Unsung heroes of fall color

As I wait for autumn’s best colors to reach my neck of the woods here just to the northeast of Richmond, Virginia, I can’t help but reflect on my favorite plants for fall colors. I’m certain I’ve already done a post on this topic, but I neglected to mention two plants that are just stunning in the peak of fall, yet for some reason don’t get the attention they deserve.

Aronia (Chokeberry)

A small tree/shrub native to the eastern United States, often taking on an upright vase shape, growing to 5-10 feet. Produces an abundance of red or black (depending on species) fruit in late summer/early fall that benefits wildlife, and foliage turns various shades of red/crimson. Tolerant of various soil types, does best in partial to full sun. Drought tolerant once established.

Aronia melanocarpa_leaf fall color, fruit


Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood)

A medium to large tree (30-50’) of pyramidal habit, Sourwood produces fragrant tassels of tiny white, bell-shaped flowers in mid-summer. Lustrous green leaves turn brilliant red in fall. Does well in acid soils in part to full sun. A good specimen tree for an open space in the yard.

Oxydendrum arboreum_leaf fall color, fruit

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Garden work update: winter rye planted

Finally relaxing after a long day in the field behind our property, getting it ready for next spring. I’ve been ripping out as much Bermuda grass as its roots will yield, tilling the soil a bit, and planting winter rye seed for a cover crop, to help build the soil and smother weeds. The rye should grow to about 4 or 5 feet tall, then in spring I’ll cut it down and let it lay as mulch and transplant into it. So, nothing to show just yet for all the work I’ve been doing, but soon enough.

In the meantime, my mom emailed me this photo she took of a Camellia in her garden. It’s an Ackerman hybrid, very cold hardy, called “Winter’s Joy” I believe.


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Bad plants and better alternatives

With the arrival of the cool weather of fall, we enter another prime time to plant hardy perennials, shrubs, and trees! But not all plants sold at the nursery should be planted, as tempting as they might be. Prime example: Euonymus alatus (aka Burning Bush). Besides the nice red color, it produces copious amounts of seed in late fall, which are picked up by birds and deposited around the immediate area and beyond. These seeds germinate and grow thick stands of new plants that choke out native plants on which wildlife depend for food and shelter. It has landed Burning Bush on the invasive plants list in several states. The same story is true for many Butterfly Bush (Buddleia spp.) varieties. Below is a chart of good native alternatives to popular (though invasive) shrubs. I’ve grouped these plants by similar characteristics.

Invasive plant

Native alternatives

Euonymus alatus (Burning Bush)

  • Itea virginica (Sweetspire)
  • (Aronia arbutifolia (Chokeberry)
  • Fothergilla (Witch Alder)

Lonicera japonica (Japanese or asian honeysuckle)

  • Gelsemium sempervirens (Carolina jessamine)
  • Lonicera sempervirens (Coral honeysuckle)

Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental bittersweet)

  • Bignonia capreolata (crossvine)

Elaeagnus species (Russian, Autumn Olive)

  • Ilex verticillata (Winterberry holly)
  • Ilex vomitoria (Yaupon holly)
  • Viburnum nudum (Blackhaw viburnum)

Hedera helix (English ivy)

  • Hydrangea anomola sub sp. petiolaris (Climbing hydrangea)
  • Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny spurge)

Albizia julibrissin (Mimosa, Silk tree)

  • Cercis canadensis (Eastern redbud)
  • Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood)

Miscanthus sinensis (Chinese silvergrass)

  • Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)
  • Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly grass)

Nandina domestica (Heavenly bamboo)

  • Physocarpus opulifolius (Ninebark)


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Time for cover crops

As we head into the fall, it’s time to think about getting your garden ready for next spring and summer. A great way to revitalize the soil is to plant cover crops. Cover crops serve multiple purposes: they smother weeds, attract pollinators, control erosion, build up biomass/structure in the soil, fix nitrogen and other nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable to garden crops, and many are edible, producing seed that can be used to make flour. My former sustainable agriculture professor has put together a terrific DVD on how to use cover crops to keep your soil and garden healthy:


View a preview of it here:


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Time to think about the fall garden

It’s late August, summer is still in full swing but fall will be here before we know it, and with the cooler weather comes the second planting season, both for fall crops as well as ornamentals. But fall doesn’t have to be a ho-hum season in the garden. Check out my Pinterest board for plants that show off their colors in the fall, or berries in winter!


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Podcast episode 2 – plants that take the heat

The second Garden Dude podcast is now up. You can find it on iTunes by searching for “The Garden Dude” under Podcasts. By using iTunes you can subscribe to the podcast and get each new episode automatically when it is posted. But if you’re the lazy type (and hey, aren’t we all lazy sometimes) you can click here to listen to it directly.

Discussed in this episode:

  • Garden harvest update
  • An exciting new cold hardy, heat/humidity tolerant lavender
  • Plants that bloom in late summer when others are slowing down
  • The mailbag – answering YOUR questions
  • What is this “Garden chat” on Twitter and how do I participate?
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Podcast on iTunes; episode 2 in the works

Excited to announce that the Garden Dude podcast is now on iTunes! Just search for “the garden dude” and it’ll come up. I’ve started on the 2nd podcast and want to do a “mailbag” segment, so if you have any gardening questions you’d like me to answer, just email them to thegardendude@outlook.com and, depending on how many I get, I may answer yours during that segment!

What gardening topics do YOU want to hear about?

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