Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
November, 2012
Regional Report

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Some selections of flowering dogwood have more vibrant autumn foliage than others, but all will have improved color with ample sunlight.

Savoring a Second Season of Beauty

A few days ago my husband, Tim, and I made our annual trek up the Blue Ridge Escarpment to Caesar's Head State Park, a scant hour's drive from our home, to enjoy the season's colorful foliage on a hike to Raven Cliff Falls. We were lucky to find the leaves at their peak and marveled at the golden hickories, the red sourwoods, and the yellow sassafras trees along the woodland trail.

Around town, however, it's the smaller trees that catch my eye with their vibrant color. Here, in my own garden, the most striking is a flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), which glows with scarlet foliage.

In addition to the native flowering dogwood, which offers white flowers in spring before its leaves expand, there are more than 100 named selections and cultivars of this ornamental tree. Some are valued for pink or red flowers, while others are considered choice for their unusually large flowers (technically bracts), variegated foliage, or unique form such as the weeping 'Pendula'.

Gardeners who love autumn, however, can get a second season of beauty from the flowering dogwood by selecting ones that offer the best fall foliage. Though most dogwoods have handsome dark reddish-purple or maroon foliage in autumn, some types produce a more vibrant leaf color. Two consistently noted for a superior display include 'Royal Red' and 'Cherokee Chief'.

Flowering dogwood will grow in full sun if the location also provides deep, fertile soil that retains moisture but also drains well. It's most reliably successful, however, when grown as an understory tree where it's sheltered in light shade. Deep shade will reduce spring blooms and diminish fall leaf color.

There are a number of other relatively small, spring or summer-blooming trees that can supply attractive fall foliage in the home landscape. Depending on your needs, you may prefer:

  • Crape myrtles (Lagerstroemia)
    Crape myrtles grow best in full sun but are tolerant of most soil types and will withstand some drought once established. Cultivars vary in size, as well as bloom and fall foliage color. While many offer a mix of yellow and orange leaves, 'Muskogee', 'Dynamite', and 'Sioux' are all brilliant red.

  • Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
    Redbud, which lights up spring with its rosy lavender blooms, grows best in light shade and requires regular moisture. Heart-shaped leaves turn yellow or chartreuse in autumn. 'Forest Pansy', a popular purple-leaf cultivar, is generally less colorful in fall than its green-leaf cousins.

  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora)
    Serviceberry likes full sun to partial shade with moderate to regular water. Most named selections, such as 'Autumn Brilliance' and 'Princess Diana', are orange-red in fall.

  • Grancy Graybeard (Chionanthus virginicus)
    Grancy Graybeard, also called white fringetree, grows best in full sun or light shade with regular water and good drainage. Broad leaves turn bright yellow to deep gold.

  • Japanese stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia)
    Japanese stewartia prefers part shade, especially in the heat of the day, and requires cool, moist soil. The camellia-like flowers that bloom in summer can't be beat but the tree's yellow to red autumn color offers a worthy swan song.

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