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Fall Foliage Combinations Full of Texture

By: Sherri RibbeySherri Ribbey
Add multiseason interest to your garden with a mix of shrubs and grasses. Plant one of these foliage combinations for stunning late-season borders.

Make fall foliage the star of your border

Foliage often plays second fiddle to blooms in the garden. But have you ever thought about letting the leaves take center stage? They last longer than flowers and come in an infinite variety of shapes and sizes, as well as many colors. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to combining foliage but these tips can help you get started.

Choose plants with colorful fall foliage

Green is just the beginning when it comes to foliage. You'll find a surprising number of other leaf colors to use in your fall borders — yellow, red, purple, white and silver, to name a few. For combos that have some real punch, combine contrasting colors like chartreuse and burgundy or silver and deep purple.

Remember, as the weather changes, leaf color often changes too. Gray-green in spring and summer, Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii) changes to vibrant red and Arkansas amsonia's (Amsonia hubrichtii) feathery green summer foliage turns to glowing gold in fall. The amount of light a plant gets has an effect on leaf color, too. You’ll even notice differences within the same cultivar — for example, chartreuse hostas turn yellow with more sun. But the same hosta in shade stays chartreuse over the summer.

Add texture with fall foliage

Touch fuzzy lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) or a smooth rhododendron (Rhododendron spp. and hybrids) leaf and you’ve experienced texture. Though these surfaces often have practical functions — lamb’s ear’s silver fuzz helps it beat the heat and retain water, for example — this tactile element also adds a lot of interest to the garden. Visual texture can be subtle, as in the case of the fine-texured grasses or the deeply cut leaves of the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). But it can really make a statement too. You can't miss the deeply serrated silver horned poppy (Glaucium flavum) foliage or hostas (Hosta hybrids) with puckered leaves. Pay close attention to the size and shape of the leaves in your garden, too. A variety makes them easier to see and more interesting.

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fall foliage plant combo with yucca lettered: Though the yucca's evergreen foliage doesn't change color, its dramatic sword-like leaves provide excitement for the border.

Fantastic fall foliage pairing

Viburnum’s deep burgundy fall foliage, golden-yellow maiden grass and the red, yellow and violet of Labrador rose keep this garden looking good well into fall. And when those autumn leaves disappear, the contrasting shapes of the grass, yucca and juniper really sing — even in winter.

A) Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
Type Perennial Blooms Silver, tan, pink or burgundy plumes in late spring to fall Light Full sun to part shade Size 1 to 12 ft. tall, 1 to 6 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

B) Koreanspice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii)
Type Shrub Blooms Pink to white blooms in early to late spring Light Full sun to part shade Size 4 to 6 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

C) Labrador rose (Rosa blanda)
Type Shrub Blooms Single pink blooms with a yellow center in early summer followed by round red hips in fall Light Full sun Size 3 to 5 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

D) Yucca (Yucca filamentosa)
Type Perennial Blooms Long 5- to 8-ft.-tall stems of creamy-white bell-shaped blooms emerge in summer Light Full sun Size 18 to 36 in. tall, 18 to 48 in. wide Hardiness cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 11

E) Creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’)
Type Shrub Foliage Prostrate habit with steel blue foliage all year Light Full sun Size 4 to 12 in. tall, 2 to 8 ft. wide Hardines Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9


fall foliage combo with blue spruce with lettered labels: Colorful evergreen foliage means the garden will still look amazing in winter.

Get multiseason interest with grasses, trees and shrubs

This pair of pint-sized evergreens have similar textures and habits, but the vibrant color contrast makes this combo pop. Set against the warm-hued Japanese maple and grasses that will stay standing through winter, there's plenty to enjoy about this fall border.

A) Maiden grass (Miscanthus sinensis)
Type Perennial Blooms Silver, tan, pink or burgundy plumes in late spring to fall Light Full sun to part shade Size 1 to 12 ft. tall, 1 to 6 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

B) Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
Type Perennial Blooms Purple-bronze flowers in summer Light Full sun Size 2 to 4 ft. tall, 2 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

C) Japanese maple (Acer palmatum var. dissectum ‘Garnet’)
Type Tree Foliage Deeply cut leaves emerge red-orange in spring and gradually fade to green in summer then red in fall Light Full sun to part shade Size 6 to 9 ft. tall, 8 to 12 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

D) Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Montgomery’)
Type Shrub Foliage Dwarf variety with silver blue evergreen foliage Light Full sun Size 3 to 4 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 8

E) Mugo pine (Pinus mugo ‘Aurea’)
Type Shrub Foliage Green needles become gold as the weather turns colder Light Full sun Size 2 to 3 ft. tall, 2 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 2 to 7

You Might Also Like:
How to Design with Japanese Maples
Smart Garden Plans
Tour a Muliseason Garden in Washington State

Published: Nov. 29, 2023
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