Ornamental Fruit for Fall

As the summer fades into fall and the flowering plants wane in the northern latitudes of the USA, the gardener looks to fruiting and foliage plants to add a burst of interest to the autumnal landscape. There are many plants that provide outstanding fall color, but often the vibrant fruiting shrubs of fall are overlooked when planting a garden.

Fall fruiting shrubs generally start getting their fruit color around the middle of September. Some of the very best will keep their attractive fruits into April of the following year. Fruiting plants, while ornamental, are often used to also attract wildlife to the garden, especially birds.

Without a doubt, the best fall fruiting shrubs must be the deciduous hollies. The shrubs in this group, which range in size from 4 to 15 feet, are covered with berries from the middle of September to sometimes well into the following spring. They range in color from yellow to orange to red. In October, the leaves are shed, revealing heavily berry-laden branches. In many cases you can hardly see the branch because of the quantity of fruit. Deciduous hollies, often called winterberry, are dioecious, which means there are both male and female plants. The fruiting plants are the females; therefore, a male plant is needed in the vicinity for outstanding fruiting to occur.

Some of the very best include Ilex verticillata, "Winter Red," which fruits at a very young age. Reaching only 5 to 6 feet at maturity, it is a perfect candidate for the small garden. "Winter Gold" is a soft-orange relative. "Southern Gentleman" is the male pollinator. A male pollinator can pollinate a dozen female plants.

The smallest of the winterberries is "Red Sprite," only reaching 4 to 5 feet at maturity.

For the gardener who has more space, you may want to consider either "Sparkleberry" or "Scarlet O'Hara." Both have dazzling glossy-red fruit. The plants ultimately will get 12 feet tall and 12 feet wide. The male pollinator is "Apollo" or "Rhett Butler." They will set the most fruit in full sun; however, they will tolerate some shade. They can be grown in fairly poor urban soils, or, as you might often see in the wild, they can be grown in damp areas or along lakes or ponds.

Another favorite group is the viburnums. In May, they are often adorned with attractive open clusters of white flowers. In the fall they are covered with clusters of stunning red, pink, purple or orange berries. Viburnums are best planted in groups. Cross-pollination amongst the individuals will result in the best fruit set. My favorite of all the fruiting viburnums is a native Viburnum nudum, "Winterthur." Reaching only 4 to 5 feet at maturity makes it a good specimen for the smaller garden. In May, it is covered with flat-topped clusters of bright white flowers. In the fall, the oblong leaves turn a brilliant plum purple. In late September, the green clusters of berries begin to turn a cotton-candy pink and continue to turn to deeper and deeper tones of purple, thus giving the fruit multi-colored dimension.

Other viburnums of note are the linden viburnums, Viburnum dilitatum, "Erie" with blood red fruits and "Michael Dodge" with golden yellow fruits. The tea viburnums, Viburnum setigerum, combine great flowers, vase-shaped habit, maroon fall color and pendant clusters of red, yellow or orange fruits.

For purple fruits in the fall, the beautyberries are excellent. The ornamental fruits are showy from September into December. Along the branches are clusters of tiny, shiny, intensely purple berries. Callicarpa japonica, "Issai," and Callicarpa dichotoma reach only 4 inches tall if cut back to the ground each March. A larger stature plant is Callicarpa bodineri, "Profusion," which will reach nearly 10 feet tall.

All the shrubs mentioned are excellent in autumnal floral displays. They combine beautifully with many grasses, such as Panicum, Calamagrostis and Miscanthus. Many fall blooming perennials, such as the purple-flowered aster, "Hella Lacy," the white-flowered anemone, "Honorine Jobert," and the white-flowered cimicifuga, "Atropurpurea," provide striking contrasts and combinations.

Fall fruiting plants can also be cut for beautiful indoor arrangements.

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