Fall is almost here. And if you’re like most gardeners, your brilliant summer flowers are beginning to fade, and you’re looking to add some new interest to fire up your fall garden.

Winter Berry Holly

The bright red fruit of winterberry holly doubles as food for wildlife.

Photo Credit: Bryce H. Lane


American beautyberry adds bright spots of glossy, purple berries in your fall garden.

Photo Credit: Bryce H. Lane

Swamp Sunflower

Swamp sunflowers will gleam like rays of sunshine from late summer through fall.

Photo Credit: Bryce H. Lane

Pink Muhly Grass

The airy pink plums of pink muhly grass are to die for!

Photo Credit: Bryce H. Lane

Sure, there are lots of old favorites. Many gardeners turn to traditional chrysanthemums, or “mums.” These beauties are great because they can be planted as annuals or perennials; offer a wide array of colors, sizes and flower forms; and they blend in well with their neighboring plants.

In warmer regions, like here in the Southeast, pansies are another great “fallback” because they offer blooms from autumn into spring and perform terrifically. The small-flowered miniature pansies, called Johnny-jump-ups or violas, will bloom all the way through winter.

But not everyone jumps up for these steady fall favorites – some gardeners want to add a little something more or different. And here’s the great news: There are many plants out there that’ll add new levels of pizzazz into your autumn garden.

When my husband and I, both horticulturists, moved into our new house, we wanted to make sure our landscape offered us something all year-round – not just at the onset of spring. We looked for plants that would showcase our gardens in the fall and winter, too. So for my fellow gardeners looking for something a little more permanent and powerful than mums and pansies, be sure to check out these beauties – which you can rely on year after year for brilliant color.

If you’re going for some good garden structure, as well as fall color, try Ilex verticillata, or winterberry holly. This deciduous tree grows 6-15 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide. In fall, the female plants produce small, bright-red berries in dense clusters, and they last into winter. The really cool thing about this holly is that the berries grow on bare stems. So rather than being hidden by leaves like most hollies, these clusters of brightness are nicely showcased. I love it in the landscape, as well as in my holiday table arrangements!

Want even more berries? Try Callicarpa americana, or American beautyberry. This small deciduous shrub is a multi-season pleaser. This native favorite can reach 3-4 feet high and a good 4-5 feet wide. It’s got white to pink flowers in summer, but fall is when it really shines – with clusters of glossy, purple berries. For the best berry production, be sure to cut American beautyberry back severely each year in the early spring before it leafs out.

For a big-blooming beauty, try Helianthus angustifolia, or swamp sunflower. This native perennial reaches 6-8 feet tall and about 3-5 feet wide. You’ll love all the flowers that appear from late summer on through fall. Each bloom is an amazing sunny yellow and can reach up to 2-3 inches across!

Muhlenbergia capillaris, or pink muhly grass, is one of my personal fall favorites because it adds color and unique texture to the garden. It’s a sun-loving ornamental grass with airy inflorescences that are often pink, purplish red or purplish gray in color. This is such an amazingly versatile grass, and it reaches a nice 3 feet tall.

As you can see, adding interest to your autumn garden isn’t limited to a few favorite fall flowers. Shrubs, ornamental grasses and natives have fruit and foliage that provide color and texture year after year. Frankly, there are so many plants with fall interest to choose from, that there’s no good reason for a hum-drum garden this time of year!