Celebrate Autumn in the Midwest | Midwest Living

Celebrate Autumn in the Midwest

Fall's glorious colors inspire us to take our cues from the hues. Here are ways to get out and enjoy the reds, oranges, golds and browns that paint a Midwest autumn.

Celebrate red

Red adds energy to our lives with its vivacious ways. Whether in the form of burgundy, crimson or magenta, red always seduces us during the fall.


Plants of gold

Plant late-blooming hardy perennials such as goldenrod (try Solidago 'Fireworks'), coreopsis, perennial sunflower (Helianthus) and false sunflower (Heliopsis). Shown in picture: Helianthus 'Sunrich orange.'

Crunch sunflower seeds during the fall harvest of the golden flowers, and visit Goodland, Kansas, the Sunflower City in the Sunflower State (goodlandnet.com/cvb).

Goodland, Kansas

Gold at the table

Nestle a candle in popcorn kernels.

Drink a local beer at a brewpub, such as the award-winning Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery in Flossmoor, Illinois (flossmoorstation.com); or quaff one at Oktoberfest, such as the Midwest Deutsche Oktoberfest held in September in Hays, Kansas (midwestdeutschefest.com).

Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery

Midwest Deutsche Oktoberfest

Gold around your home

Display a wheat wreath.

Stock ears of corn to feed the squirrels this winter.

Golden trees and prairie

Grow gold trees such as Tiger Eyes sumac, State Street miyabei maple, European larch (Larix decidua), bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) and summersweet (Clethra alnifolia).

Visit a prairie, such as the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge in Prairie City, Iowa (fws.gov/midwest/nealsmith).

Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge Prairie Learning Center

Celebrate orange

Orange, red's spicy first cousin, is a little earthier, though it's still a bit sassy. Orange makes us want to go out and play--after we put on jackets.

Orange in the air and in the ground

Trace the routes of monarch butterflies leaving the Midwest for warmer climates. Visit a website sponsored by the University of Kansas in Lawrence (monarchwatch.org).

Harvest your orange root vegetables such as carrots and late-season vine crops, including squash. If you didn't plant orange veggies, pick up some at a farmers market.

Monarch Watch.org

Be warm with orange

Warm your hands against the long flames of a bonfire.

Snip long strands of bittersweet vines to wrap around your lamppost, spiral into a wreath or drape across your mantel.

Pick and serve orange

Pick pumpkins at your local patch, or visit the annual September Pumpkin Festival in Morton, Illinois, the self-proclaimed Pumpkin Capital of the World (pumpkincapital.com).

Serve candy corn.

Pumpkin Festival

Flowers and fruits

Dress up your landscape with orange mums. For orange-foliage trees and shrubs, add an apple serviceberry tree (Amelanchier x grandiflora), American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), witch hazel 'Diane' (Hamamelis x intermedia) and dwarf or large fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii or F. major).

Taste a lesser-known orange fruit at September's Mitchell Persimmon Festival in Mitchell, Indiana (mitchellpersimmonfestival.org).

Mitchell Persimmon Festival

Celebrate red

Red adds energy to our lives with its vivacious ways. Whether in the form of burgundy, crimson or magenta, red always seduces us during the fall.

Red wine and grapes

Sip a glass of red wine made with Foch, Chancellor or Norton grapes from one of the growing number of Midwest wineries.

Snip grapes with the picking crew on Sundays through September at the Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery in Basehor, Kansas (holyfieldwinery.com).

Holy-Field Vineyard and Winery

Apples, shrubs and trees

Visit an orchard to fill a bushel basket with juicy apples. Red Delicious apples (shown here) are a year-round favorite, but fall in the Midwest also brings a few weeks of sweet-tart Honeycrisp apples, bred by the University of Minnesota.

Plant trees and shrubs recommended by researchers at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois (30 miles west of Chicago's Loop; mortonarb.org), for outstanding red fall color: paperbark maple; sugar maple; red chokeberry 'Brilliantissima' (Aronia arbutifolia); red osier dogwood 'Cardinal'; sumacs, including Prairie Flame shining sumac; and most viburnums, including Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii).

Morton Arboretum

Admire the berries

Gather fresh cranberries for a seasonal treat as the cranberry harvest begins, and visit the world's largest annual cranberry festival, held in September in Warrens, Wisconsin (cranfest.com).

Pack a red tartan plaid picnic blanket, and fill a thermos and picnic basket for a tailgate party.

Cranberry festival

From bridges to sunsets

Photograph red bridges during a fall celebration, such as the Madison County Covered Bridge Festival in October in Winterset, Iowa (madisoncounty.com).

Braid husks of strawberry popcorn cobs together for a fall decoration.

Watch an entire gold-to-orange-to-scarlet sunset over Lake Michigan (or any lake) until the last glowing ember of the sun dips below the horizon.

Madison County Covered Bridge Festival

Celebrate brown

Brown is earthy and natural. As warm and comforting as a wool blanket, it's nature's lullaby to the season.

Dip and munch

Dip a crunchy, fresh apple into gooey caramel, then chomp.

Eat potatoes at the Potato Bowl (potatobowl.org), sponsored each September by the University of North Dakota and the Red River Valley potato industry in East Grand Forks, North Dakota.

Potato Bowl

Hot to cold

Warm up some hot cocoa to share with friends after volunteering at a state or national park during National Public Lands Day each September (publiclandsday.org).

Drink an apple in the form of fresh-pressed cider, served warm or cold.

National Public Lands Day

Bulbs, bikes and cones

Bicycle on the Apple Cider Century ride in Three Oaks, Michigan (applecidercentury.com), held each September.

Plant brown spring-blooming bulbs, such as tulips, daffodils (they're deer-resistant!), scillas, fritillarias, hyacinths and more.

Pick up pinecones as fire starters, or place them in a bowl for decoration.

Apple Cider Century

Natural beauties

Cut cattails, ornamental grasses, coneflower seedheads and dried hydrangea blooms for simple arrangements.

Wander around a corn maze, such as the 15-acre patch at Treinen Farm in Lodi, Wisconsin (treinenfarm.com), or Sever's Corn Maze and Fall Festival in Shakopee, Minnesota (everscornmaze.com).

Marvel at mighty buffalo during the late September Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival at Custer State Park in South Dakota's Black Hills (sdgfp.info/parks/regions/custer/round.htm).

Treinen Farm

Sever's Corn Maze and Fall Festival

Buffalo Roundup and Arts Festival

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