Plants for Autumn Color in Shade Gardens

Bishop's Hat
Other common names: Longspur Barrenwort,
Lilac Fairy
Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee'
Photo credit: Giorgio Venturini

Autumn is almost synonymous wuth chrysanthemums in the United States, but mums need to grow in full sun. You could purchase plants already in bud to pop in shade garden, but there are other more natural ways to have autumn color in your shady garden. Ultimately, growing plants adapted to the shade that are interesting in fall will be more satisfying than planting mums, which don't really belong there and won't look quite right. Many annuals will keep blooming in fall right up until the first frost. Some perennials and bulbs also flower as the days grow shorter. Three of the best are hardy cyclamen (Cyclamen hederifolium, Cyclamen cilicium, and Cyclamen europeaum are autumn bloomers), Japanese anemone (Anemone × hybrida blooms in late summer in sunnier gardens), and autumn snowflake (Leucojum autumnale). Gardeners in mild climates can enjoy the lovely blossoms of sasanqua camellia. Ornamental grasses come into their own in autumns, when their pumy seedheads wave gracefully in the breeze.

Fall is also the season when the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs turn to warm shades of red, orange, russes, and gold, before dropping as the plants prepare for their winter dormancy. In the shade garden, Virginia creeper and Boston ivy turn brilliant red and scarlet in fall, as do many Japanese maples. The leaves of bishop's hat turn reddish, too. Even evergreens may take on a different color when the weather turns cold. Those of Euonymous fortunei "Colorata" turn reddish purple in fall and winter.

Finally, colorful berries are another feature found in the garden in autumn. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), bearberry (Arctostaphylos repens), and bunchberry (cornus canadensis) produce red berrylike fruit close to the ground.

[Photo of Bishop's Hat, Epimedium grandiflorum 'Lilafee']

Perennials and Bulbs

Leucojum autumnale - Autumn snowflake - white

Epimedium spp. - Epimedium species - reddish leaves

Monarda didyma - Bee-balm - red, rose, pink, purple, white

Solidago spp. - Goldenrod - yello

Arum italicum - Italian arum - red berries

Anemone × hybrida - Japanese anemone - rose, pink, white

- Ornamental grasses: - seedheads in shades of gold, tan, cream

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides - Plumbago - blue

Aruncus dioicus - Goat's beard - white

Tricyrtis hirta - Toad lily - white


Many annuals still blooming, many colors

Shrubs & Vines

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi - Bearberry - red berries

Parthenocissus - Boston ivy - red to orange leaves

cornus canadensis - Bunchberry - red berries

Camellia sasanqua - Sasanqua camellia - red, rose, pink, white

Clematis paniculata - Sweet autumn clematis
fragrant - white

Parthenocissus quinquefolia - Virginia creeper - red leaves

Euonymus fortunei "Colorata" - Winter creeper - reddish-purple leaves

Gaultheria procumbens - Wintergreen - red berries

Home Contact RSS