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Fall color in Florida - holly berries and red leaves

Florida Fall Color

Florida is known for warm weather, sandy beaches, theme parks…. but fall color? We’ve got that too! Here’s how to embrace the change in seasons, Florida-Friendly style.

 

Up north, the spectacle of autumn leaves changing color is like a sunset.

 

Colorful and impressive one minute…

Leaves changing color in fall

(From pexels.com)

 

 

 

…then done in the blink of an eye.

Leafless trees

(By Ezra Comeau-Jeffrey via Unsplash.com)

 

 

But here in central Florida, fall color washes across the landscape in subtle waves, with ripples and splashes of color fading in and out from September until springtime.

Not every landscape shares these hints of the changing seasons. Hence the memes like this circulating on social media…

"It's almost fall in Florida. You know what that means? NOTHING."

 

The reason for the (missing) season…

In many planned Florida communities, the landscape plants were specifically chosen because they would provide year-round greenness.

Why?

Many people expect lush, green landscapes year-round in Florida… so that’s what gets planted.

Unfortunately, the result of the “never-brown” landscape palette is that it often pushes the cues of Florida’s changing seasons  – color changes, springtime buds, spectacular bloom events – to the ‘wild’ areas like preserves, trails, roadsides, and wetlands…

But wait – there’s good news! If you live in central Florida, and you like seasons, you can have them too!

You see, Florida abounds with ever-changing seasonal sights, and many of them can fit right into a Florida-Friendly landscape, or around your community’s common areas, ponds, lakes, and wetlands.

Here’s a brief look at some plants that bring welcome splashes of #FloridaFallColor to landscapes across our region.

 

Feathery pink plumes of muhly grass sway in the breeze

Muhly grass – Fine, dark green, weightless summer foliage gives way to spectacular swaying pink feathery plumes in fall. (A white variety is also available.) Increasingly popular, and for good reason!

http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/muhly-grass.html

 

 

Vibrant clusters of beautyberry encircle the stems

Beautyberry – Clusters of fuchsia / magenta berries wrap around the branches through fall. Provides color and winter food for birds. (Depending on conditions, beautyberry may drop leaves for winter, while retaining berries – causing some bushes to briefly resemble neon berry shish kebabs.)

http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/shrubs/beautyberry.html

 

 

holly berries on native hollyHollies – Evergreen foliage and bright red berries through fall and winter. Check out these pages from UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions to learn more about some of the great hollies available for your landscape –

Hollies for Florida

Weeping Yaupon Holly

Yaupon holly

 

 

 

Red maple with fall foliage

Red maple – Fall/winter leaves bring varying degrees of red color to the landscape. There’s often a brief leafless period in mid-winter, followed by new red-tinged growth in spring.

https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/TreeDetail.cfm?itemID=867

http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/trees/red-maple.html

 

 

Shumard oak with changing leavesShumard oak – One of the few broad-leaved oaks to grow this far south, Shumard oak can bring orangish-red to deep-red fall color.

https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/TreeDetail.cfm?ItemID=882

http://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/trees-and-shrubs/trees/shumard-oak.html

 

 

 

sweetgum leaves turning deep red

Sweetgum  – Fall leaf color can be deep red, bordering on burgundy.

https://www.arborday.org/trees/treeguide/TreeDetail.cfm?itemID=928

 

 

 

 

golden leaves of cypress reflecting on pond

 

Cypress – Leaves take on a golden/bronze fall color, followed by winter dormancy (needle drop). Awakens from dormancy in the spring with vibrant lime-green new growth.

 

 

 

 

 

Fall flowers

Quite a few of Florida’s flowers peak in the fall. The action tends to be dominated by purples and yellows. Here’s just a small selection:

Monarda punctata has intriguing spikes of purple and white, and a strong aroma of thyme.

Spotted beebalm – These spikes of white and purple kick off the transition from late-summer into early-fall. Attracts numerous pollinators. Foliage has a strong aroma of thyme. https://www.facebook.com/PascoExt/posts/1886389278117124

 

 

 

 

 

Tall, slender spikes of purple liatris blooms

Liatris (Blazing stars) – Tall, slender purple spikes of flowers appear in fall. (Growing conditions vary depending on species.)  http://nwdistrict.ifas.ufl.edu/hort/2016/09/22/florida-wildflowers-blazing-star/

 

 

 

 

 

Deertongue flowers

 

Deertongue – Tall spikes of purple flowers appear in fall, typically blooming shortly after Liatris.

http://hawthornhillwildflowers.blogspot.com/2009/11/deertongue-carphephorus-paniculatus.html

 

 

 

 

 

Thin, silvery leaves and yellow flowers

Narrowleaf silkgrass / grass-leaved aster – Silver grass-like leaves topped with cheerful yellow blooms. Drought-tolerant. Grows well in dry areas. https://www.facebook.com/PascoExt/posts/1900615716694480

 

 

 

 

Fuzzy bumblebee on fragrant aster flower

Climbing aster, Stokes aster, Elliot’s aster, rice-button aster, etc. – Ranging from diminutive (rice-button asters) to sprawling (climbing aster), the many fall-blooming, lilac-colored aster species provide abundant fragrant blooms that attract pollinators galore. Choose species based on site conditions, as some (such as climbing aster) prefer wetter areas. https://www.facebook.com/PascoExt/posts/1946339912122060

 

 

 

 

Abundant miniature sunflowers alongside feathery fern fronds

Narrowleaf sunflower – Along with the various goldenrods, this is one of the abundant yellow flowers that blooms in the fall. Prefers wetter areas. (For dry areas, consider beach sunflower as an alternative.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fluffy white saltbush flowers

Saltbush – Eye-catching show of white “fluff” right around Thanksgiving.  https://www.facebook.com/PascoExt/posts/1946562052099846

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

(TIP: Worried that your landscape might look bare after the fall color fades? Try mixing seasonal performers among other plants that retain their interesting foliage or flowers throughout the winter months. For example – Thryalis, coontie, plumbago, Florida anise, etc. could all remain vibrant throughout the winter while your fall performers get some well-deserved rest.)

Year-round bloomer thryalis

Thryalis is a year-round bloomer if allowed to achieve its natural growth form. Don’t over-prune thryalis, unless you want to remove all the flowers.

While the blue plumbago is more commonly seen, this white variety of plumbago can mix well with the purples and yellows of fall blooms, or with the red berries of a holly.

 

 

 

coontie

Interesting dark green foliage of the coontie cycad.

 

 

 

 


 Remember!

When choosing plants, the number one rule for success is “Right Plant, Right Place.”  Figure out your site conditions first, and then match accordingly with the plant’s requirements. For more on picking the right plant, right place combo, check out this earlier post.


 

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT For muhly grass to put on a good fall show, avoid trimming it in late summer! (Unless, of course, you’d prefer this… in which case, whack away.)
Chopped muhly grass with one lone "feather"

Don’t prune your muhly grass in the summer! One lone feather is all it could muster. Nothing worse than a bad haircut…

 


About the Author: As the Florida Friendly Landscaping (FFL) Program Coordinator in Pasco County, Frank works with the residents, homebuilders, and businesses of Pasco to achieve attractive, resilient, low-maintenance yards and communities while reducing over-reliance on irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides. (Click to learn the 9 Principles of Florida-Friendly Landscaping!) Through an innovative collaboration with Pasco County Utilities, Frank provides on-site assistance to individuals and communities identified as high water users. He can be reached at (813)929.2716.

Not in Pasco County? Not a problem! Click here to find your local UF/IFAS Extension office!

About UF/IFAS Extension: UF/IFAS Extension serves as a source of non-biased, research-based information for the residents, businesses, and communities of Florida, providing educational materials and programs for adults and youth. We proudly “provide solutions for your life.”

 

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