Fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs from the standpoint of acclimatization in the landscape. That being said, I would like to give a shout-out for an underused illicium or anise.
Throughout the South or Pacific Northwest in zones 7 and warmer, the illicium is a much-used shrub for the evergreen structure or bones of the landscape. But, those with contrasting foliage are still lagging way behind.
What do I mean by contrasting foliage? I am talking about 24-karat gold foliage as in the variety, Florida Sunshine and the Grey Ghost with leaves that have pewter gray with white margins.
Florida Sunshine is a selection of illicium parviflorum native to Florida and Georgia and was introduced by Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina. Grey Ghost a selection of illicium floridanum native from Florida to Louisiana made by Tommy Dodd in Semmes, Alabama. Both stand out against the typical dark green of other shrubs.
Florida Sunshine will reach 7 feet tall and 8 feet wide and brings sunshine and happiness to the woodlands garden. The species has been known to reach close to 12 feet in height. Florida Sunshine has inconsequential blooms but its foliage is so colorful it is like brightly lit lanterns in the Shade Garden at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah and just as dazzling when I lived in Hamilton, Ga.
Grey Ghost has a little more cold-hardiness, stretching to zone 6. It would be hard to imagine a better companion plant to camellias of all species. The grey foliage contrasts with the dark green of camellia foliage while serving as a foil to their pink, white, or red blossoms. It too will reach 6- to 8-feet tall and produces pale pink flowers.
Lastly, you may want to look for Henry's anise, illicium henryi, native to China. I love the structure, habit, and bloom of this large shrub or perhaps most exquisite as a small tree. This one is cold hardy in zones 7 and warmer. It was ever so picturesque at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens in Savannah where the deep coral pink blooms dangled like ornaments. The addition of Spanish Moss made the look rememberable.
All of these anises thrive in partial shade, in other words, a woodland garden. They are also deer resistant. Prepare the soil by incorporating 3- to 4-inches of organic matter, and two pounds of a 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of planting area, tilling deeply.
Dig the planting hole two to three times as wide as the root ball but no deeper. When you dig these large holes, you are opening the door to the fastest root expansion and establishment in your bed. Place the plant in the hole and backfill with soil to two-thirds the depth. Tamp the soil and water to settle, add the remaining backfill, repeat the process and apply mulch.
Keep in mind they have the potential of reaching 6- to 10-feet tall and 6- to 8-feet wide. Prune lightly anytime to shape and keep bushy and with Henry's anise be bold and train it into a small tree. During the first year, use a regular water regimen and water deeply training the roots to go deep.
Yes, fall is a great time to plant. Since these may not be at your local garden center you have a few months to search out sources for spring planting.
(Norman Winter, horticulturist, garden speaker and author of, "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden." Follow him on Facebook @NormanWinterTheGardenGuy.)