Category Archives: fall foliage

My Top Ten Favorite Plants for Shade

 Some of us live in mostly  shade and some of us in the sun.   The choices for sunny locations are many but those of us who garden in shady or partially shady places have a tougher time finding good, reliable plants. 
Looking back over the years, I find that time and again I use one of the following plants in a design for a shady garden.  Sure, every garden is different;  different look, different soil, different degree of shade, but it’s surprising how often one of these plants plays a starring or supporting role in a vignette or border. 

I call them  Jan’s Top 10 Plants for Shade.

#1    Loropetalum chinense or Fringe flower.  This handsome evergreen shrub comes in two versions: green foliage with white flowers or burgundy foliage with raspberry flower clusters. Flowering is heaviest in the spring but some bloom is likely throughout the year.   I place this plant in the foreground where you can appreciate it’s graceful shape.  It looks great as an accent or in a raised bed.   The burgundy form would add color to a woodland garden and they even do well in a container on the patio.   You can prune it to any size but please don’t turn it into a tight ball and ruin it’s shape.    Another plus is that it is not attractive to deer.

#2    Liriope or Lily Turf.     Another deer resistant perennial I use a lot as a ground cover , at the edge of a path, or in a mixed border.  Evergreen grasslike leaves form tufts 18" tall.  They do well along streams or garden pools and compete well with the roots of other plants like at the base of trees or shrubs.  Flower spikes, usually purple, are quite showy.  ‘Big Blue’ is a popular variety that does well in dry shade.  ‘Silvery Sunproof‘ has green strappy leaves with gold stripes that age to white and can take sun.  In shade they stay golden, which is really pretty.

#3    Heuchera or Coral Bells.  There are so many varieties of this perennial these days I hardly know where to start.  Whether native or a hybrid their flower spikes are a hummingbird favorite.  Colorful foliage,  often ruffled or variegated,  can be silver, amethyst, caramel or lime green.   Combine a tawny variety like ‘Caramel‘ with the chartreuse foliage of ‘Citronella‘ in front of taller perennials or as a border edging.  They make good container plants, too.    Plant them where they get a little afternoon shade and they’ll be happy. 

#4    Pieris japonica or Lily of the Valley shrub.  An evergreen shrub with year round interest, this plant blooms early in late winter though early spring , and is covered with little bells for several months.  Starting in fall , when reddish flower buds appear, through summer as new foliage emerges with a red tint there is always something attractive happening with this plant.  Deer resistant also.

#5    Dryopteris erythrosora or Autumn fern.  If you’re looking for brighten up a shady area, this is the fern for you.  New fronds emerge a coppery color unlike any other fern.  Although they appreciate regular water, they will tolerate dry shade in a pinch.  Deer don’t like ferns either.

#6    Hydrangea quercifolia or Oakleaf hydrangea.  Huge showy leaves resembling oaks, turn bronze or crimson in the fall.      White flower clusters , 8" long, bloom in late spring and early summer, turning pinkish as they age.  They  are attractive if left on the plant  for the rest of the season.   This deciduous shrub grows to 6 ft tall and can also be grown in containers.

#7    Hakonechloa or Japanese forest grass.  The most widely grown and I think the most beautiful variety is Aureola‘.  Use this graceful, chartreuse colored grass to lend a classy touch to containers or as an architectural accent to a border or along a path.  In cool weather, the leaves turn pinkish and blend with your other fall foliage.

#8    Nandina or Heavenly bamboo.  Not a true bamboo, this hardy, easy to grow shrub, comes in many forms.  Some are ground covers, some hedges, some narrow accents in restricted places.  Many have bright orange-red foliage in the winter and deer don’t like them. .  It can grow in dry areas and you can harvest the sprays of berries for a holiday wreath. 

#9    Cornus florida or Flowering dogwood.  Check out Cherokee Chief‘ to provide vivid red fall foliage color to your garden as well as scarlet fruit that hangs on the trees in the winter.  This variety bears deep rosy bracts that nearly cover the tree in spring.  Use this small handsome tree as a focal point in the garden.

#10    Acer palmatum or Japanese maple.  ‘Bloodgood‘ is probably the brilliant deep scarlet red maple you’re seeing around town.  In the spring and summer foliage is deep red but in the fall- look out -it turns neon red.  Growing to only 15 ft, this small tree can be placed anywhere , even in a container.

 There are many other great plants that come to mind that I also use and like.  Pacific coast iris, campanula, bush anemone, to name a few.  This is a good time to add some new plants to the shady spots in your garden. 

Originally posted 2008-11-15 12:17:54.

Indian Summer in the Santa Cruz Mountains

We tend to think of September and October as ‘Indian Summer‘  because the weather is balmy,  even on the foggy coast.  The actual definition from the American Meteorological Society describes  ‘a time interval, in mid or late autumn of unseasonably warm weather, generally with clear skies, sunny but hazy days and cool nights.’
Several references make note of the fact that a true Indian Summer can not occur until there has been a killing frost or freeze.  And while we may expect wintery weather to arrive in November or December, here in this part of the world we consider this time of year our Indian summer.

The term ‘Indian Summer’ dates back to the 18th century.  A Frenchman named John de Crevecoeur wrote in 1778 about  ‘an interval of calm and warmth which is called the Indian Summer, it’s characteristics… a tranquil atmosphere.’   No one know if is has anything to do with Indians, either.  It has been speculated that cargo ships in the 1700”s did much of their sailing over the Indian Ocean during the fair weather season in ‘Indian Summer’.  No one theory has been proven and since it’s been centuries since the term first appeared, it will probably rest with it’s originators. 

One thing we do know, fall is the best planting season of the year.  The soil is still warm encouraging root growth, the nights are cooler and days shorter which helps to conserve water, too.  This is a good time if you’re looking to add a new tree to shade the south side of your home, or perhaps start a hedge to screen the road.  If you want to add perennials to a border or start cool season annuals this is the time.

There are lots of deciduous trees to choose from that provide shade in the summer while letting the sun warm the house in the winter.  At this time of year trees with fall color come to mind. 

Maples like October Glory, Autumn Fantasy, Red Sunset and Autumn Blaze have gorgeous crimson red, magenta pink, or scarlet fall foliage,  Growing fairly fast to a mature height of 40-50 ft, they are large enough to provide that much needed summer shade.    Provide them with occasional deep watering and periodic feed to help keep roots deep. 

What about a hedge that screens the neighbor while also producing fruit?  Strawberry guavas can be grown as a 20 ft. single trunk tree, or a 10-15 ft multi-trunked tree , but are more often seen as a shrub 8-10 ft high.  Their 1 1/2" fruit is dark red or nearly black when ripe, with whiteRose of Sharon Red Heart flesh that is sweet but tart.  It can be harvested green and ripened at room temperature and is good eaten fresh or used in jellies, purees and juice drinks.  Even the bark of this evergreen shrub is a beautiful reddish to golden brown.  If you’re looking to add more edibles to your garden this is a good candidate.

Another shrub that would make a good addition to your garden is Rose of Sharon.  This hardy member of the hibiscus family blooms from mid summer until frost.  When dry summers have taken a toll on the rest of your border let this tough plant provide you with spectacular flowers.

There are dozes of varieties from double flowering forms to those with a contrasting eye.  Some reach 10 ft tall but can be pruned to shape.  One smaller one that I particularly like is called‘Red Heart‘.  It blooms with large white flowers with a burgundy eye, grows only 3 ft tall and looks beautiful when combined with the wine red flowers of chocolate cosmos.  Another favorite is ‘Blue Bird’ , a rich lavender blue variety with a deep red eye.  This one grows 3-5 ft tall and fits into the smaller garden, too.  Hibiscus syriacus are easy to grow.  They prefer full sun and tolerate some drought.  They are hardy to -10 degrees so our winters are a picnic for them.

Take advantage of Indian Summer to plant something new.

Originally posted 2008-09-29 11:18:06.

Fall Gardens

Pineapple sage blooming now.

The end of daylight savings time signals to me that autumn is really here in our mild California surroundings. Enjoy these crisp mornings and warm days and to make your garden more compelling, try mixing in late flowering perennials as well as trees and shrubs with bold leaves and a wide range of autumn color.

Sasanqua camellia blooms from fall into winter.

Bright trees and shrubs add color flashes to fall gardens. Sasanqua camellias have already started blooming and will continue to flower throughout the winter. In addition to asters and rudbeckia, Japanese anemones are the stars of the border at this time of year. The electric blue flowers of dwarf plumbago contrast with reddish leaves as night temperatures dip, Encore azalea and Endless Summer hydrangea are blooming now, too.

Other perennials that are blooming now are California fuchsia, Pineapple sage and Mexican bush sage.

California fuchsia

I love my patch of California fuchsia. Starting in the summer and flowering through fall this California native is covered with orange or scarlet-orange flowers that attract hummingbirds like crazy. A great plant along the path or draping over a rock wall this perennial thrives in areas that might fry other plants. Also known as Epilobium canan or Zauschneria it is in the evening primrose family and native to dry slopes and chaparral especially in California.

Mexican Bush Sage

Mexican bush sage look great blooming alongside California fuchsia. Orange and blue are opposite on the color wheel so they look fabulous together. The bright red flower spikes of Pineapple sage look pretty nearby so the whole area is a hummingbird feast.

But what about vivid foliage in the garden? Which plants put on the best show in our area? Here are some of my favorites.

A great tree for the gardener interested in edibles is the Fuyu persimmon. This beautiful small tree is ornamental with glossy green leaves and also offers a dramatic fall display in shades of yellow, orange and red. Bright orange fruit begins to develop in late October and clings to bare branches usually through December. The tree looks more like it’s covered with holiday ornaments than fruit. And have you priced persimmons in the store lately?

Blueberries are a must for the edible gardener. They make a beautiful hedge that provides showy red or yellow fall color. Because of our colder winters here in the mountains, we can grow both northern highbush which are self-fertile and southern highbush which produce better with another type to pollinize them. They can be great foundation plants around the home as well as in the garden.

A vine that lights up with the onset of autumn is Rogers Red California grape. If you have an arbor, wall or fence that need covering quickly, this is your plant. The green and gray leaves are transformed in autumn into great draperies of rich, scarlet red leaves with clusters of summer fruit turning all shades of purple.

Japanese barberries are deer resistant, low water-use small shrubs that make them superb hedge plants, background plants against fences and foundations or accent plants. Red or lime colored summer foliage changes to orange, red or amber in the fall. I love the graceful growing habit of many of the varieties but there are pillar forms and also dwarf types.

Bright foliage on trees like red maples, liquidamber, Chinese pistache, ginkgo, ornamental pear, cherry or crabapple, dogwood, goldenrain, locust, katsura, oak, redbud, sumac and witchhazel all add to the fall drama of the landscape.

Light up your garden as the light fades and the days shorten. I know my garden needs a greater variety of fall color than just the Japanese maples in pots on the deck and the barberries. I’m waiting for my purple smoke bush to turn luminous scarlet and add color flashes to my fall garden.

Fall Color in Your Backyard

Quaking aspen

Soon I’ll be hiking in the Sierra among the native dogwood and hoping I”m not too late to see fall foliage. Last year I enjoyed the display of Quaking Aspen near Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4. Did you know that a massive grove of 47,000 aspen in Utah is one of the largest organisms on the planet? They all share the same genetic material and a single root system. There is a contender for this renown in Oregon where a honey mushroom measuring 2.4 miles across lives in the Blue Mountains. Interesting stuff.

Bloodgood Japanese Maple

Around here I’m just starting to see some trees and shrubs put on their coat of many colors. In my own yard, I have a Bloodgood Japanese maple that has been in full color for a couple weeks now. None of my other maple varieties are showing any color but that’s okay as I’ll be able to enjoy the upcoming show for many months. That is, if strong winds don’t dry out the leaves prematurely. I’ve watered well hoping this won’t happen. Weather conditions play a major part in the intensity of fall color. The time of year is nearly consistent but some years the show is more dramatic than others. The best conditions for intense leaf color to develop are dry sunny days followed by cool, but not freezing nights.

Crape Myrtle

The vivid colors in a leaf are always there. They are just masked by the green chlorophyll which is busy making food by photosynthesis while the sun shines. Come autumn, shorter days and cooler temperatures cause the trees to switch into energy-storage mode and their leaves stop producing chlorophyll. For the few weeks before the leaf falls to the ground it is colored only by natural pigments. It’s these colors – red and purple anthocyanins, yellow and orange carotenoids – that make fall foliage so glorious, sometimes anyway.

Which plants put on the best show in our area? Here are some of my favorites.

Forest Pansy redbud

California native, Cercis occidentalis (Western redbud) turns yellow or red in the fall if conditions allow. This plant is truly a four-season plant starting in spring with magenta flowers, then leafing out with apple green heart shaped leaves. Colorful seed pods give way to fall color. This small native tree or large shrub does well as a patio tree in gardens with good drainage.

Other native plants like spicebush and Western azalea turn yellow or gold in the fall. A native vine that lights up with the onset of autumn is Rogers Red California grape. If you have an arbor, wall or fence that needs covering quickly this is your plant. The green and gray leaves are transformed in autumn into great draperies of rich, scarlet leaves with clusters of summer fruit turning all shades of purple.

Edibles that turn color in the fall include blueberries, pomegranate and persimmons.

Trees and shrubs that do well in our area and provide fall color include Easterm redbud, Chinese flame tree (Koelreuteria bipinnate), ginkgo, Idaho locust, Chinese pistache, crape myrtle, witch hazel, all maples, liquidambar, katsura, dogwood, locust, cherry, crabapple, oakleaf hydrangea, barberry and smoke tree.

Now through late fall is a good time to shop for trees that change colors because you can see in person just what shade of crimson, orange, scarlet or gold they will be.

Quaking Aspen, Fall Color & Climate Change

Inspired by a website called “Dude, Autumn Happens Here, Too” (https://www.californiafallcolor.com/ ) I set off last week to see the quaking aspen groves in the Sierra. As I drove up Highway 4 and over Ebbetts Pass the aspen groves came into view. Markleeville and Monitor Pass displayed some nice color, too. As I enjoyed the fall display I wondered if they would be as beautiful for future generations or if our impact on the environment would cause these glorious trees to change in any way.

Quaking Aspen on Ebbetts Pass, Hwy 4

Quaking aspen (Populua tremuloides) is the most widespread tree species in North America. They generally grow in high altitude areas but also exist at sea level in places like the state of Washington along the Pacific coast where climate conditions are ideal. Quaking aspen provide food for foraging animals and habitat for wildlife. They also act as a fuel break retaining much more water in the environment than do most conifer species.

High mountain systems, such as the Sierra Nevada, are uniquely sensitive to anticipated global climate changes and act as “canaries in the coal mine” to provide early signals of significant climate-driven changes. Research in the Sierra Nevada by Pacific Southwest Research Station, a USDA Forest Service research organization, shows how vegetation has responded to climate in the past and indicates changes than might be coming in the future over the next decade.

Climate has a profound influence in shaping our environment and natural resources. By looking at tree ring records of living and ancient wood and pollen lake sediments present climate can be compared to historic patterns to show climate changes.

Research indicates a complex, unpredictable future for aspen in the West, where increased drought, ozone and insect outbreaks will compete with carbon dioxide fertilization and warmer soils with unknown cumulative effects. They are vulnerable in the face of climate change. Hopefully, we will not lose this wonderful tree in California.

Weather conditions play a major part in the intensity of fall color. The time of year is nearly consistent but some years the show is more dramatic than others. The best conditions for intense leaf color to develop are dry sunny days followed by cool, but not freezing nights.

Which plants put on the best show in our area? Here are some of my favorites.

California native Western redbud turns yellow or red in the fall if conditions allow. This plant is truly a four-season plant starting in spring with magenta flowers, then leafing out with apple green heart shaped leaves. Colorful seed pods give way to fall color. This small native tree or large shrub does well as a patio tree in gardens with good drainage.

Other native plants like spicebush and Western azalea turn yellow or gold in the fall. A native vine that lights up with the onset of autumn is Rogers Red California grape. If you have an arbor, wall or fence that needs covering quickly this is your plant. The green and gray leaves are transformed in autumn into great draperies of rich, scarlet leaves with clusters of summer fruit turning all shades of purple.

Edibles that turn color in the fall include blueberries, pomegranate and persimmons.

Trees and shrubs that do well in our area and provide fall color include Chinese flame tree, ginkgo, Idaho locust, Chinese pistache, crape myrtle, witch hazel, all maples, liquidambar, katsura, dogwood, locust, cherry, crabapple, oakleaf hydrangea, barberry and smoke tree.

The Beauty of Fall

Looks like Indian Summer is over and fall is really here. The trees, especially our own Big Leaf Maples, are showing off their new fall clothes and the rains will soon green up the hills. Will the foliage be as vivid this year?

Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’

Although we don’t get as much fall color as other areas we enjoy what we have just as much. Besides we don’t get snow on Halloween. Enjoy these cool nights and warm days. That’s the combination that brings on the best fall colors.

The vivid colors in a leaf are always there. They are just masked by the green chlorophyll which is busy making food by photosynthesis while the sun shines. Come autumn, shorter days and cooler temperatures cause the trees to switch into energy-storage mode and their leaves stop producing chlorophyll. For the few weeks before the leaf falls to the ground it is colored only by natural pigments. It’s these colors -red and purple anthocyanins, yellow and orange carotenoids – that make fall foliage so glorious, sometimes anyway.

Quaking aspen- Wyoming

Weather conditions play a major part in fall color. Some years the show is more dramatic than others. The best conditions for intense leaf color to develop are dry sunny days followed by cool, but not freezing, nights.

A warm, wet autumn will almost surely result in less-than-spectacular foliage because the process of chlorophyll loss will be less consistent. Freezing temperature meanwhile can cause leaves to drop suddenly denying the opportunity to enter a slow, colorful dormancy.

Which plants put on the best show in our area? Here are some of my favorites.

California native Western redbud turns yellow or red in the fall if conditions allow. This plant is truly a four-season plant starting in spring with magenta flowers, then leafing out with apple green heart shaped leaves. Colorful seed pods give way to fall color. This small native tree or large shrub does well as a patio tree in gardens with good drainage.

Other native plants like spicebush and Western azalea turn yellow or gold in the fall. A native vine that lights up with the onset of autumn is Rogers Red California grape. If you have an arbor, wall or fence that needs covering quickly this is your plant. The green and gray leaves are transformed in autumn into great draperies of rich, scarlet leaves with clusters of summer fruit turning all shades of purple.

Edibles that turn color in the fall include blueberries, pomegranate and persimmons.

more Forest Pansy in fall color

Other trees and shrubs that do well in our area and provide fall color include Chinese flame tree, ginkgo, Idaho locust, Chinese pistache, crape myrtle, witch hazel, all maples, liquidambar, katsura, dogwood, locust, cherry, crabapple, oakleaf hydrangea, barberry and smoke tree.

Now through late fall is a good time to shop for trees that change colors because you can see in person just what shade of crimson, orange, scarlet or gold they will be. I’m off to the the Sierra to see for myself the dogwood, cottonwood, willow, black oak and quaking aspen in fall color. What’s not to love about fall?