Now is a good time to consider late season color in the home landscape. Some shrubs add to year-around garden interest by flowering at times other than spring. Many others add color and interest through their ornamental fruit, fall foliage color or unique winter bark and twigs.
Fruit is one of the first characteristics to appear in the fall. Japanese barberry produces a dense covering of bright red fruit each fall. However, the Korean barberry is often considered to produce superior fruit quality. Bright red fruit, about a quarter inch long, form in grape-like clusters that persist well into winter. As they dry in winter they can serve as a food source for some birds. Fall foliage is a deep red on a plant growing to 4 to 6 feet high.
Red chokeberry produces a strong display of bright red, half-inch cherry-like fruit in the fall. This shrub grows to 9 feet and survives well in wet or dry soils. Red chokeberry works well as colorful border plant or specimen.
The cotoneasters are another diverse group of plants used chiefly for their fall fruit display. Their varied growth habits range from groundcovers to taller plants up to 12 feet high. The fruits on most species and cultivars average about one-half inch diameter, are bright red and attract a variety of birds.
The variety of sizes allows cotoneaster to fit into many landscapes. Among the most useful species are the cranberry cotoneaster which grows to 3 feet; spreading cotoneaster growing to 6 feet; rockspray cotoneaster, which is somewhat horizontal, arching to 2 feet; and small-leaved cotoneaster, which is often used as a low three foot hedge or rock garden specimen.
Holly is another attractive fruiting plant. The native deciduous species should be considered because its fruit is in full display when there is no foliage competition. Winterberry holly reaches heights of 8 to 9 feet and functions as a large shrub or small tree. Winterberry holly does well in a variety of soils. Its quarter-inch bright red fruit becomes effective in October after the leaves drop. Fruit will persist well into the winter if not eaten by birds. Fall color is non-existent in the foliage.
Finetooth holly is similar to winterberry. It is slightly larger, but the fruit tends to be smaller and is borne in greater numbers so the display is about equal. Both of these hollies are attractive in front of evergreen species.
The firethorns have been used for years because of their orange-red fruit that makes them stand out in the landscape. Viburnums are also excellent fruiting plants over several seasons. Fall fruiting is especially attractive on American cranberry bush and Wright viburnum. Cranberry bush has a fruit size and color equal to its name, while Wright viburnum has a smaller bright red fruit about a quarter inch long.
Northern bayberry has a gray, waxy fruit that remain on the plant through much of the winter. Fruit is only produced on the female plants. Bayberry is a dense, broad, spreading plant that can be maintained at heights of 6 to 8 feet.
Bill Lamont is a professor and extension vegetable specialist in the department of plant sciences at Pann State and can be reached by email at email@example.com.