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Blazing vines and fiery shrubs.


In a brilliant burst of color, many deciduous shrubs and vines put on their best display of the season this month. The show is worth the wait: their leaves turn fiery red, glowing orange, or vibrant yellow, transforming the garden into blazing patches of color.

Northwest and mountain gardeners may already be familiar with many of the plants that produce dramatic fall color--sumac, winged euonymus, and witch hazel are garden standards, especially where cold winters limit the use of many kinds of evergreen shrubs. In contrast, gardeners in milder climates often fail to take advantage of what these deciduous plants have to offer because there are so many useful evergreen ones. But when interspersed in garden beds against a backdrop of rich, green foliage, the shrubs and vines shown here produce an autumn display that adds a new dimension to the garden. Many of these plants also form beautiful flowers and berries, and they reveal an interesting branch structure after their leaves drop. Fall is the best time to select and plant these vines and shrubs.


The plants are all known to color well in the fall, but a number of factors can affect the show. The primary ones are genetics, climate, and cultural conditions.

Many of these shrubs and vines are propagated from cuttings or by other asexual methods and inherit the colorful characteristics of the parent. If you select a named hybrid like 'Crimson Queen' Japanese maple, you can depend on the plant to color up consistently, assuming other factors are favorable.

But some plants, especially those started from seed, can be variable. For instance, oakleaf hydrangea can turn an intense crimson or a disappointing yellow-brown. If you're not buying a hybrid or cultivated variety, try to select plants while they are changing color, so you know what you are getting. Keep in mind that growing conditions in the nursery may not always produce optimal coloring.

Even if a shrub or vine is known to produce outstanding fall color, the annual display depends on weather (see "Why do leaves turn color?") and cultural conditions. If nighttime temperatures stay warm through fall, leaves may turn yellow, but the show of purples and reds is inhibited. This effect is most typical of mild coastal climates.

Other weather-related effects that can inhibit or shorten the show are diseases, an early killing frost, heavy rains, overly wet soil, strong winds, and stress due to drought (although mild stress can enhance the show).


Using the chart, choose a plant for its color and for a size that fits your landscape. (Zones are from the Sunset Western Garden Book.)

Many of the shrubs and vines listed here grow large (some of the taller shrubs can eventually be trained into small trees), so give them plenty of room to grow. Tall shrubs can be used as background plants and intermingled with evergreen shrubs that are suited to your region. Other shrubs, such as sumac and Persian parrotia, can be used singly because of their interesting form in all seasons.

Although many of the plants in the chart tolerate some shade, you'll get the best color when they're planted in full sun or at least about 4 hours of midday sun (except enkianthus, which prefers part shade).

Choose a site with well-drained soil; soggy soil inhibits coloration. In mild climates, plant in cold pockets in the garden, where cold air drains. Soil preference varies. Summersweet, winter hazel, disanthus, enkianthus, fothergilla, witch hazel, lindera, and blueberry need acid soil (like that preferred by rhododendron). Others are more widely adapted.


If local nurseries don't carry the plant you want, order it from one of these sources.

Forestfarm, 990 Tetherow Rd., Williams, Ore. 97544; (503) 846-7269. Catalog $3.

Gossler Farms Nursery, 1200 Weaver Rd., Springfield, Ore. 97478; (503) 746-3922. Catalog $2.

Heronswood Nursery, 7530 288th St. N.E., Kingston, Wash. 98346; (206) 297-4172. Catalog $3.


As the days shorten in fall and nighttime temperatures get nippy, why do green leaves suddenly turn intense shades of yellow, orange, scarlet, and purple? The color change is a natural part of the leaf's aging process.

A leaf is green because it contains chlorophyll, a pigment involved in plant nutrition. When deciduous plants approach winter dormancy, they stop manufacturing chlorophyll, and the green disappears.

Pigments previously masked by green begin to show. Carotenoid pigments (including yellow to orange xanthophylls) turn leaves of plants like lindera and summersweet bright yellow. Blue to red anthocyanin pigments produce the bright scarlets and purples in viburnum and winged euonymus. These pigments show up best when warm, sunny days are followed by cool nights. A combination of pigments produces the yellows, oranges, and reds typical of disanthus and parrotia.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article and list of 19 shrubs and vines
Author:Swezey, Lauren Boner
Date:Nov 1, 1992
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