10 Midwest Plants for Instant Fall Color
Red: Little bluestem
Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), a grass native to Midwest prairies, takes on a warm red-orange or purple hue in fall. Clumps stand about 3 feet tall with a graceful, tufted habit. Grow in full sun and quick-draining soil. Zones 5-9.
Orange: Fragrant sumac
Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) lights up in fall when its summer foliage turns blazing orange with a hint of red and purple. Grow this 3- to 5-foot-tall shrub in part shade or sun. Zones 4-9.
Larch (Larix species), a conifer, sheds its warm orange-yellow needles as trees drop their leaves in fall. Dwarf selections such as L. deciduas 'Pendula' and L. kaempferi 'Nana' are perfect for a shrub border; other varieties can reach 100 feet tall. Zones 3-7.
Purple: Smoke bush
Smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) transforms its maroon summer foliage to a vibrant purple with the first chilly fall nights. Smokelike tufts of flowers top this 10- to 15-foot-tall shrub. Zones 4-8.
Purple: Oakleaf hydrangea
Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) lights up the shade garden with its bronze-purple fall foliage. Plant the 3- to 6-foot-tall shrub in well-drained, moist soil. Zones 5-9.
Yellow: Summersweet and Solomon's seal
Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), an ornamental, summer-flowering shrub, attracts butterflies and hummingbirds and boasts foliage that turns a clear golden yellow in the fall (left). It's an adaptable plant that can handle most conditions, from full sun to full shade. Grows up to 8 feet tall. Zones 3-9.
Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum), a perennial, offers arching stems of clear yellow fall foliage. It thrives in moist, well-drained soil and part shade or sun. Pretty white summer flowers are followed by black fruit. Most species grow 3-4 feet tall. Zones 3-9.
Yellow: Fringe tree
Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), shaped more like a shrub than a tree in its native Midwest, wears a cloak of yellow leaves in fall. Its name was inspired by slightly fragrant white flowers that droop in spring. Planted in moist, well-drained soil and full sun or part shade, it will grow to about 10 feet tall. Zones 5-9.
Yellow-brown: Sideoats grama
Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), a Midwest-native prairie grass, turns yellow-brown in autumn and is often tinged with red and purple. This tough grass will grow in sandy soil or heavy clay and full sun. Clumps reach about 2 feet tall. Zones 5-9.
(A version of this story appeared in Midwest Living® September/October 2009.)