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…
…then gray and drab in the blink of an eye.
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…
The reason for the (missing) season…
In many planned Florida communities, the landscape plants were specifically chosen because they would provide year-round greenness.
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 (and hues) 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.
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!
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.)
Hollies – 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 –
Red maple – Fall/winter leaves bring varying degrees of red color to the landscape, depending how much cold weather we get. After a few cold snaps, there’s often a brief leafless period in mid-winter, followed by a new flush of red growth in spring. (NOTE: Here in FL, red maple performs best in wetter areas.)
Sweetgum – Fall leaf color can vary, but is often deep red, bordering on burgundy. Like red maple, sweetgum will perform best in areas with consistent moisture.
Cypress – As the weather cols and days get shorter, cypress leaves take on a golden/bronze fall color, followed by brief winter dormancy (needle drop). They awaken from dormancy in the spring with vibrant lime-green new growth. NOTE: While cypress trees are typically associated with wet areas, they are surprisingly adaptable to average landscape conditions once established!
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:
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
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 – Tall spikes of purple flowers appear in fall, typically blooming shortly after Liatris.
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
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
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.)
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, flowers, or berries throughout the winter months. For example – Thryalis, coontie, plumbago, Florida anise, wild coffee, etc. could all remain vibrant throughout the winter while your fall performers get some well-deserved rest.)
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.)
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.”