What’s Ornamental in Late Fall?

Cornus kousa 'Wolf's Eye'Gorgeous fall color of Kousa dogwood ‘Wolf Eyes’

In my last post, ‘What’s Blooming in Mid-Fall?” (click here to read), I explained that fall has three seasons for me: the early season is September, mid is October, and late is November.  I promised a post on the late season, which I fully intended to do at the end of November.  Unfortunately, the weather in the mid-Atlantic US just proceeded from temperatures typical of mid November, highs in the low 50s and lows in the low 40s, directly to temperatures more appropriate to January. When I got up this morning it was 24 degrees, and tonight’s low is 19 (-7.2 C), followed by three more nights in the low 20s.  Almost everything is frozen so I might as well do November now.

Nursery News:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.


Cornus kousa 'Wolf's Eye'‘Wolf Eyes’ has green and white variegated leaves during its main season and turns pink in the fall.  Generally I recommend our native dogwood for its superior shape, flowers, berries, and fall color and because it supports 117 species of moths and butterflies alone while Kousa dogwood supports no native insects of any kind (source Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy).  However, if you want to plant a Kousa, ‘Wolf Eyes’ is beautiful.

I hope readers won’t be disappointed because, with the exception of snowdrops, camellias, and a few others, the best ornamental plants in my November garden are prized for their leaves.  October is probably the best month for fall color in the mid-Atlantic, and the landscape blazes with red, orange, and yellow from the huge deciduous trees we are famous for.  However, woody plants that wait until November to turn color really stand out because native maples, hornbeam, sweetgum, etc. are done by then.  Here are a few that I treasure:

Carolyn's Shade Gardens in fallScarlet native dogwood on the left, orange witch hazel in the center, and brilliant red Japanese maple on the right.  This is the hill above the Carolyn’s Shade Gardens nursery sales area.


'Hartlage Wine' sweetshrubNative hybrid ‘Hartlage Wine’ sweetshrub turns a lovely butter yellow in late fall.


Enkianthus & Hosta 'Krossa Regal'All the blue hostas turn an attractive orange-yellow.  Here ‘Krossa Regal’ with the fiery orange leaves of enkianthus and a yellow Asian sweetshrub in the woodland.


Disanthus cercidifoliusDisanthus cercidifolius is probably my favorite plant for November color.  This photo shows the whole shrub, which is probably 10′ wide and 6′ tall, although it could easily be pruned to a smaller size.  Some websites call it redbud hazel, but I have never heard that common name used.


Disanthus cercidifoliusA close up of the leaves shows that disanthus displays many beautiful colors at once.  You can also see why it’s called cercidifolius, which means leaves like a redbud.


Disanthus cercidifoliusDisanthus also blooms in November with tiny scarlet flowers.


Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Sasaba'Another shrub that blooms in November is evergreen ‘Sasaba’ osmanthus.  Again the flowers are not highly ornamental but they are amazingly fragrant, sweetly scenting my whole back hillside.


Camellia x 'Long Island Pink'Fall-blooming camellias are the highlight for flowering shrubs in November, here ‘Long Island Pink’ which started October 15.


Camellia x 'Snow Flurry'‘Snow Flurry’ also continues to bloom.


Camellia x 'Winter's Joy'‘Winter’s Joy’ starts in November and often continues into January.  I just hope its buds don’t freeze this week.


Camellia x 'Winter's Snowman'‘Winter’s Snowman’ also starts in November.  I was going to show the whole plant, but all the open flowers froze last night.

Perennials also contribute to November interest:


Hypericum 'Brigadoon'‘Brigadoon’ St. John’s wort and ‘John Creech’ sedum were not fazed by last night’s low.


Aconitum species at ChanticleerThis late-blooming monkshood is always a highlight of my November garden, although it froze last night.  Shown here at Chanticleer.


Heuchera 'Berry Smoothie'All the coralbells derived from our native Heuchera villosa keep their beautiful color in fall and through the winter, here ‘Berry Smoothie’.


Malva 'Zebrina' ‘Zebrina’ hollyhock mallow gets a second wind in the fall and is covered with blooms in November.


Arum 'Gold Rush'Italian arum comes up in the fall and stays ornamental all winter, it’s amazing.


Pennisetum 'Moudry'Fall light slanting through my favorite ornamental grass ‘Moudry’ fountain grass.


Pennisetum 'Moudry'Beware, ‘Moudry’s black plumes are quite striking, however, it can be quite aggressive.  I didn’t actually plant any of these plants, but I love where they planted themselves.


Hart's tongue fern with epimediumHart’s tongue fern and evergreen epimediums are also beautiful right now and for most of the winter.


Helleborus x 'Penny's Pink'Hellebores stay green through the winter, and some of them have spectacular leaves, here ‘Penny’s Pink’.


Galanthus reginae-olgaeI couldn’t finish without showing some snowdrops!  Galanthus reginae-olgae finishes blooming in the middle of November.


Galanthus elwesii "two scapes'I have a lot of fall-blooming giant snowdrops, Galanthus elwesii.  Here is one that I have selected for its nice markings and because it produces two flower scapes per plant.  It still looks pristine after last night’s freeze.

Keep warm,



Nursery Happenings:   You can sign up to receive notifications of catalogues, sales, and events at the nursery by sending your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

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29 Responses to “What’s Ornamental in Late Fall?”

  1. Your garden is really beautiful Carolyn. Is Disanthus cercidifolius really that blue/purple? It is really vibrant. Did you hear 3-4 feet of snow in Buffalo. In NF we have some snow, lots of wind and likely Wed. we will get more of both. I think January is early this year.

  2. you should try Lycoris bulbs, ‘Spider Lily’, mine just finished blooming last week. Very unusual flower for fall

  3. I love all your colorful foliage. Yesterday, we had one of those days of heavy rain and high winds with temps just above freezing for which November in Maine is justly infamous. Yuck! The result is that any leaves that used to be on trees and shrubs are now mostly on the ground under a crunchy coating of icy snow. I remember being smitten by that Italian arum when I visited your nursery. What a lovely sight it must be at this time of year.

  4. Nmiller6623@aol.com Says:

    Would like fall blooming galanthus . Need a source . Thanks , Nancy

  5. I have to have the Disanthus Cercidifolius! Can you lovate one for me?

  6. Oh Carolyn, I so much enjoyed that post. Drooling at the mouth! The Disanthus looks wonderful. I just wish I lived on the other side of the ocean and could buy from you (my pen didn’t stop scribbling). What species of Pennisetum is ‘Moudry’ – obviously hardy, which would be important for me. But why does G. elwesii bloom in the autumn for you? I’d have classed it as a February flower? Thanks again!

    • Cathy, It is Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Moudry’ listed as hardy in USDA zones 5 to 10. There is a whole division of G. elwesii that blooms in the fall called the Hiemalis Group. They start here around November 1. I have G. elwesii blooming from then into March some years. Most of them are plants I selected and not named cultivars. Carolyn

  7. There’s always so much to see in your garden Carolyn. That Disanthus cercidifolius is so beautiful. I must keep that one in mind.

  8. Wow Carolyn your garden is stunning and such a treat to see in fall. I love looking for more ideas for native shrubs, and of course I still love the autumn Galanthus.

  9. No disappointment for me Carolyn, very beautiful. 19f I have never experienced such low temps, keep well wrapped up.

  10. The weather has certainly been an unpredictable roller coaster ride. What beautiful, colorful ornamental plants for late fall.

  11. I am crying for Wolf Eyes! I once bought one of these off the internet. I was shocked when a tiny seedling arrived, considering the amount of money I paid for it. I planted it, and it soon died. I was so disappointed! And now I see what might have been…

    You have a terrific selection of gorgeous plants for fall, but stay warm and enjoy the winter!

    • Deb, It is very discouraging that some mail order companies think they can get away with sending tiny plants because you can’t see what you are buying. It is always better to buy from a local nursery if you can find it or call the mail order supplier and ask them exactly what size plant you are getting. i.e., what size pot and what size top. I have a “life list” of plants I want, and i just buy them when I run into them. Some plants have been on it for 20 years but it’s worth the wait to get a good healthy specimen. Carolyn

  12. Now I am in love with Disanthus cercidifolius! Your garden is stunning! Your snowflakes are appropriate since it is snowing heavily again here. P. x

    • Pam, Disanthus is a great plant. It is probably not available very often because people aren’t shopping at garden centers when it’s doing its thing. I opted for the snow when I first started the blog and now every Dec 1 it comes on. I love it. Carolyn

  13. Peter mackenzie Says:

    Excellent lovely pics and colours , thanks. I just looked at the tag from the one Disanthus we had but managed to kill and thought it was time to try again. You pic confirmed that it would be worth trying.
    Cheers from Tasmania

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