Though I'm usually attracted to cooler colors in the garden like blues, purples and silvers, there is something about the fiery tones of fall which make me appreciate the warm browns, rich oranges and bright yellowy golds which make up the autumn palette. Pumpkins and apples, fallen leaves and exfoliating brown bark; if the colors of these fall favorites are speaking to you as well, here are some plants you can use to incorporate this range of hues into the landscape year round.
Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), is a softly textured deciduous fern to 3 feet tall which has bronzey orange new growth and striking rust colored undersides to the fronds.
'Teddy Bear' Rhododendron (Rhododendron 'Teddy Bear') is a 4-foot-tall dwarf rhododendron with reddish-brown fuzz covering the undersurface of the leaves and dusting the new growth. It makes a great pairing with evergreen magnolias, which share that attribute.
Michelia (Michelia yunnanensis), a magnolia relative, is an elegant shrub with dark olive-green leaves, and fragrant white flowers in spring which emerge from rich, velvety-brown buds. It can reach 15 feet tall if unpruned, or can be kept to 8 feet in a garden setting. A low-growing form is also available, called 'Free Spirit'.
Red hook sedge (Uncinia uncinata 'Red') is an evergreen ornamental grass with a shimmering cinnamon-orange tone to the foliage. Dark brown flower spikes rise above the foliage in fall, adding excitement to this softly spiky little plant.
'Fireglow' spurge (Euphorbia 'Fireglow') lives up to its name with vivid orange bracts in early summer and often again in fall or winter. Unlike most spurges, which form a well-behaved clump, this spurge tends to spread and works well in areas where you want the drama of a massed planting.
'Wickwar Flame' Scotch heather (Calluna vulgaris 'Wickwar Flame') has light orange foliage in summer, but turns a fiery color with the winter cold. While it does bloom lavender in summer, that's merely a fringe benefit to this colorful ground-hugging plant.
'Solar Flare' pigsqueak (Bergenia 'Solar Flare') emerges in spring with foliage the color of a diluted highlighter, with bright pink blooms setting off the show. While the leaves fade to green after that first spring show, they return in force late in the season with reddish-bronze winter color.
Golden barberry (Berberis thunbergii 'Aurea') is not as well known as its cousin, the ubiquitous 'Rose Glow' barberry, but it's almost as easy to grow. A 6-foot deciduous shrub with arching branches of golden-yellow leaves, it prefers a couple hours of shade in the hottest part of the day, or at least a little supplemental water to help it through.
'Goldcrest' Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa 'Goldcrest') acts as a focal point in a garden bed, with its effervescent lemon-lime foliage and upright, cone-shaped habit. It reaches 12 feet tall in 10 years, so surround it with easygoing shrubs that don't mind being pruned as Goldcrest expands. Use it in a holiday wreath or garland for a shot of color and a citrusy-cypress fragrance.
Once you're done planting, you can tackle the rest of the tasks in November's garden. Though it can be tempting to whack the living daylights out of your messy-looking perennials, if you take the time to adjust your eyes to it, there's a special beauty in the mild disarray of November, with the swaying flowers of ornamental grasses, and the blackened seedheads of many perennials still standing tall. Instead, give your trees, evergreen shrubs and lawns a little love, and prune plants off your home to prevent damage in storms.
Where possible, avoid raking fall leaves until spring to allow native insects, the base of the food chain that feeds spring's baby birds, to overwinter safely in the foliage.
Don't be too quick to tidy up. Ornamental grasses and some perennials such as Sedum 'Autumn Joy' and coneflower (Echinacea) have an interesting habit that is attractive even when brown and the birds love the seeds through fall and winter. (Do cut back profligate spreaders like Japanese anemone, however, unless you want little else in your garden come next fall.)
As you cut back summer bulbs like dahlias and gladiolus, put a small stake in the ground or otherwise mark the spot so you don't dig into them while they're dormant.
It's getting a little late to put in winter color and expect plants to increase in size, so purchase any flowering annuals in 4 inch pots or larger for immediate impact.
Use winterizer fertilizer on lawns, particularly if they look like they're struggling. You can either use a fertilizer specially marked as "winterizer" or do what I do and simply use a regular organic lawn fertilizer which will release slowly through the coming months.
Fertilize camellias, rhododendrons and other hardy evergreens with a half dose of organic fertilizer. This allows them to spread their roots through the winter and continue preparing their buds to bloom.
Plant amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs for holiday blooms.
Prune Japanese maples any time after the leaves have dropped through the end of January. Varieties with colored branches show the best color on new stems, so periodically thinning out older branches can encourage brightly colored new growth.
Thin any trees, especially near the home or pathways. During a storm, if wind can blow through a tree, it is less likely to break branches and cause damage. It's also smart to keep shrubs trimmed off the building to prevent them from scraping the siding on windy days.
Toward the end of the month, apply your first organic dormant spray of copper and horticultural oil to prevent insect eggs and fungus from overwintering in the crevices of buds and bark.
To view expanded to-do lists for every month in your garden, visit www.northcoastjournal.com/Gardentodo.
Genevieve Schmidt is a landscape designer and owns a fine landscape maintenance company in Arcata. Visit her on the web at www.GenevieveSchmidtDesign.com.