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10 best shrubs to plant this fall

Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
These ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas are reliable bloomers that put on a show in the summer.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
Kerria is a great shade-loving shrub that can bloom twice a season.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
Rose of Sharon is both loved and hated by gardeners.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
‘Spilled Wine’ weigela is a variety from Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
Spirea ‘Double Play Painted Lady’ is a reblooming spirea from Proven Winners ColorChoice Shrubs.
Doug Oster | Tribune-Review
Witch hazel is one of the earliest shrubs to bloom.

The bright orange flowers of a kerria shrub showed up for a second time at the end of the summer. It was a wonderful surprise as the blooms have a showy, intense color.

Kerria is easy to grow in part shade, and it’s underused in the landscape. The flowers are less spectacular if exposed to full sun. The plant can reach up to 10 feet tall and wide, so it needs room to sprawl. It has a wonderful weeping habit that makes it showy year round. Another benefit is that branches that reach the ground will often root on their own through layering, creating a new plant, which can easily be moved to another spot in the garden. It’s carefree and has never needed water in my garden.

Tips for planting success

Fall is the best time to plant shrubs, as the cool weather is conducive to root growth as opposed to top growth. The plants can be added to the garden in the spring, but they need more care as they are putting on foliage, preparing to flower and expanding the root zone. That’s a lot to ask of any plant.

For fall planting, dig a hole at least twice as wide as the root ball and incorporate some compost in with the native soil. Be sure the shrub is planted exactly as deep as it was in the pot, assuring the root flare of the top of the plant is visible. Shrubs can die if they’re planted too deep. Keep the plant watered if rain is scarce. Let the hose run for around five minutes under the plant a couple of times a week until the ground freezes.

A couple of inches of mulch will keep the soil evenly moist and stop frost heaving during thaws. Make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the base of the shrub. It should look like a doughnut, not a volcano.

Plant some shrubs this fall because they will bring beauty and joy to the garden for many years to come.

All of the shrubs discussed here are easy to grow, beautiful and will return season after season.

Plant these shrubs


Weigela is a spring bloomer that comes in many shapes and sizes. It’s a member of the honeysuckle family, so that’s a testament to its toughness. Masses of tubular flowers are produced in shades of red, pink, yellow and white depending on the cultivar. The most prolific blooms come in full sun, but the plant can be happy in part shade, too. Many of the variegated varieties actually look better in some shade. ‘My Monet’ is a stunning dwarf variety with pinkish, white variegation and pretty pink flowers.

Witch hazel

I can’t imagine my garden without witch hazel. There are many yellow- blooming natives that will flower at the end of winter. Some varieties have red flowers. Seeing a tree bloom before the snow crocus bulbs emerge is spectacular. It will happily grow anywhere from full sun to part shade, and it’s often an understory tree in the wild. There is a wide range of varieties available, some blooming in early winter, but most putting on a show in February.


The large, dinner plate-sized blooms of hardy hibiscus in September are a welcome sight. It’s always nice to have plants in the landscape that extend the season when they are at their peak as other plants start to fade. This sun lover also will take some shade and will be happiest in good soil amended with compost. The plant puts on big buds that might be as beautiful as the flowers, which open quickly. The ‘Summerific’ series from Proven Winners offers a lot of different foliage and flower colors.

Rose of Sharon

Along the same lines is the much hated (but also sometimes loved) rose of Sharon. It’s often hated for its invasive nature but loved for its ease of growth. There are varieties now that are sterile (hopefully) and have variegated foliage along with double flowers. As a rose of Sharon lover, I’m always looking for another one for the garden.


Forget about mophead hydrangeas (H. macrophylla) … grow something that will bloom for you every year. H. arborescens is an indestructible version of the plant that flowers every season without fail. ‘Annebelle’ has large, pretty white flowers and grows to about 5 feet tall and wide. I have four growing along the outside of the vegetable garden in deer country that get nibbled, but always produce flowers. They are growing in consort with ‘Invincibelle Spirit,’ a tough, pink-blooming variety. Portions of the proceeds of this variety go to breast cancer research.

Rhododendrons and azaleas

Rhododendron and azaleas are best planted as understory plants. Although they are seen out in full sun and as foundation plantings, their natural habitat is in the woodlands and they’re happiest in acidic soil. Both are favorites of deer, especially the buds in the winter. There’s a wide color spectrum for the flowers of both, and most are evergreen. When searching out something for the landscape, visit a good nursery to find a unique variety that will stand out in the garden for decades to come. Both plants benefit from an application of the organic fertilizer Hollytone from Espoma in the spring.

Carolina allspice

Carolina allspice is making a comeback in both home and public gardens. This native shrub can get 9 feet tall and enjoys a little shade in the afternoon. The reddish, purple flowers have a beautiful fragrance in the early summer. ‘Hartlage Wine’ has bigger flowers than the straight species. I saw the variety blooming at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium and had to have one in the landscape, but I also grow the native variety.


I’ve got two old-fashioned spirea shrubs that bloom in traditional white but also other cultivars with chartreuse foliage and pink blooms. There are more different spirea cultivars out there than you could imagine. This tough plant will bloom in the sun or with some shade.


Lilacs might be a one-trick pony, but boy is it a great trick. The carefree nature of the plant and the amazing fragrance of the flowers make it an all-time winner. There are countless different varieties with wonderful color choices. It’s pretty easy to find something unusual and pretty. Even though ‘Bloomerang’ doesn’t have the intense fragrance of traditional lilacs, it still smells pretty and can bloom three times a year.

Article by Doug Oster,
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