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Look beyond spring bloom

May 2, 2013
Often gardeners are swept away by shrubs that are in flower when they visit their local garden center in spring. But that approach can result in a yard that is full of glorious bloom in spring and pretty dull the rest of the year.
Instead, choose shrubs for colorful fall foliage and other characteristics that make them interesting all season or even all year. Here are some suggestions from Kris Bachtell, vice president of collections and facilities, and Doris Taylor, plant information specialist:
  • Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia): This handsome shrub has large, leathery leaves that turn brilliant burgundy-red in fall. Its long clusters of creamy-white flowers dry on the plant, turning light brown and lasting into winter. And its peeling cinnamon-colored bark is lovely against the snow. It is a large shrub, but smaller cultivars such as ‘Snow Flake’, ‘Sikes Dwarf’, and ‘Snow Queen’ are available.
  • Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii): Low and rounded, this shrub has fragrant creamy puffs of flowers that appear before the velvety blue-green foliage. The fall foliage is a kaleidoscope of yellow, orange, and red.
  • Sweetspire (Itea virginica): Its long cascading spires of fragrant flowers in early summer are lovely enough, but this shrub also has fall color of reddish-orange to reddish purple. Scarlet Beauty™sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Morton’), a Chicagloland Grows introduction, has especially brilliant fall leaves.
  • Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa): A Chicago-area native, this plant has delicate white flowers for a brief period in spring, red berries that later turn purple, and glossy green leaves that turn red in fall. A Chicagoland Grows cultivar, Iroquois Beauty™ black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa ‘Morton’), is compact with more flowers.

For more information on choosing the right plants, use the Tree and Plant Finder