Plants for fall color – 5 ideas for beautiful borders

Ensure bright shades and seasonal interest in your borders with these fall planting suggestions that will continue giving right through to winter

Close up of red dogwood branches
(Image credit: Getty Images/MichelR45)

Tending to your plot is a year-round activity, so for a backyard that looks good in fall and winter it’s important to consider plant choices that work through the seasons. 

Having a planting plan to create multi-layered borders that provide interest through every season, and particularly in the colder months, is a smart idea. There are so many interesting shrubs with great color and shapely foliage that can create texture within your backyard ideas. We always recommend including evergreen shrubs, too, as they are great for adding structure and year-round color in the garden.

Plants for fall color – 5 picks for an autumnal border

For a fall border that's filled with color, choosing the best evergreen shrubs is just the start. You'll also want to look at what to plant around and beneath them, which might be the prettiest evergreen plants or perennials known for their late-flowering blooms.

'Larger and mature shrubs can have their lower branches pruned back, thereby raising the canopy,' says garden designer Nikki Hollier. 'This is called a crown lift, and it’s when all the leaves are located in the top section of the plant. This pruning technique can also improve the health of surrounding plants due to increased light and air circulation.'

Here we have selected five of the best plants for fall color, which could all work together when planted in a border to create a dramatic seasonal effect. 

garden expert and founder of Border in a Box Nikki Hollier
Nikki Hollier

Nikki Hollier is a gardening expert and landscape designer who specializes in off-the-shelf planting schemes via her company, Border in a Box. Nikki created this bespoke selection of plants for fall color to help you put together a beautiful border.

1. Photinia x fraseri 'Red Robin'

Photinia with red and green waxy leaves

(Image credit: Getty Images/mtreasure)

'Photinia are commonly used in hedges, but I love the lollipop tree versions as they’re great for adding height and interest in a small garden,' says Nikki. 'In the spring the new foliage is bright red, turning green as it matures.'

Bay trees are a good alternative – in fact, bays are some of the best trees for small gardens and tiny yards. Photinia and bay trees work well if you're considering clipped evergreens and topiary in your garden.

'Both trees are happy in a sunny or part-sunny spot,' Nikki says. 'Bay leaves have an added benefit as they can be used in cooking. Keep them clipped to the desired height and shape.'

Red tip photinia shrubs are available at Nature Hills. 

2. Colchicum 'The Giant'

Flowering colchicum with lilac and white petals

(Image credit: Getty Images/Nataliia_Melnychuk)

'This fall-flowering crocus would look wonderful planted beneath a lollipop Photinia. As the name suggests, it’s a tall variety – growing to around 8 inches high, with narrow leaves and purple-violet flowers,' says Nikki. 

As well as providing a welcome bolt of color, the flowers provide pollen for honeybees when the garden larder is sparse.

3. Carex oshimensis 'Evergold' 

Close up of grass variety Carex oshimensis 'Evergold'

(Image credit: Getty Images/Nahhan)

Knowing how to grow ornamental grasses, and when and where to introduce them to your planting plan, is key to creating a garden full of movement and depth.

'Plants with different heights create interest, and low-growing evergreen grasses such as Carex oshimensis 'Evergold' provide beautiful movement in the border,' confirms Nikki. 'It will grow to around 20 inches tall and wide when mature, and looks fantastic planted around a cornus.'

4. Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'

Fiery red dogwood branches

(Image credit: Getty Images/MichelR45)

Also known as red twig dogwood, this deciduous shrub is grown for its colorful winter stems – a stunning bright orange or red that will sing out from the border on a gloomy winter’s day. 

The cornus shrub will grow to around 6.5ft tall and wide, and can take a decent prune in the fall. 

5. Abelia × grandiflora 'Hopleys'

Abelia shrub with pale pink flowers

(Image credit: Getty Images/Elisabeth Schittenhelm)

There are lots of different Abelia plants – including the Radiance Abelia Shrub at Perfect Plants, which offers evergreen foliage all year round.

'I also like the Abelia x grandiflora 'Hopleys' variety,' says Nikki Hollier. 'This evergreen shrub grows to around 3ft tall and wide but can be easily cut back to the desired height. 

'It has a pretty variegated leaf, with white flowers in spring. It is one of those plants that I just leave to do its thing in my garden and it always looks good.'

What are some of the best trees for fall?

Trees and deciduous shrubs are the obvious choice when it comes to fall color – the turning of their leaves from green, through yellow, gold, orange, red and russet brown is one of the most beautiful sights at this time of year.

If you're considering best trees for fall color, yellow Gingko Biloba, red maples and gumtrees, and berry-rich trees such as rowan and crab apple are all beautiful options.


Which plants flower in fall?

Pansies, chrysanthemums, heleniums, marigolds and asters are all fantastic fall flowers for pots. And they can even brighten your borders, too.

'Place pots in gaps in the borders during the winter months to bring color to your yard,' suggests garden designer Nikki Hollier. You can also combine plants, flowers and seasonal produce like pumpkins to make creative fall planter ideas.

Whether you use just one or all of these plants for fall color ideas, planning a border that works throughout the seasons is like designing a tapestry. Consider how to grow a ginkgo tree, for a striking tree that will add fall color to your yard. 

If you like attracting pollinators to your yard, you might also be interested in how to plant a winter border for bees

Andrea Childs

Andrea has been immersed in the world of homes, interiors and lifestyle since her first job in journalism, on Ideal Home. She went from women's magazine Options to Frank. From there it was on to the launch of Red magazine, where she stayed for 10 years and became Assistant Editor. She then shifted into freelancing, and spent 14 years writing for everyone from The Telegraph to The Sunday Times, Livingetc, Stylist and Woman & Home. She was then offered the job as Editor on Country Homes & Interiors, and now combines that role with writing for sister title 

With contributions from