As the long summer days cycle into cooler, shorter days, warm-season plants slow their floral displays and your garden plants get ready for winter. Bring additional color into your cool-season landscape and a sense of the changing seasons by using shrubs with red fall leaves. Sometimes the red combines with other autumnal hues, such as oranges and purples, but the overall effect enriches and enlivens your yard. The color the shrubs give you each fall varies with the local climate and the individual plant.
The fall leaf colors of oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia), which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, can range all the way from purple-red to orange-red to bright red. The compact, 4- to 7-foot-tall cultivar "Snowflake" provides showy, long-lasting, cone-shaped flower clusters. The flowers change color as they age, providing a medley of white, green and rose in one cluster. Another shrub with bright red foliage, Japanese maple "Red Dragon" (Acer palmatum dissectum "Red Dragon") hints at its apple-red fall color in the deeply colored red-purple summer leaves. This slow-growing shrub grows to only 5 feet tall and wide, has deeply cut leaves and grows in USDA zones 5 through 8.
Southern highbush blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) develop the brightest red leaf color in the cooler parts of their hardiness range, tending to be evergreen in mild winter areas. They offer the chance to grow blueberries in areas of low winter chill. Shrubs can be 6 to 8 feet tall and up to 3 feet wide. Try giving them the coldest microclimate in your yard to induce brighter fall color. The southern highbush "O'Neal" blueberry (Vaccinium x "O'Neal"), which grows in USDA zones 5 through 9, needs only 400 winter chill hours to bear well. "Misty" (Vaccinium x "Misty") produces early season, sweet blueberries after 300 chill hours, growing in USDA zones 5 through 10.
"Moyer's Red" heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica "Moyer's Red") has more red color to the red berries and to the red to purple-red fall leaves than the species does. The foliage and the berries tend to stay on the plant in the winter, prolonging the colorful effect. The 6-foot-tall shrub grows in USDA zones 6a through 10b. Heavenly bamboo can be invasive in some areas. Doublefile viburnum "Shasta" (Viburnum plicatum f. tomentosum "Shasta"), which grows in USDA zones 5b through 8, has its horizontally spreading branches completely covered with white flowers in spring. The red summer fruits are soon eaten by birds. Fall foliage is purplish-red to maroon.
Shrubs with red leaves and purple undertones provide contrast and subtle variations to color your yard. Colorful berries that change hues as they ripen add even more interest. Possumhaw viburnum Brandywine (Viburnum nudum "Bulk") has highly ornamental berries with pink and blue berries present in the same berry cluster. White spring flowers show well against deep green leaves, which turn to various shades of maroon to dark red in fall. Pink and blue berries also occur on "Winterthur" smooth witherod viburnum (Viburnum nudum "Winterthur"), but not at the same time. The green fruits first turn bubblegum pink, and then change to a deep blue in the fall, a marked contrast to the maroon and red fall leaves. Both these shrubs grow to 6 feet tall in USDA zones 5 through 9.
- Fine Gardening: Showy Shrubs for Fall
- Monrovia: Red Dragon Japanese Maple
- University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources: Selecting Fruit, Nut and Berry Crops for Home Gardens in San Mateo and San Francisco Counties
- Monrovia: O'Neal Blueberry
- Plant Lust: Nandina Domestica "Moyer's Red"
- The United States National Arboretum: Viburnum Plicatum f. Tomentosum "Shasta"
- Missouri Botanical Garden: Viburnum Nudum "Bulk" Brandywine
- Monrovia: Misty Early Season Blueberry