Click through top picks of shrubs and perennials from Jeffrey L. Johnson, landscape gardener at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum in Chaska.
Blueberry (Vaccinium species) bushes (left) are brilliant maroon or orange torches of color in the fall garden. Try super-hardy and productive 'Chippewa', which grows 3-4 feet tall. Full sun and well-drained, acidic soil are essential. Zones 3-7.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)