Kaleidoscope of fall colours: native shrubs in our yard

In 2016, I began planting native shrubs around the perimeter of our yard to provide food and shelter for birds. Although most of the shrubs are small, they still put on a spectacular show each autumn. Their bright colours are a beacon to birds signalling where they’ll find ripe berries, seeds, and nuts to eat.


Virginia Creeper vines on the back hedgerow in late September. These vines have been here for years and were probably ‘planted’ by birds sitting on the overhead wires.
Clove Currant (fan-shaped leaves) in front, and Serviceberry (oval leaves) in back. Usually, the Serviceberries turn orange, but this year they are red. A few purple Russian Sage spires are peeking through the foliage. To help screen our view of the road, I planted a mixed hedgrow of coniferous and deciduous shrubs near the driveway.
‘Low-grow’ Fragrant Sumac leaves turn shades of orange and red, especially when they’re planted in a sunny spot. This cultivar acts as a ground cover and is inconspicuous until fall.
Highbush Blueberries just starting to turn. These 10-year-old shrubs are now part of a new hedgerow along one side of our backyard. Each winter, rabbits eat them down to the ground, so they’re only about a foot tall and have only ever produced a few berries. I really should protect them this winter.
Rabbits spared the Wild Raisin viburnums last winter, so they’re now about 2 feet tall. The rabbits like to eat all my viburnums.


One of the American Hazelnut shrubs I planted this year (2019). Their apricot fall colour is stunning, and I plan to add a few more next year. Beaked Hazels are native to the Ottawa area, but I could only find American Hazelnut shrubs, which are native to Southwestern Ontario.
My Chokeberry shrubs in the front yard are in a fair bit of shade, so they don’t produce many flowers or berries. They still turn bright orange and red each autumn.


The brilliant yellow leaves of a Spicebush, and intense red leaves of a Chokeberry stand out against our grey house. Spicebush is a Southwestern Ontario native.
The clear yellow Common Witch Hazel leaves really stand out on the north side of our cedar hedge. This poor shrub has been moved around a few times, but is settling well into this new spot.
Another Witch Hazel’s yellow leaves are beginning to fade, revealing its interesting spidery flowers. Believe it or not, Witch Hazels bloom throughout October and into November, even if it snows.

Underutilized beauties

For most of my gardening life, I never planted native shrubs. I don’t even remember seeing them in nurseries. While I eventually planted them for birds, I was pleasantly surprised by their stunning berries and autumn leaves. Why aren’t they more widely available in nurseries, and used more in our yards? I wish I had discovered them earlier.

Two of the most common shrubs that are planted for fall colour are Burning Bush and Japanese Barberry — both of which are invasive in Ontario. For more information, visit the Ontario Invading Species Awareness Program pages for Winged Euonymus (Burning Bush) and Japanese Barberry. Native Highbush Blueberries and Chokeberry shrubs, both pictured above, are frequently recommended as alternatives.

Visit my page Buying Native Plants in Ottawa for a list of nurseries where you purchase native shrubs for your yard. You can also try other local nurseries, but their selection is hit-or-miss.

Autumn inspiration

Sadly, the kaleidoscope of autumn leaf colours doesn’t last long. I even missed my chance to take photos of some of them. So, I decided to permanently capture these lovely colours by knitting a shawl. I gathered an assortment of leaves from around the yard, and chose matching yarns for my project.

The start of my Find Your Fade shawl (pattern by Andrea Mowry) using a mix of Canadian hand-dyed yarns from Koigu and Artfil. The dark, burgundy leaves are from Grey dogwood and Red Osier dogwood.

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