14 Great Shrubs and Vines for Fall Color

Boston ivy

 

artist-unlimited / Getty Images

Injecting fall colors into the landscape is about more than just planting red maples and other trees that display colorful leaves. Do not forget shrubs and vines, many of which display great fall color. Some bear pretty berries, some have colorful leaves, and some exhibit both. The best examples not only have a brilliant autumn display, but they also add landscape value at other times of the year.

Here are 14 great versatile plants for offering fall color to your landscape.

Planting Tip

Most, if not all, shrubs and vines thrive best in soils described as "well-drained." This means that the soil texture should be loose enough so that rain or irrigation water drains through quickly rather than allowing the roots to soak in standing water. Most average soils are naturally well-draining, but drainage can be a problem with dense soils high in clay content. If you have this kind of soil, the best way to improve its texture and drainage is to thoroughly blend in compost or other organic amendments before you plant. A regular top-dressing of additional compost will keep the soil texture ideal for sustaining plants.

  • 01 of 14

    Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)

    Oakleaf hydrangea
    David Beaulieu

    Oakleaf hydrangea is so named because its leaves resemble those of oak trees. These bushes produce white flowers in summer that fade to a pinkish-brown in fall. But oakleaf hydrangea is most sought after for its foliage, which turns reddish, bronzy-orange, or purplish in the fall. The shrub grows to a height of 4 to 6 feet, with a similar spread.

    Oakleaf hydrangea is a great choice for creating four-season interest in your landscape because its branches sport an attractively peeling bark in winter. It will tolerate a bit of shade, but for optimal coloration, grow it in full sun.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red/orange to purple fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium-moisture well-drained soil
  • 02 of 14

    Sumac (Rhus spp.)

    Tiger Eyes sumac

    David Beaulieu

    Sumac bushes may not be the first thing that comes to mind for providing fall colors in the landscape. In fact, some people regard them as weeds, perhaps mistaking all Rhus shrubs for poison sumac. But many varieties of sumac are excellent landscape plants, providing fall colors ranging from reddish or maroon to golden. Two such varieties are staghorn and smooth sumac. The popular staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a relatively tall variety, reaching 18 to 35 feet. Another common type, smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) can grow to 10 feet tall at maturity. 'Tiger Eyes' is a cultivar with golden leaves.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: yellow/orange/red fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium-moisture well-drained soil
  • 03 of 14

    'Mt. Airy' Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy')

    Fothergilla bush

    David Beaulieu

    Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla 'Mt. Airy') is a spherical, multi-stemmed shrub with white flowers in spring that carries a fragrant aroma. In fall, the dark green foliage of summer changes to shades of yellow, orange, and scarlet. Reaching 6 to 10 feet high, the shrub spreads 5 to 9 feet. Fothergilla should be planted in a sunny or partially sunny location; the more sunlight it receives, the more likely it will put on a good display in autumn. This is a hybrid plant produced by crossing the two species of the genus, F. gardenii and F. major.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White blooms; yellow/orange/red fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil
  • 04 of 14

    Witch Hazel (Hamamelis × intermedia 'Arnold Promise')

    Witch hazel leaves

     

    James53145 / Getty Images

    Hamamelis x intermedia hybrids are crosses between Japanese witch hazel (H. japonica) and Chinese witch hazel (H. mollis). One particular cultivar of that hybrid, Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold Promise', is one of those wonderful shrubs that bloom in early spring. It is often the very first plant to bloom. If given sufficient sunlight, it can also display magnificent fall foliage colors of yellow, orange, and red. Its drama in the spring and fall makes up for its lack of display in summer and winter.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow spring blooms; yellow, orange, and red fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil; tolerates clay soil
    Continue to 5 of 14 below.
  • 05 of 14

    Spirea (Spirea spp.)

    Gold Mound spirea
    David Beaulieu

    It is difficult to match oakleaf hydrangea for year-round interest, but 'Gold Mound' spirea (Spiraea japonica 'Gold Mound') comes close, offering three-season interest with spring foliage, summer flowers, and fall color. In addition to the golden fall color that gives this 2- to 3-foot-tall shrub its name, splashes of light-red find their way onto the yellow leaves in autumn.

    But if you really want red, consider Spiraea betulifolia 'Tor'. It reaches a height and spread of 2 to 3 feet and has dark green leaves in summer that turn to purple-red in fall. In May, the plant bears small, white flowers in clusters.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White or pink flowers; yellow to reddish-purple fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil
  • 06 of 14

    Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

    Virginia sweetspire
    David Beaulieu

    As an alternative to burning bush (Euonymus alatus), which is an invasive shrub in many areas, consider Virginia sweetspire. Virginia sweetspire will spread via root-suckering, but it is not considered invasive in North America. The bush also flowers in spring, although the bloom color is nowhere near as noteworthy as the exquisite fall color. This is a nicely rounded shrub, growing 3 to 5 feet tall.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red to orange/gold fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium to wet, well-drained soil; tolerates clay soil
  • 07 of 14

    Viburnum (Viburnum spp.)

    Korean spice viburnum
    David Beaulieu

    A number of the viburnums can furnish your yard with good fall color, given proper growing conditions. Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) is one of them. Plant it in a sunny spot, preferably near a window, porch, patio, or deck, where you will be able to fully appreciate its fantastic aroma. This upright shrub grows to 4 to 6 feet.

    Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) yields white flowers in May, which become an edible fruit at harvest time. Fall color is offered not only by these bluish-black berries but also by colorful leaves (especially if grown in bright sunshine). It achieves a height of 12 to 15 feet and a spread of 8 to 12 feet.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9 (depends on species)
    • Color Varieties: Red to purple/bronze fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-drained soil
  • 08 of 14

    Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum)

    Arrowwood viburnum

    Missouri Botanical Garden

    Arrowwood viburnum bears white flowers in spring, and in autumn it gives does double duty with nice fall foliage and blue berries. When mature, these shrubs can range anywhere from 6 to 15 feet tall. This bush gets its descriptive name from the hard and straight stems that emerge from the plant's base, which were traditionally used to make arrow shafts.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White spring flowers; red/purple fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium-moisture well-drained soil; tolerates clay soil
    Continue to 9 of 14 below.
  • 09 of 14

    Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

    Virginia creeper
    David Beaulieu

    Virginia creeper is a ground-hugging or climbing vine that is commonly mistaken for poison ivy. It is a gorgeous plant in autumn, but it can also be a nuisance due to its aggressive growth—its vines can grow as long as 50 feet and can smother trees unless you carefully monitor its behavior. The showiest coloration for this vine is achieved when it is planted in full sunlight.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Bright red to purple fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil
  • 10 of 14

    Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata)

    Boston ivy
    David Beaulieu

    Boston ivy is a close relative of Virginia creeper; both vines belonging to the genus Parthenocissus. It is a toss-up as to which offers a better autumn display, although Boston ivy is the better known of the two. This is a clinging vine whose tendrils can damage wood or brick structures if its growth is unchecked.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Red to purple fall color
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil; tolerates rocky soil
  • 11 of 14

    Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

    Beautyberry

    Mizuki / Getty Images

    Beautyberry is a novelty plant, thanks to the purple berries it bears in autumn. It does not afford much landscape value at other times of the year, but the purple berries alone (not to mention their interesting growth pattern) are enough to woo many a gardener. This deciduous shrub grows 3 to 6 feet in height,

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Purple berries in fall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade; fruit is most prolific when grown in full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist soil; tolerates clay soil
  • 12 of 14

    Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia)

    Close-Up Of Chokeberries Growing Outdoors

    Manuela Schewe-Behnisch / Getty Images

    Another group of shrubs worth considering for fall berry color is the chokeberry group. Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) reaches a height of 6 to 10 feet and a spread of 3 to 5 feet. This shrub has white flowers in early spring that become glossy red berries in the summer. In autumn, the berry color can turn deeper, almost to purple, providing interesting fall color.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Red to purple berries in fall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-drained soil
    Continue to 13 of 14 below.
  • 13 of 14

    'Viking' Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa 'Viking')

    Black chokeberry

    Elin Enger / Getty Images

    Viking black chokeberry bears white flowers in May with dark green foliage. The foliage morphs first to red, then to purple in the fall. The blackish-purple berries grow in clusters. Although not edible for humans, the bitter-tasting berries remain on the shrub well into the winter and serve as an emergency food source for birds. This is a suckering shrub that grows 3 to 6 feet in height.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Black berries, red to purple foliage in fall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-drained soil
  • 14 of 14

    American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)

    fall berries of bittersweet vine
    David Beaulieu

    American bittersweet (Calastrus scandens) is a vine native to North America. Do not confuse it Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), which is attractive but terribly invasive in North America. Make sure to buy from a reputable nursery to ensure you are planting true American bittersweet. This vine is a good choice for those serious about providing the landscape with fall color. The berries, green in summer, bear a yellow husk in early fall. Even at this stage, they provide a truly striking display of fall color. But this initial treat is merely a preview of the splendor to come. As autumn progresses, the husk peels back, revealing an orange berry within. And as if that were not enough, the numerous leaves of the vine turn a vivid yellow.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Yellow and red berries, yellow foliage in fall
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Average to poor soil with good moisture