Fall Garden Planting Design Guide: Create a Cozy & Inviting Autumn Oasis

Fall may be the best time for gardening – period.

A wooden cart is shown with various shrubs, ornamental grasses and flowers. Beside it are straw bales with orange, red, and green pumpkins of various sizes displayed with purple and white flowers. In the center of the frame and at the bottom is white and green text.

In fall, the days are cooler but the sun still shines. The ground is warm while the air has that crisp little nip in it. It’s the perfect time to get out into your garden and enjoy the new season.

A front porch leading to a gray front door with a wreath. On the stone steps leading up, pumpkins are displayed, bright orange with a plant with purple flowers. Either side of the porch are shrubs, creepers, and flowers providing splashes of color.

Whether you’re designing a porch display, planting a flowerbed, or redesigning an entire yard, you can create that cozy autumn feel.

Design your fall garden using…

What makes a landscape feel like autumn? The warm, earthy tones, the changing textures as trees shed their leaves, or the gentle light as the sun makes its way south.

A vertical image of a stone pathway across a shallow pond, water either side of it. To the right of the frame and the top is a bright cascading plant with orange autumn leaves, behind it a tree with red leaves, contrasting with the green in the background and to the left.

When planning your garden design, choosing plant combinations in terms of color, shape, texture, and light will help contribute to a cozy and inviting vibe.

Color

What colors do you associate with the harvest season? Bright pumpkin orange? Deep scarlet red? Cheery yellow? Wheat glinting golden in the late afternoon light?

Bronze and copper foliage, making its way down to the earth from the upper branches of trees?

A weathered wooden bench on a cobbled surface, with cascading vines over it in autumn. The plant has red, yellow, orange, and green leaves in abundance. Bright sunshine lights the scene.
Virginia creeper brings bright fall color

The world is awash with warm hues and vibrant tones at this time of year. You’ll find these colors in all sorts of plants, ranging from single-season annuals to long-lived trees.

A front porch of a wooden house with white weatherboards and a black front door. An autumn wreath is on the front door, and pumpkins displayed on the steps and on the porch. A low hedge to the right of the frame with a lawn and some scattered leaves. To either side of the steps are plants with bright yellow flowers.
Chrysanthemums decorate front steps in autumn

If you want warm-toned flowers, turn to chrysanthemum, blanket flower, or coreopsis.

If you need more colorful autumn foliage, consider Virginia creeper for a vine, blueberry for a shrub, or Japanese maple for a small tree.

Want brightly colored berries? American bittersweet or winterberry will be sure to delight.

A close up of wispy heather plants with pink, purple, and white small flowers. Each plant is in a pot in a plastic seedling tray. From the right of the frame is bright autumn sunshine.
Heather, a fall-blooming annual

And while nature certainly hands us lots of yellows, oranges, and reds at this time of year, this is also when the natural world is preparing to take a break.

As summer’s flowers fade, we are left with more muted tones, and earthy hues.

A close up of a plant with bright green leaves and deep pink flower heads in bright sunlight in autumn.
Stonecrop

You may want to hint at this transition by including a palette of soft colors including tan, mauve, and lavender. You can find these colors in chrysanthemums, heathers, stonecrops, purple coneflowers, and asters.

A lake in a forest, with a white fish in the foreground, bright green vegetation on a small peninsula jutting into the water. The trees in the background have autumn colors, in light sunshine.
Mugo pine and Japanese maple

And don’t forget to include some green for contrast. Ornamental kale is a good annual for this purpose.

A bright green conifer hedge with neat plantings of yellow, pink, and purple flowers, interspersed with ornamental grass and decorative cabbage. In the foreground is a low stone wall.

If you want longer-lasting plants, use conifers such as the low-growing mugo pine. Or choose arborvitaes as a backdrop for your more colorful plant choices.

Shape and Texture

In autumn, we see deciduous trees suddenly jump out of a solid green mass as they transition to their very own fall colors.

The particular shapes and textures of trees and shrubs make themselves very apparent in these new colors.

A small lake surrounded by bushes and trees with their autumn colors. Deep red leaves contrast with greens, ornamental grasses growing near orange leaves. In the lake are large black rocks and a weeping willow to the left of the frame. The background is forest in soft focus.
Colorful maple trees in autumn

Think about the shapes and textures of the plants you want to use in your garden. Do your plants form round mounds, or are they wispy and misty?

What about the leaves? Are they wide and flat, smooth, or spiky?

Ornamental grasses shown leaning towards the right of the frame in a light wind. The sun is reflected through the wispy ends, and the dark stems contrast against light pinks. The background is soft focus grass and shrubs.
Pink muhly grass

Place your low, mounding plantings – like mums or sedums – with some taller, wispier plants behind them – such as annual heather or ornamental grass.

A plant with deep pink flower heads and contrasting green leaves nestles amongst ornamental grasses in an autumn garden. The background is soft focus trees and shrubs in gentle light.
Sedum, ornamental grass and yucca

The contrasting textures and shapes will create interest. Pots, containers, and garden ornaments can help set the mood.

A view towards a front porch of a white brick and weatherboard house. To either side of the steps are shrubs and flowers in yellow, red, and white. In the enclosed porch is a statue of a man wearing a red shirt and white breeches, with two pumpkins at his feet. In the center of the frame is a halloween decoration hanging from the arched entranceway. An American flag hangs on the left of the doorway.

Low, mounding plants for this season include chrysanthemums, stonecrops, and ornamental kale.

Good wispy choices for this season include heathers and ornamental grasses.

Plant these among your foundational bushes and trees for a lovely layered effect.

Light

The sun is lower in the sky at this time of year, highlighting your plants with the warm, golden glow of beautiful autumnal sunlight – if you put them in the right place!

A close up of a deep purple seed head on light brown stems with more of them in soft focus in the background. The light is soft and autumnal.
Sunlight illuminates stonecrop in early autumn

When the golden hour arrives, think about how your plants are going to look when the sun is hitting them from the west – the direction where the sun sets – at a low angle.

A close up of ornamental grass, with the wispy seed heads contrasting with the green stems, awash in sunlight.
Karl Foerster grass in autumn

Look at where you plan to plant and ask yourself, is the sun going to enhance the colors and textures of this plant when I want it to, or not?

Inspiring Reads

By now you should have some ideas about how to use color, shape, texture, and light in your garden this autumn.

Maybe now you could use just a bit more inspiration. I love getting ideas from books for landscape design. Here are a few which might help you make your fall garden daydreams a reality:

Autumn Gardens by Ethne Clarke

This helpful guide to gardening after summer ends will teach you about plants that are useful not only for leaf color, but also for colorful decorative fruit.

Autumn Gardens

It offers plenty of design advice, including guidance on using lighting and garden structure to your advantage.

This book is available on Amazon.

Fallscaping by Nancy J. Ondra and Stephanie Cohen

This book encourages the reader to think of autumn as a new growing season instead of just a time for putting your garden to bed.

Fallscaping: Extending Your Garden Season into Autumn

It comes with complete garden plans and plant suggestions, and is filled with beautiful photos. Find it on Amazon.

The Garden in Autumn by Allen Lacy

Are you an avid gardener in an area with a short growing season, like I am? This book is for us.

The Garden in Autumn

It contains advice for northern gardeners and includes tips to bring color to your fall garden even after the first frost. Find this book on Amazon now.

Fall in Love with Gardening Again

Your very own lovely autumn landscape will help brighten your spirits as the days get shorter and the weather less inviting. So don’t overlook this chance to get outside and create some autumnal attractions in your yard.

Autumnal scene in low sunshine. A metal arbor with a green vine is surrounded by ornamental grasses and shrubs, in the background are trees in soft focus.
Country garden in fall

What colors and textures are you putting into your fall garden this year? Have you found the perfect spot in your yard to let golden afternoon sunlight shine some magic on your new plantings? Tell us about it in the comments.

Admit it, you can’t get enough of fall gardening, can you? If you find this to be true, read on:

Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Atlantic Monthly Press, Storey Publishing LLC, and Soma Books. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Clare Groom and Allison Sidhu.

About Kristina Hicks-Hamblin

Kristina Hicks-Hamblin lives on a dryland permaculture homestead in the high desert of Utah. Originally from the temperate suburbs of North Carolina, she enjoys discovering ways to meet a climate challenge. She is a Certified Permaculture Designer and a Building Biology Environmental Consultant, and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Kristina loves the challenges of dryland gardening and teaching others to use climate compatible gardening techniques, and she strives towards creating gardens where there are as many birds and bees as there are edibles. Kristina considers it a point of pride that she spends more money on seeds each year than she does on clothes.

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