fbpx Planning for next year’s garden | The Morton Arboretum

Planning for next year’s garden

November 25, 2014

Keeping notes (or taking pictures) is a big help in planning to improve your garden. The soil may now be frozen and the weather may be frightful, but it’s not too late to jot down your memories of what worked and what didn’t in the past gardening year.  

For example, how was autumn in your garden? Was it as colorful as it could have been? Did you have red, orange, yellow, and purple foliage to enjoy before the branches were bare?

There is a wide variety of shrubs available today that can bring fall color into the garden. But in order to be ready to plant them next spring, make notes now, while you still recall the growing season, about where you could use some shrubs with fall interest. After the holidays, you’ll be ready to start researching catalogs, websites and garden books for just the right options.

Don’t forget that the cozy Sterling Morton Library has a large collection of garden books to guide you. There’s no more pleasant way to spend a cold winter’s day than sitting in this lovely room, dreaming of springtime and gardens.

Just to spur your imagination, here suggestions from Kris Bachtell, vice president of collections and facilities at The Morton Arboretum, and Doris Taylor, plant information specialist in the Plant Clinic, for shrubs that have lively fall color:


Oak-leaved hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia): This handsome shrub has large, leathery leaves that turn brilliant burgundy-red in fall. Its long clusters of creamy-white flowers dry on the plant, turning light brown and lasting into winter. And its peeling cinnamon-colored bark is lovely against the snow. It is a large shrub, but smaller cultivars such as ‘Snow Flake’, ‘Sikes Dwarf’ and ‘Snow Queen’ are available.


Sweetspire (Itea virginica): Its long cascading spires of fragrant flowers in early summer are lovely enough, but this shrub also has fall color of reddish-orange to reddish-purple. Scarlet Beauty™sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Morton’), introduced by the Chicagoland Grows plant development partnership, has especially brilliant fall leaves.


Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa): A Chicago-area native, this plant has delicate white flowers for a brief period in spring, red berries that later turn purple, and glossy green leaves that turn red in fall. A Chicagoland Grows variety, Iroquois Beauty™ black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa ‘Morton’), is compact with more flowers.