5 Plants for a Beautiful Late Fall Garden

5 Plants to a Great Late Fall Landscape

Most homeowners can create beautiful gardens or home landscapes in the summer months. The grass is green, bushes are in flower, bulbs bloom and trees are leaved out. But most families live in their house twelve months a year, so why not landscape your home gardens so they also looks good in November, December and January, while supporting winter wildlife?

In early November I took these photos of my favorite fall plants from my own home landscape. While they may not have quite the “WOW!” factor that a spring blooming dogwood may have, they look pretty darn good for the “off season.” Maybe sit down with your family this fall and think about ways to attract more wildlife to your home gardens with plants that look interesting in the winter, producing seeds for birds and flowers for bees and butterflies.

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In a home landscape I recommend trees, shrubs, ground covers, flowers and ornamental grasses…
Trees ♦ My favorite tree for fall/winter interest is the “Heritage” river birch. This is a tree that looks its best in the winter. What other tree can you say that about? The bark exfoliates into a creamy salmon color year round. This tree I planted 4 years ago and is a multi stemmed birch.

Shrubs ♦ To me, one of the harbingers of fall is the berry laden branches of the Winterberry Holly. They can be seen this time of the year, and through much of the winter, on the roadsides and wetland of New England. The berries, while poisonous to humans, are a source of vital nutrients for many birds. These berries are called “persistent” because they do not ripen for many months, hence being left alone by the birds for us to visually enjoy (As opposed to a blueberry which seems to ripen right away.). Then, upon their ripening, in the mid-late winter they are fed on by up to 48 species of local non-migratory birds in need of a winter meal!

Ground Covers ♦ One ground cover I have been experimenting with is called Waldsteinia or Barren Strawberry. It is: super hardy, evergreen, drought tolerant, can handle shade or sun and flowers. What is there not to like? If you are looking to use a ground cover that is not the ubiquitous pachysandra or vinca, give this a try.

Perennial Flowers ♦ An underused native plant for the landscape is called Snakeroot or Cohosh. It can handle sun or shade, has burgundy foliage, flowers late in summer when most other have gone by and produces crazy seed heads that last through fall for the birds to enjoy.

Grasses ♦ One of the best ornamental grasses for the smaller gardens is the little blue stem grass. This grass does not run like some invasive grasses. It stays small (24″), is drought tolerant, has blue-green stems all summer, then turns a radiant mahogany red with white shining seed tufts in the fall.

While planning what to add to your garden for next year, a fun activity to do in the winter with the kids is to go on a winter weed walk, looking for barren stalks with their branching stems that now have seeds or the remains of seed pod.  Recommended guides to use for a winter weed walk include:


Jim McSweeney

Jim is a certified arborist, certified horticulturist, licensed pesticide applicator (needed for the application of organic pesticides in MA) & a professional landscape designer with over 15 years experience. He is also the owner of Hilltown Tree & Garden LLC. Jim is on the faculty at the New England Wildflower Society, teaching courses on a diverse range of topics. He lives and works in Zone 5 (Chesterfield, MA) with his family. Once a month here on Hilltown Families you will find timely gardening tips, from a pro in the field, that can be easily used by both avid and novice gardeners, specific to Western MA.

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