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The kids are back at school, football games have kicked off and in some parts of the country leaves are falling.

Even with brisk temperatures on their way, homeowners can create a beautiful fall landscape by knowing which plants put on a show in the fall and how to design a space that gives them center stage. Professional landscape designers from throughout the country offer some tips for designing a show-stopping fall garden.

Autumn can be a tricky season, but with some helpful tips from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers, www.apld.org, you can create your dream fall garden this year and enjoy it for years to come.

Consider Your Space


“There is never a dull moment in the fall landscape,” says 2011 APLD Landscape Designer of the Year Suzanne Arca, APLD, ASLA, CLCA. Consider what shapes and colors currently exist in your garden. “Though we may lose some of the plant material framework in the garden during the autumn months, we gain fall foliage color, sculptural shapes of the deciduous trees and shrubs, and the architectural details become the focal point,” states Arca.

“If a garden is pleasing to look at or walk through in autumn or winter it is usually because of the use of space--patterns created by paths or walls, shapes of plant material and silhouettes of tree trunks and branches,” says Arca.

Do Your Homework

Visit your local garden center and make a list of your favorite plants and color combinations. “Garden centers are a great place to start,” says APLD president Bobbie Schwartz, FAPLD. “The colors and combinations of plants can give you inspiration and highlight what is available.” Throughout the year, save pages from magazines that inspire you and take pictures of your own garden to remind you what is in bloom.

“The rich colors of fall are lovely, but don’t forget that berries add color. Shrubs, such as Beautyberry (Callicarpa) and Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), light up the landscape with their bright berries. Others have foliage that turns maroon, scarlet, orange, or yellow such as Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosu) and Sweetspire (Itea virginica) and Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia),”says Schwartz.

Plant Trees and Shrubs Now


Plant now to give plants plenty of time to establish roots before summer. Fall weather can also be more comfortable for working outdoors, so get your gloves and shovel ready. “I recommend planting in the fall because both you and your plants can beat the heat. The plants you are putting in the ground have months to settle in before the heat of summer,” says Schwartz.

Don’t forget the south says landscape designer Susan Gworek, “Even though people often think of the northern states having great fall color, the southeast has a lot to offer. In addition to the wonderful fall colors of the maples and Japanese maples, many of our native trees have striking colors. Sourwood, black gum and black tupelo are three that come to mind. Some of my favorite native shrubs outstanding fall color including Virginia sweetspire, Oakleaf hydrangea and Fothergilla.”

Plant for impact says landscape designer and APLD award winner Rachel Gioannini, APLD. “In the southwest most trees won't go through a change of color, but those that do will really stand out,” says Gioannini. “Try the Chinese Pistache or the Fan-Tex Ash for southwestern landscapes. Both are deciduous, so will be best placed on the south or west side of your home.”

Try Something New

Laura Kuhn, a professional landscape designer in Arlington, Massachusetts reflects on fall landscapes with a unique perspective. “Interest can be created by what you don’t do rather than what you do, so think about implementing a low-maintenance plan for garden care: leave seed heads and stems for ornamental appeal,” says Kuhn. “Want some great plants for fall? Consider sedum, echinacea, aster, ornamental grasses – and the more the better, for their textural contrasts and subtle hues as well as to feed the birds and remaining insects.”

Avoid Common Mistakes

Avoid common mistakes that can work against your hard work in the garden. “Nothing drives me crazier than volcano mulching. You’ve seen it – mounds of mulch around tree trunks. Volcano mulching is tree murder,” says Schwartz, FAPLD. “Mulch pushed up against a tree trunk ensures that a moist environment will ensue, thus providing the perfect environment for diseases and pests.”

For those without a green thumb – and even for those with one – consulting a trusted professional is often a best first step. A professional landscape designer envisions creative solutions to the most difficult outdoor challenges – problems they’ve more than likely solved before.

Having a beautiful fall landscape doesn’t have to mean missing the football games and back-breaking work for you. With the help of a professional landscape designer you can create a plan that will work for your landscape and you. Finding a designer is easy: visit www.apld.org.


The Association of Professional Landscape Designers is an international organization representing over 1,300 members in the United States, Canada, Great Britain and other countries. The mission of APLD is to advance the profession of landscape design and to promote the recognition of landscape designers as qualified and dedicated professionals. APLD was founded in 1989 and is headquartered in Harrisburg, Pa. For more information about APLD or about the awards program, visit www.apld.org.

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