KENNEWICK -- Forget pretty spring flowers, give me red, orange and yellow autumn leaves.
Always entranced with the bright fall colors of trees and shrubs, I took a little time the other day to drive around and view the glorious hues of autumn.
One plant that always catches my eye is Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus). It's bright red fall color is unmistakable.
For just that reason, this shrub has been a staple of many landscapes.
I can remember a hedge of Burning Bush on my college campus. It was huge. The species form of Burning Bush grows from 15 to 20 feet tall.
Of course, most gardeners have planted Compact Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus "Compactus"), sometimes misleadingly called "Dwarf Burning Bush." It is smaller than the species, growing to a height of 8 to 10 feet.
Because of their still rather large size, Compact Burning Bush shrubs are frequently sheared into ball, oval or square shapes. This is understandable, but unfortunate because the shrub has a very attractive rounded habit with a layered horizontal branching habit. This is lost when sheared to restrain its size.
If you like the color and habit of this shrub like I do, I would recommend looking for cultivars that are even smaller. One of these, "Odom", also known as "Little Moses", only grows to a height of three feet. This little guy has great red fall color, plus it holds onto its leaves a little longer in the fall.
Another diminutive Burning Bush is "Rudy Haag" that grows very slowly to a height of three to four feet. It's touted for its small size, dense mounded habit, and pink to red fall color. Within the nursery industry it's also valued because it's nearly seedless.
Burning Bush has become invasive in parts of the eastern U.S. It's even been banned in Massachusetts and named as an invasive plant in Connecticut. Why the concern? Seeds from the fruit have been spread far and wide in the northeast by birds. "Planted" by birds, the shrubs have spread from landscapes and highway medians to the native forests where they have prospered, displacing native understory shrubs and wildflowers. While the spread of Burning Bush isn't a worry in our area, the threat of invasive plants forcing out native growth should be of concern to all of us.
Recent research has shown that "Compactus" is a prolific seed producer. "Compactus" and "Rudy Haag" produced an average of 1238 and 12 seeds per plant, respectively. This was across a span of three years and over two growing sites."
With very limited seed production, "Rudy Haag" is much less of an invasive threat.
There also are other shrubs that can lend various hues of red, orange and yellow to the fall landscape. This includes Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), Tiger Eyes Sumac (Rhus typhina "Tiger Eyes"), Amur Maple (Acer ginnala), Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum), and Dwarf American Cranberry Bush (Viburnum trilobum 'Nanum').
We may not have the spectacular fall color of the Northeast, but if you drive around the Tri-Cities you'll see some outstanding plants in their fall glory.
* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.