansas gardens because they don't suffer from drought in the summer like the tall varieties. ¢ Coral bark Japanese maple: With its neon orange trunk and stems, this tree makes for a fantastic show when planted in front of evergreens or a complementary painted surface. ¢ Curly willow and Harry Lauder's walking stick: Both famous for their twisting branches, these make excellent cut flower arrangements and are a landscape design asset on drab days. ¢ Sumac: Staghorn sumac turns an astonishing red color; tiger eye is a new dwarf that gives a beautiful autumn show as well. ¢ Helianthus first light: This late-blooming sunflower grows about 3 to 4 feet tall and looks like wands covered in small yellow sunflowers. Sometimes it blooms even after the first frost. ¢ Spireas: Petit bleu is a dwarf, and tor is a normal-sized shrub with white flowers until fall, when it then turns red. ¢ Switchgrass: Prairie sky grows about 5 feet tall but has delicate flowers above and within the blue foliage.