6 Interesting Fall Plant Combos

Combining plants in the garden is both art and science, and even long-time gardeners are always tweaking their existing combos and experimenting with new ones. We did the hard work for you here so you just need to plant and enjoy these picture-perfect autumn centered combos for years to come. We’ve created six different themes: texture, shade tolerant, deer resistant, unique color, bird-friendly, and native. Under each plant combination, we’ve listed what you’ll see in the other seasons too to ensure your garden is beautiful year-round. Pick a combination that works for your landscape, or use our ideas as a palette and mix and match your own.

Keep scrolling to find your new view for the fall season.

Texture Celebration

Every plant has a texture.
Fine texture = small leaves or flowers
Medium texture = average sized leaves or flowers
Coarse texture = big leaves or flowers

Intentionally pairing plants with different textures not only helps break up the view, but it also engages your visitors and encourages them to really look at your plants. Imagine; you see a busy bunch of tiny leaves and then shift to the relief of a mass of plain, wide leaves and then you get to delight in a perfectly framed bunch of average-sized flowers and so on.

Symphoricarpos sp.

full to part sun 
3-4 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 3-7

– clusters of light pink berries are so perfect they look fake
– does not need a pollinator to develop berries

Cotinus coggygria

full to part sun 
5-8 ft. tall and 6 ft. wide 
USDA zones 4-8

– massive pink seed heads are so thick you can hardly see the foliage

Viburnum carlesii

full to part sun 
6-7 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 4-8

– dramatic burgundy fall color
– will develop berries if planted with a pollinator

But what does this trio bring to the garden the rest of the year? 

SPRING – masses of highly fragrant white flowers on Spice Girl viburnum
SPRING-FALL lightly hairy, deeply veined leaves on Spice Girl viburnum
small, dusty blue-green leaves add fine texture and interesting color on Proud Berry
dense habit of The Velvet Fog smokebush makes any space look lush
WINTER – The Velvet Fog’s architectural branching is revealed and highlighted by dried seedheads

Most Shade Tolerant Combo

Now, before you get too excited thinking that these fall beauties will make it look like your shady garden is practically on fire, I need to let you know that their color will be slightly less bright in the shade. However, they are extremely vigorous growers and they’ll bring more color and life into that spot than the ordinary shrub. 

Diervilla sp.

full sun to full shade 
3-4 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 4-7

– explodes into bright orange color in fall 
– makes great filler for cut flower arrangements

Hydrangea quercifolia

full to part sun 
6-8 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 5-9

– dark pink flowers in early fall
– massive leaves make a big impact with burgundy fall coloring

Itea virginica

full sun to full shade
2-3 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 5-9

– extraordinary color transitions in fall, blends of moody green, burgundy, and cherry red
– generally unbothered by deer

But what does this trio bring to the garden the rest of the year? 

SPRING – brilliantly colored new growth from Kodiak Orange diervilla
SPRING-FALL – massive leaves on Gatsby Pink add coarse texture to the garden
EARLY SUMMER – long white, fragrant flowers from Scentlandia sweetspire
MID-SUMMER – bright white blooms from Gatsby Pink oakleaf hydrangea
ALL SUMMER – waves of tubular yellow flowers from Kodiak Orange diervilla
WINTER – exfoliating bark, whimsical habit, and dried flowers on Gatsby Pink

Deer Resistant

Deer can make gardening feel less like a fun hobby and more like an extreme course in self denial, “I don’t really need flowers anyway…” That’s where these shrubs come in. On a scale from A to D, A being rarely bothered and D being deer food, these plants all get A’s. So you can actually look forward to seeing that fall show. Really, you can.

Viburnum dentatum var. deamii

full to part sun
4-5 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 4-8

– bunches of dark blue berries grow in clusters in the fall
– glossy foliage is deeply veined and adds medium texture 

Caryopteris × clandonensis

full sun
2-2.5 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 5-9

– blooms at the end of summer and persists into fall
– electric, true blue colored flowers

Sambucus racemosa

full to part sun
4-7 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 3-7

– foliage keeps its brilliant chartreuse color well into fall 
– highly dissected leaves add fine texture

But what does this trio bring to the garden the rest of the year? 

SPRING – fluffy white flower clusters on Glitters & Glows *spray these flowers to protect them!
SPRING – astible-like creamy white flowers on Lemony Lace
SPRING-SUMMER – long, small leaves on Beyond Midnight add interesting fine texture
LATE SUMMER – red berries may appear on Lemony Lace
WINTER – whimsical branching of Lemony Lace is exposed all winter

Unique Color Combination

Step just outside of the norm by embracing purples and pinks in your berries, foliage, and flowers. This combination of colors makes it feel like the cheerful spirit of summer has extended into fall. 

Callicarpa ×

full sun
4-5 ft. tall and 3-4 ft. wide 
USDA zones 5-8

– electric lavender bunches of berries are gathered on the dark purple stems in fall 

Blazing reddish pink and yellow fall color on Glow Girl spirea.

Spiraea betulifolia

full to part sun 
3-4 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 3-9

– its normally chartreuse foliage transitions to hot pink and yellow

Heptacodium miconioides

full sun 
6-10 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 5-9

– puffy flower-like structures appear in early fall and persist until winter hits 

 But what does this trio bring to the garden the rest of the year? 

SPRING – rounded bunches of bright white flowers on Glow Girl
SPRING-FALL – small foliage on Glow girl is a bright chartreuse color and has fine texture
SPRING-SUMMER – dark purplish green foliage on Pearl Glam
LATE SUMMER – large white flowers on Temple of Bloom
WINTER – exfoliating milky white bark on the trunks on Temple of Bloom is especially handsome and noticeable when trained into a tree form

Bird Buffet

This selection of shrubs produces fruits and seeds in fall, when many birds are bulking up for migration or in preparation for the cold. Beyond their ability to produce food, these shrubs actually attract food, too! To have a true birder’s garden, you’ll need shrubs that draw in a ton of insects. It sounds brutal, but it’s absolutely necessary. These North American natives also happen to have absolutely stunning red and burgundy fall coloring that the birds probably won’t care about, but I trust that the monochromatic-loving gardener will (red foliage in fall, white flowers in spring). 

Aronia melanocarpa

full sun to part shade 
8-14 in. tall and 3 ft. wide 
USDA zones 3-9

– dark blue berries develop in late summer/early fall
– creates a blanket of fall color with its spreading habit 

Crataegus crus-galli

full sun
15 ft. tall and 12-15 ft.wide 
USDA zones 3-7

– clusters of small red fruits arrive in autumn
– gorgeous burgundy fall color

Cephalanthus occidentalis

full sun
3-4 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 4-10

– fruit (actually called nutlets) turns a bright showy red by fall 
– glossy foliage turns burgundy in autumn

But what does this trio bring to the garden the rest of the year? 

SPRING – clusters of small white flowers blanket Ground Hug aronia
SPRING – thornless branches are filled with tiny white flowers on Crusader hawthorn
SUMMER – perfectly ball shaped white flowers on Sugar Shack buttonbush
SPRING-WINTER – silvery tan bark illuminates the landscape on Crusader hawthorn
WINTER – dried fruits attract birds on Sugar Shack buttonbush

Native to North America

If you like to follow nature’s cues when it comes to gardening, you’ll really enjoy this group of shrubs. They’re not just native to North America, they also offer the full array of fall color you normally see out in the untouched landscape. Orange, red, purple, and yellow are fully covered. 

Fothergilla × intermedia

full to part sun 
2-2.5 ft. tall and 2-3 ft. wide 
USDA zones 5-9

– lightly fuzzy blue-green foliage slowly transitions to a blend of purple, red, and orange in fall

Cornus sericea

full to part sun
3 ft. tall and wide 
USDA zones 2-7

– foliage matches the stem color with gorgeous, glowing red in fall

Clethra alnifolia

full sun
3-6 ft. tall and 3-5 ft. wide 
USDA zones 4-9

– beautiful dried seed heads 
– bright yellow fall color

But what does this trio bring to the garden the rest of the year? 

SPRING – fluffy bottlebrush-like fragrant white flowers on Legend of the Small
SPRING – if grown in full sun, tiny white flowers on Arctic Fire Red dogwood
SUMMER – long white, fragrant flowers on Vanilla Spice summersweet
SPRING-WINTER – dark red stems on Arctic Fire Red dogwood

Break up your landscape with one of these interesting fall combos and see it come alive! What’s your favorite shrub for fall color? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments (5)

  1. Bobbie Schwartz

    Dear Kristina:

    This was an excellent newsletter. I did not know that the fruits of Sugar Shack Buttonbush are red instead of green. I think I will have to take out the Buttonbush I have. It is getting too large and I’d rather have the red fruits. Thank you.

  2. Maria Pappano

    Thanks so much for the great information! I have a question about the deer resistant plants. It states to spray the flowers to protect them. Is this to protect them from being eaten by deer and do you have any suggestions as to what products would work best? Thanks again!

    • Stacey

      Yes, this would be to protect the flowers from being eaten by the deer – there are lots of plants that deer won’t really damage except when they are in bud/bloom, and spraying helps to mitigate that. I have used Liquid Fence and Plantskydd before with great results. If you have a severe deer issue, you should opt for repellents made from blood and putrified egg solids over those that are wintergreen/mint-based. Though these repellents smell really terrible when you apply them, they are by far the most effective.

  3. Garry Bernhardt

    Would you please include the Latin ?(?(proper) name with the picture?i

    • Stacey

      Yes, we just updated the post. Also, if you click through to each variety’s page here on the site, you’ll get complete details, including botanical names.

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Written by
Picture of Kristina Howley

Kristina Howley

I am all in when it comes to gardening. Almost every part of the experience delights me – new leaves emerging in spring, pollinators buzzing in summer, birds devouring berries in fall, and the somber beauty of seed heads in winter. Thanks to a background in horticulture and gardening my own clay-filled, flowery USDA zone 5b plot, I’ve learned plenty of practical things as well. I like sharing these joys and lessons with my fellow gardeners and soon-to-be gardeners any way I can.


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