Ask the Master Gardener: Add a splash of fall color to your yard with shrubberies

The Brainerd area supports numerous colorful shrubs that show off the splendor of autumn.

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Sumac along the Paul Bunyan Trail in Baxter. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Dear Master Gardener: When I’ve been out walking, I’ve seen some beautiful shrubs with fall color. What can I plant so I have gorgeous fall color in my yard next year?

Answer: Here are some shrubs you can add to your landscape to add autumn color and interest:

  • Tiger Eyes cutleaf staghorn sumac is a cultivar that is smaller and less aggressive than the native staghorn sumac, which gets 16 feet tall and 20 feet wide and suckers like crazy. Tiger Eyes reaches 6 feet by 6 feet at maturity, has beautiful golden to chartreuse foliage and pink leaf stems. Autumn is when it is in its glory – with its foliage changing to yellow, orange, and intense scarlet. It can be used as an accent plant or in mass plantings. Tiger Eyes should be planted in full sun to part shade and tolerates a wide range of soil. It is hardy to zone 4, but many successfully grow it here in zone 3.

  • Black chokeberry (Aronia) is a Minnesota native that has showy white flower clusters in spring and vibrant foliage colors of red, orange, and purple in autumn. It reaches 3 to 6 feet tall and wide at maturity. It is often used in mass plantings or for erosion control because of its suckering habit. The purplish-black berries are edible and high in antioxidants. They are too astringent to eat raw, but are used to make jams, jellies, syrup, and wine. The fruit can persist into winter and serve as a food source for birds.

  • Serviceberry is a shrub or small tree that has five-petaled clusters of white flowers in the spring, clusters of small, dark purple berries in June, and gorgeous yellow, orange, or red fall color (depending on the cultivar). The berries are edible and can be eaten fresh or used in jams, jellies, or pies. Serviceberries attract pollinators and birds. Regent gets 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide, is drought-tolerant, and has yellow and red fall color. Autumn Brilliance gets 25 feet tall by 15 feet wide and has red fall color. Standing Ovation reaches 15 feet tall by 4 feet wide and has orange fall color.

  • Burning bush has been a popular landscape plant, but it is such a prolific seeder that it may be added to the Minnesota control list in the future. It does have brilliant red autumn foliage but you may want to avoid it due to its invasive nature.

  • Red Osier dogwood isn’t known for its beautiful autumn colors, but the colorful red or yellow bark (depending on the cultivar) provide great winter color and interest. It is native to Minnesota and extremely versatile as a landscape plant. Its berries are enjoyed by birds.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: The keys to successful planting in shaded areas Gardening in full shade can be a little challenging, but planting perennials can thrive in such conditions.
Dear Master Gardener: I know it’s time to fertilize my lawn if there’s rain in the forecast, but should I also fertilize my flowers and shrubs?

Reader Opinion: Yes, early October is the perfect time to fertilize your grass to give it a head start next spring. Just make sure the fertilizer gets watered in well.

Shrubs and perennials should not be fertilized in late summer or fall. Immediately after the summer solstice in June, when the days start getting shorter, plants start preparing for winter. Ugh! Their chemical make-up begins to change and they slow down adding any new growth as they switch to storing their energy. If you suddenly add nutrients, the plants will get confused and put out new growth that probably won’t get hardened off before frost. This new growth won’t survive the winter and means you’ll have a lot of pruning of dead tips next spring. Mulching with compost will give the roots some winter protection and some nutrients will slowly get released to the roots as the plant goes dormant.


If your annuals, like snapdragons or marigolds, need a jolt in late summer -- go ahead. You might get another flush of blooms. We don’t expect annuals to survive a hard frost, so let them go crazy right up until the end.

Related: Ask the Master Gardener: Longer-blooming perennials keep the colors flowing through the growing season Now is the time to start thinking about taking care of plants for the fall.
Dear Master Gardener: Is October the time to plant garlic? Can I plant the garlic cloves from a grocery store?

Answer: Garlic should be planted in the fall, usually one or two weeks after the first killing frost. Purchase garlic at a local nursery or garden center and choose varieties that are adapted to cold climates. Garlic you purchase at the grocery store is typically grown in northern California and will not grow well in Minnesota. Separate individual cloves one or two days before planting. Plant cloves, pointed side up with the base of the clove 2 to 3 inches from the soil surface, 6 inches apart, in double rows. Cover the area with 3 to 4 inches of chopped leaves or straw mulch, then remove it in the spring after the threat of hard freezing is over.

Dear Master Gardener: Can I bring my begonias in and keep them as a houseplant until next summer?

Answer: It depends on what type of begonia you have. Tuberous begonias should be dug up and stored indoors in a cool place during the winter like calla lilies, cannas, dahlias, and gladioli. Dig them up after the first light frost, spread the tubers on newspaper and let them dry for about a week. Then cut off any remaining foliage and gently shake off excess soil. All of the aforementioned bulbs/tubers can be dusted with sulfur powder to prevent disease while overwintering. Store them in paper bags or a cardboard box in a cool, dark, dry place.

Rhizomatous begonias are the easiest to grow indoors as a houseplant. To figure out if yours is a rhizomatous begonia, look for a rhizome (looks like a thick stem) that is right around the soil surface. Place your plant in an area where it gets bright light, but not direct sunlight and keep it slightly moist and fertilized. Cane type begonias, like Angel Wings and the dragon wing types can also be kept as houseplants. They need the same requirements as rhizomatous. Rex begonias are a little trickier as a houseplant because they need high humidity. They like constant moderate moisture, high humidity, regular fertilization and bright (but not direct) light.

When bringing any plant inside for the winter make sure they are free of insects or disease. Inspect them carefully. Clean off the foliage and put a systemic insecticide in the soil.

Dear Master Gardener: I have a large linden tree with a large shade garden beneath it. Two-thirds of the leaves have already fallen and there is a dense layer of leaves in the garden covering up the plants.


Is it best to remove the leaf litter from around the smaller plants until we have freezing conditions? Or is it best to let my shade garden get covered up this early in the fall? Thank you for your help and for being such a great resource to our community!

Answer: Leaves clustering over the crowns of perennials create a cover for mice and voles, that can damage the crowns of plants. Also, allowing the leaves to pile up on and around perennials encourages perennial crowns to begin sprouting too early in the spring and then they can get damaged. I have the same situation, only my tree is an oak and I keep the leaves off the perennials.

You may get your garden questions answered by calling the new Master Gardener Help Line at 218-824-1068 and leaving a message. A Master Gardener will return your call. Or, emailing me at and I will answer you in the column if space allows.
University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardeners are trained and certified volunteers for the University of Minnesota Extension. Information given in this column is based on university research.
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