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Fall Color in Texas in Early December -- Angie Brown

As the leaves pile up in the driveway, I'm reminded of the beautiful autumn displays I used to enjoy back in the days when I lived in the Midwest (Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin). The Texas landscape just never seems that bright and colorful, and most of the leaves that end up in my compost pile are brown. Having spent the Thanksgiving holiday in Missouri and Kansas, though, I'm also reminded that autumn is already over up there and winter is itching to make its first snowy appearance.

I was happy to return home and walk through my own garden (without a jacket, no less!). Although the North Texas autum is not as magnificant as those I remember from my childhood, we still have plenty of interesting things to look at in early December including flowers, berries, and even some colorful leaves.


Oak Trees

My yard is full of native oaks, and they do not put on an autumn show. They just turn brown and fall (and fall and fall and fall). But I appreciate them nonetheless, since they provide shade all summer, and an abundant supply of material for the compost pile in the fall.


Japanese Aralia

This medium-sized shrub stays green for most of the year. . . this year's leaves will eventually be replaced by new ones, although the plant is never bare.

Interesting flower clusters begin to appear in late October and stay throughout much of the winter.

American Beautyberry

This large shrub is past its prime (it peaked just before the weather got cold), but there are still a few berry clusters left along the branches.

Most of the leaves have fallen already; those left are yellowed and wilty. Many of the berry clusters have a withered look to them as well, but the vividness of the berries' color makes this shrub a wonderful plant for a woodland garden.


Crepe Myrtle

This tree is also past its prime fall color, but a few weeks ago it was covered in small red leaves.



Throughout the summer, this fussy little tree is really easy to dislike: it's always thirsty, and even after a drink it looks wilted and pale. But it shines in spring when covered with white blossoms, and it makes a beautiful spectacle of itself in the fall garden as well.

The leaves are a dark red right now, with bright red berries peeking out from the branches.



I have two tiny ginkgo trees, each barely 5 ft. tall. But these long-lived trees can eventually reach 80-100 ft. Imagine such a large tree covered in brilliant yellow!!



This shrub comes in many varieties, and is grown mostly for its large summer flowers. I don't know if all of the varieties show the same fall color, but my white-flowering bush's leaves have turned a bright yellow.



We usually think of Christmas when we think of holly's bright red berries, but these tough, drought-resistant shrubs do well in Texas all year round.


Japanese Maple

These are among my favorite plants, and as you can see from the photo at right, I have several varieties. I never thought of Texas as a haven for Japanese maples, but became hooked on them after touring the Japanese gardens in the Ft. Worth Botanical Garden.

A nearly perfect understory tree, the Japanese maple thrives in partly shady areas with only minimal care. . . mine have weathered many dry summers (I don't have a sprinkler system so my plants are forced to live on whatever water I remember to give them) and they never disappoint.

Some varieties are red year-round, and some spend the summer in green, only to turn red or orange in the fall.



Here and there, you'll find beautiful yellow and red leaves on the nandina bush, but it is still mostly green and there is never enough color on one plant to mistake it for a "brilliant autumn display." That being said though, the nandina is still a wonderful shrub: it thrives on little attention, and rewards us with graceful leaves and bright red berries.


Oak Leaf Hydrangea

Another one of my favorite plants, the oak leaf hydrangea is a large shrub that can reach over 8 ft. high. As its name suggests, clusters of white flowers appear during the summer; but instead of the round clusters found on the more familiar pink or blue hydrangeas, the oak leaf hydrangea's flowers are clustered in a cone shape.

After the leaves turn a brilliant red in the fall, they will fall and leave the shrub naked, so planting it among evergreen plants is recommended.


Purple Heart

This plant's current color is not unique to fall -- it's a brilliant purple all summer, too. But it's especially fun to find a plant that looks so healthy and vigorous in early December.

Purple heart is sold at almost any nursery (or big box store) as an annual, but in north Texas it will die to the ground every year, then return better than ever come spring.


In my yard, redbud trees grow like weeds. Every year I dig, pull, cut, and otherwise remove dozens of young saplings. Native to Texas, these trees are happy under the canopy of the taller native oak trees, and they will survive with little care. They are mostly popular for their bright purple flowers in early spring.

This has not been a great year for my redbuds, as you can see in the photo. Something's been eating them all year long. Still, they put on a pretty good display of yellow in the autumn (just don't look too close!).


Inland Sea Oats

This grass is not interesting for fall color, but for its graceful arches of seeds. The plant is a pretty green all summer and will grow in shady areas. The seeds can easily be collected and sown where you want a new stand of inland sea oats, or you can just let the wind carry them where it may.


Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria)

I planted a smoke tree a few years ago, and it is still fairly small (maybe 4 ft. high). It has, however, filled out nicely and is at least 5 ft. in diameter. The leaves are a pleasant burgundy color all summer and into fall; they will drop for the winter, and come back fresh in the spring.

I enjoy this plant for its foliage and for its wispy smoke-like flowers in the early summer. I suspect that if it got more sun the flower display would be most spectacular, but I use it as an understory shrub in my shady yard.


Turks Cap

This tall perennial grows in sun or shade, it's drought tolerant, and blooms with interesting-shaped red flowers in the heat of the summer. After flowering, 1/2 inch bright red-orange berries appear, and will stay on the plant into winter (if they don't get eaten first).

As shown in the photo, the leaves also evidently make a tasty snack for something in my garden.