Brighten Fall and Winter Landscapes With These Eye-Catching Plants
By Susan Marchetti and Charlotte Getz
Would you like to have a colorful garden after summer ends and the days grow shorter? These trees, shrubs and perennials with their colorful blooms or foliage are drought tolerant additions to a cool-weather landscape.
‘Marina’ Strawberry Tree (Arbutus ‘Marina’) - Evergreen, shrubby when young, ‘Marina’ matures to a multi-trunked small tree needing little care. It blooms in fall and winter with light pink flowers. Attractive brown peeling bark. Growth rate is moderate to 15to 25 feet tall. Prefers a sunny location but will tolerate almost any garden situation. Regular pruning reveals its handsome branch structure.
Hong Kong Orchid Tree (Bauhinia X blakeana ) - Semi-evergreen with rounded, spreading crown and large grey-green leaves which drop at bloom time or during a cold winter. Flowers 6 inches wide and orchid-shaped are produced from fall to spring and again in summer. Plant the tree in a protected area, away from strong winds. Grow in full sun or light shade. Reaches15 to 25 feet tall. Provide good drainage and regular water. Prune in summer to remove crossing branches and to shape young trees.
‘Hachiya’ and ‘Fuyu’ Japanese Persimmon (Diospyros kaki ‘Hachiya’ and ‘Fuyu’) - An excellent deciduousfruit tree for ornamental use. Good drainage is essential when planting this tree. ‘Hachiya’ may reach 30 feet tall and wide at maturity. ‘Fuyu’ grows to 15 to20 feet tall and wide. Foliage turns red, yellow or orange in the fall. After the leaves drop, orange-scarlet fruits hang on the tree for weeks until winter unless harvested. To keep birds from getting the fruit, pick it when colored but still hard. Fruit will ripen off the tree. Prune when young to establish a good framework. Fertilize in late winter or early spring.
Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica) - There are many varieties of this deciduous tree that grows15 to 25 feet tall with a rounded crown. Japanese and Chinese hybrids are mildew-resistant. Look for varieties with Indian names – ‘Zuni’, ‘Catawba’ and ‘Seminole’. Showy flowers in summer and early fall. Colors include white, red, pink and purple. Leaves turn yellow, red and orange in fall before they drop. Attractive bark has colorful patterns of grey, tan and pink. Especially good in hot summer regions. Coastal areas should consider only the mildew-resistant varieties. Consult the “Sunset Western Garden Book” for appropriate varieties.
Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) – This deciduous tree grows at a slow to moderate rate to 30 to 40 feet tall and 20 to 30 feet wide. An ornamental tree with a dense rounded crown, it is not fruit producing. Spring and summer foliage turns scarlet, crimson, yellow and orange in fall before dropping, it a magnificent tree for fall foliage in San Diego County. Likes full sun and heat, Will grow in most soils and even in lawns. Female trees produce clusters of bluish fruit if a male tree is nearby. Gardeners near the coast should choose a tree when it is in color to get the best specimen. Choose a male grafted variety; it comes in a variety of fall colors.
Firewheel Tree (Stenocarpus sinuatus) - An Australian native, this evergreen flowering tree is also called the rotary tree. It has been adopted as a mascot of Rotary Clubs around the world. Growth is slow to 25 to 30 feet tall and 15 feet wide. Flowers are striking scarlet-red and yellow arranged like the spokes of a wheel. Flowering can occur at any time but usually is heaviest in the fall and winter when the 3-inch wide “wheels” provide bright color. Grows best in deep, well-drained acidic soil with regular water and occasional fertilizing. Tree must be established for 5 years before it blooms, but it is worth the wait. Ideal near a patio, terrace or swimming pool since there is little leaf drop.
Glossy Abelia (Abelia x grandiflora) – This shrub makes a good bank cover, hedge or mass planting. White flowers with rose edges add color from late summer through fall and winter. Grows 3 6 feet high and wide. Prefers full sun or partial shade. Plant in an acidic, moist and well-drained soil. ‘Kaleidoscope’ is a compact variety with yellow
variegated leaves and white flowers. Its size is 2 to 3 feet. tall and wide.
‘Safari Sunset’ and ‘Summer Red’ Cone Bush (Leucadendron ‘Safari Sunset’ and ‘Summer Red’) – This South African native is related to proteas. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. These shrubs need fast-draining soil; they will not do well in alkaline soil. Plant in full sun. ‘Safari Sunset’ is an upright, vigorous grower to 8 to10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide with red bracts in summer that turn light yellow in winter. ‘Summer Red’ is smaller, 4 to 6 feet tall and wide with, red bracts in winter and spring.
Kangaroo Paw (Anigozanthos) – This evergreen perennial has sword-like leaves and tall stalks being red, purple, green or yellow flowers curved at tips like kangaroo paws. Flowers attract hummingbirds. Blooms spring thru fall. Cut spent flower spikes to the ground. Flowers also can be used as a cut flower. Good drainage is essential; a light sandy soil is best. Use bait to control snails and slugs. “Bush” hybrids range from 1 to 3 feet to 4 to 5 feet tall and are disease resistant. Popular “Bush” varieties include ‘Bush Gold’, ‘Bush Ranger’, ‘Bush Emerald’ and ‘Bush Pearl’.
Coast Rosemary (Westringia fruticosa) - Also evergreen, this perennial has grey-green leaves with white undersides. Leaves have a finer texture than rosemary leaves. Grow in full sun; little to moderate water. White flowers bloom from midwinter thru spring. Does well near the coast and is wind tolerant. ‘Morning Light’ is a compact variety that grows 3 feet tall and wide with white flowers and white-edged leaves.
‘Sticks on Fire’ Pencil Bush (Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’) - This is a succulent with orange-pink and red cylindrical branches that grows to 5 feet tall and wide. Prefers full sun. Pick it for its striking foliage color rather than bloom. Needs well drained soil, regular water and fertilizer. Also can be used as a houseplant if given lots of bright light. Keep milky sap away from skin and eyes as it can be irritating.
Coral Fountain (Russelia equisetiformis) - Use this cascading plant, a native of Mexico, in pots or planters where it can spill out over edges or walls. Needs regular water and fertilizing. Bright red tubular flowers look like little firecrackers. There is also a white-flowering variety. Hardy to 32 degrees, but will grow back vigorously if cut down by frost.
Charlotte Getz became a Master Gardener in 1994 in Santa Clara County. After retiring from the IBM Corporation in San Jose, she returned to college and received a certificate in ornamental horticulture. She currently has a landscape consulting/design business which she began when she moved to San Diego.
Sue Marchetti became a Master Gardener in 1999. She has been a member of the School Garden Committee since its inception in 1998. She also was Treasurer for several years, as well as Plant Sale Chair. She has a special interest in native plants and water-wise gardening.