Create a fall pocket garden bursting with fiery autumn colors

Japanese maples differ in size, but all end the season in a blaze of color.

Japanese maples differ in size, but all end the season in a blaze of color.

New York Botanical Gardens

Japanese maples, burning bush and other autumn wonders should be putting on a show this week and garden centers and nurseries are filled with bargains.

If you want your own view of autumn splendor, consider adding a fall pocket garden to the landscape. As your new plants mature and the fiery autumn colors return year after year from your fiery new fall garden, you’ll remember 2020 with at least a few warm thoughts.

Many fall events may be canceled due to coronavirus, but you’ll have a beautiful homecoming just outside your window and score better yardage if you tackle this design challenge and celebrate that nobody can cancel the beauty of the fall season.

Start with a focal point: Japanese maples for the win

For a small garden or if you have limited space, start your autumn theme garden with one of the Japanese maples or Acer palmatums. The Dissectum types of Japanese maples have finely divided or dissected leaves and this makes them slow growers with a delicate appearance. It also means you won’t need to rake up the leaves once they fall as they quickly decay and improve the soil without smothering the plants below.

Look for varieties with spectacular fall color such as ‘Orgeola’ with fiery orange red foliage on a 6-foot tree or one of the similar varieties offered in Western Washington nurseries this month. Fall is a good time to buy and transplant Japanese maples.

For something different, grow a Sourwood tree

If you want to grow beyond Japanese maples for a small tree with autumn color, search out the sweet color and form of a Sourwood tree or Oxydendrum arboretum. This tree has four seasons of interest with fragrant bell-shaped flowers, seed capsules that hang on the tree all winter, and fall color that may have the neighbors calling the fire department — this tree is that hot.

The only garden gossip on this autumn beauty is that it has shallow roots so it does not like to grow in a lawn or have shrubs planted beneath its graceful branches.

Add more foliage and berries with lower shrubs

I like the brilliant purple berries of Beauty Berry or Calicarpa. The graceful, arching branches show off metallic purple berries in the fall and the colors work well with Japanese maples. You can add the flaming orange or yellow foliage of barberries, scarlet leaves of the Euonymus alatus ‘Burning Bush’ or any of the Nandina ‘Heavenly Bamboo’ that come in various sizes and leaf colors.

Look for fall foliage shrubs turning color in your neighborhood. This will give you more ideas for creating your autumn dream team.

The goal here is to huddle up these complementary team players (the shrubs) around the star of your fall garden (the focal point tree) by arranging them behind or in front of your focal point.

Make a power play with

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