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"Fall Color in a Can," by the Whistling Gardener

I’m not one to rush into the fall season - our summers are far too short as it is and the longer I can convince myself that September is really late summer, the longer I can enjoy backyard picnics (socially distanced of course) and shorts. And, despite the cool June, this has been a great summer.
Fall foliage. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

I’m not one to rush into the fall season - our summers are far too short as it is and the longer I can convince myself that September is really late summer, the longer I can enjoy backyard picnics (socially distanced of course) and shorts.

And, despite the cool June, this has been a great summer. This has been a summer of grasshoppers, blooming silk trees and even a crepe myrtle or two - all of which would not happen without a modicum of sun and heat.

But unfortunately, hot, dry summers also tend to rush us into the fall season prematurely. The reason, of course, is that plants grow faster when it’s warmer and consequently mature sooner.

Go to any garden center this time of year and you will find ample evidence of plants that are finishing up their growth cycle and are starting to sport their fall apparel - these plants are not sick, just a little stressed. I like to think of them as plants that have been preconditioned for the real world, weaned from the nurturing care of the nursery professional and ready for the harsh reality of your garden! 

Here are a few that are looking especially fall-ish around our nursery right now…

Love Child SweetspireItea virginica is a native to the east coast of North America but is well adapted to the northwest. Bailey Nurseries (with growing grounds in Yamhill, Oregon) has introduced, through their “First Editions” line of shrubs, a dwarf form of sweetspire called “Love Child.” 

They describe it as follows: A compact form of Virginia Sweetspire, blooming in spring with white, fragrant racemes radiating out from a rounded plant with bright green foliage. In autumn the foliage turns gorgeous shades of burgundy.The small size makes it perfect for smaller gardens and foundation plantings.A versatile shrub for sun or shade.Thrives in moist soil but somewhat drought tolerant too.Deer resistant.”  What’s not to like about that!

Kodiak Orange Diervilla — Marketed under the Proven Winners label, this North American native is tough as nails. Here’s what they have to say about it: “Kodiak® Orange Diervilla pushes fall color to the limits with its transformation to glowing orange. New growth emerges a showy russet, accompanied by bright yellow flowers in summer. It is completely pest free, growing in sun or shade, and stays a tidy 3 to 4 feet tall and as wide.” 

Kodiak Red” is similar, only with darker and brighter red coloration.

Opening Day Viburnum — This doublefile Viburnum is another First Edition introduction from Bailey Nurseries and while the spring blooms are absolutely perfectly round and the size of baseballs, the fall color is incredible! Bright green leaves in spring are heavily corrugated and turn shades of cabernet in the fall.

While I wouldn’t normally advocate buying plants that are all stressed out, in this case, it’s okay.  These guys are just finishing up the season a little early and with proper planting they will be rearing to go come springtime. 

So, if you want to get a jump on the fall color season, get out to the garden center this month to check out some early “Fall Color in a Can.“  If nothing else, it will surely put you in the mood for a pumpkin spice latte. Stay safe and keep on gardening.

Sunnyside will be hosting their next free class, ‘Make Your Own Terrarium,’ on Sunday, October 4, 2020, at 11:00 am.    

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at sunnysidenursery@msn.com.

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