Our Favorite Fall Colors

We’ve been getting a lot of questions lately from our Colorado crowd on the best time of year to install plants. While it is a close call with our erratic weather along the Front Range that leaves us susceptible to both early freezes and late snows, fall is the best time to plant! Spring comes in close to second place. The benefit of installing plants in the fall is that the cooler weather will be less stressful to establishing plant material. You may also get the benefits of some fall rains to help water them in. All plants, even evergreens, are entering their dormant season and will be devoting less energy to leaf and shoot development. Instead, plants naturally focus their energy this time of year on root growth, which is exactly what you need to get new plants established!

There are a few exceptions to our fall planting benefits. Sod and seeded lawns need between 4-6 weeks to root in and harden off before they are exposed to winter weather. As a result, we’re rapidly approaching the end of the season for renovating or installing a new lawn. Perennial plants are also much less available at nurseries this time of year. So while it is still a great time to get perennials in the ground, you may not find the varieties you are looking for until spring. However, if you have existing perennials you are looking to divide and transplant, fall is your time!

To help inspire you to add some new friends to your garden we’ve included some of our favorite plants for fall color. All of these plants can be installed even after their leaves fall off as long as the ground is not frozen. Just remember to mulch heavily (without smothering the trunk) and water at least every four weeks in winter or whenever it is warm and there isn’t snow cover.

Our first pick for fall color is one of Kristen’s favorites. The Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry, Amelanchier x Grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’, is a wonderful small tree with great fall color. It is available in both single trunk and multi-trunk form and grows fairly quickly to 20-25’ tall and wide. It’ll need regular water so it is a great companion near a lawn and starts spring with beautiful white flowers that mature to purplish-black fruit. The fruit makes it a great tree for attracting wildlife as it can draw a variety of birds. The dramatic orange and red fall foliage is a welcome contrast to the usual yellow in our Colorado gardens.

One of Helios Landscape designer Kristen Whitehead's favorite fall color a Autum Brilliance Serviceberry
Autumn brilliance serviceberry blooming in Longmont colorado

Photo Credit Johnson Nursery

Next, we have a classic shrub that is favored from the east coast to the Pacific Northwest. Euonymus alatas ‘Compactus’, or Compact Burning Bush, has incredibly vibrant fall foliage that is bright red to almost fuchsia. Though we commonly see the ‘compact’ varieties, it is still a very large shrub reaching a mature size of 5’ tall and wide. However, it does adapt well to formal pruning and can be kept as a smaller specimen. To get the best fall color you’ll need to plant it in a sunny spot with regular water.

a compact burning bush in Longmont Colorado

Photo Credit Wayside Gardens

The last plant on our recommended fall color plants for this week can fit into almost anyone’s garden! You can even use it as a vertical accent in a pot! Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blaze’, or Blaze Little Bluestem Grass, is a sun-loving variety that spreads 15” inches and reaches 2-3’ tall. This drought tolerant grass features blue-green foliage during the growing season that turns to rich rusty color in the fall. You can leave the faded stalks in your garden throughout the winter for lasting interest as well.

Blaze little Bluestem grass - a favorite fall color plant for Helios Landscape Design
Kristen Whitehead

Founder + Lead Landscape Designer of Helios

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