Autumn is my favorite time of the growing season because of the rich colors and textures. It's like a cabaret of rustling grasses and whirling leaves—the big finale before winter sets in. If only we could get several encores before the world fades to winter drab.
We anticipate the striking reds, blazing oranges and glowing yellows found in the maple and beech forests of the east coast. But those magnificent colors are not always part of Nebraska’s show, where leaves can progress from green to brown overnight, making “fall color” an unreliable occurrence in Nebraska. Though trees may be the first thing we think of for fall color, they don’t always produce a brilliant show. Without enough moisture, sunlight and the perfect blend of cooling temperatures, plants will not develop incredible color. And many of the trees that can handle Nebraska’s temperature extremes and drought are not known for fall color. So instead we increase our color vocabulary to include gold, tan, russet, burgundy, cinnamon, red, ocher, yellow, orange, brown and eggplant. Besides those subtle colors and the wonderful rustle of leaves beneath our feet, we can pay more attention to bark and form. Fall is a reminder to plant trees based on site conditions first and foremost, with fall color as an added bonus.
But there is more to fall than just color. Grasses are right at home in Nebraska gardens and they correspond to the natural landscape around them. The seedheads of grasses are at their peak fall and winter, turning subtle shades of burgundy, orange or blues with the shortening days. Grasses are a beautiful sight to see, whether backlit by the low light of autumn or laden with frost.
|Anemones and little bluestem|
Many shrubs hang onto their fruit into fall and winter months, enlivening the landscape with bright-colored fruits that are suddenly more evident as leaves fall to the ground. And shrubs like chokeberry (Aronia), sumac (Rhus) and shrub roses (Rosa) have fairly reliable fall color.
Perennials are not generally planted for fall interest, but they can provide striking impact into autumn and winter. Coneflower (Echinacea) and Rudbeckia have prominent dark-colored seedheads that add shape and texture to the fall garden. Perennials like
Amsonia and balloonflower (Platycodon) turn a brilliant yellow. Late-blooming perennials such as aster, monkshood and fall-blooming anemone extend the bloom season. Many other perennials, if cut back after the initial flowering, will give one last bloom before frost.
This season, take time to sit back and enjoy the many acts in autumn’s show—and think about bringing that show into your own garden!