Five Tips from the Association of Professional Landscape Designers for a Show Stopping Fall Landscape

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Expert landscape designers from throughout the country weigh in on their favorite fall plants and the best ways to create curb appeal this autumn. From avoiding mistakes like "volcano mulching" to considering the structural elements in a garden, these tips take fall gardening past the pumpkin and mum. Award winning designers in Cleveland, San Francisco, Raleigh, Tucson and Arlington, Massachusetts make timely suggestions that any gardener can apply.

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, anyone can create a beautiful fall landscape by giving plants that put on a show in the fall center stage in the garden.

“But autumn can be a tricky season,” says Bobbie Schwartz, FAPLD, president of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers,

Landscape designers from around the country offer these tips to create a show-stopping fall garden you will enjoy for years to come.

1.    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.

“Although 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 the silhouettes of tree trunks and branches,” says Arca.    

2.    Do Your Homework
Visit your local garden center and make a list of your favorite plants and color combinations. The colors and combinations of plants can give you inspiration and highlight what is available.

“The rich colors of fall are lovely, but don’t forget that berries add color,” says Schwartz. She recommends beautyberry (Callicarpa) and winterberry (Ilex verticillata) to light up the landscape with bright berries. For bright foliage that turns maroon, scarlet, orange, or yellow, she suggests blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosu, sweetspire (Itea virginica) and Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia).

3.    Plant Trees and Shrubs Now
Plant now to give plants plenty of time to establish roots before summer. “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.

“Many of the trees native to the southeast, like sourwood, black gum and black tupelo, are striking,” says landscape designer Susan Gworek. “My favorite native shrubs with outstanding fall color include Virginia sweetspire, oakleaf hydrangea and fothergilla.”

Landscape designer and APLD award winner Rachel Gioannini, APLD, recommends planting for impact. “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 southwest home.”

4.    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 on the plants to create instant ornamental appeal,” says Kuhn.

She recommends 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.

5.    Avoid Common Mistakes
Avoid common mistakes that can work against your hard work in the garden. “Nothing drives me crazier than volcano mulching – mounds of mulch around tree trunks. Volcano mulching murders trees,” says Schwartz. “Mulch pushed up against a tree trunk ensures that a moist environment will ensue, thus providing the perfect environment for diseases and pests. Instead, create a saucer with the mulch to trap water and give the tree some breathing room.”

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


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