Dive In: Nature’s Color Show!

megan octoberThe outdoor city pools closed weeks ago, but at least one more spectacular dive awaits you and your family this fall. It’s the annual leaf dive! I spent hours jumping into piles of crunchy leaves as a kid, and my girls love to do the same.

Rakes in hand,  we trek to the lofty maples that provide cooling shade in the summer and a treasure trove of leaves in the fall. We pull together massive mountains of leaves and then with an audible drum-roll commence diving, flying, and leaping into the fluffy piles.

The autumn leaf show is a little later this year due to weather conditions. but I expect it to begin raining leaves in the next few days. There are a host of easy-to-grow trees and shrubs that provide spectacular fall color in Iowa. Here are a few of my favorite species for both urban and suburban spaces:

Amur Maple

A small maple, amur maple has many of the wonderful characteristics of its massive relatives while topping out at just 25 feet tall. It’s a great candidate for small yards and its leaves turn bright red and orange in fall.


A wonderful shrub for shade, fothergilla has blue-green summer foliage and warms to shades of yellow and orange in fall. Its honey-scented springtime flowers perfume the landscape. It grows 3 to 6 feet tall and wide and tolerates pruning with ease.


A graceful small tree for small landscapes, serviceberry has glowing red and orange fall foliage. It has fragrant white flowers in spring and its delicious summer fruits attract birds. Serviceberry grows well in full sun or part shade and reaches a height of about 20 feet tall.

Sugar Maple

Thriving in moist, well-drained soil, sugar maples come alive with brilliant red, orange, or yellow end-of-the-season color. A reliable and colorful tree in Eastern Iowa, sugar maples sometimes exceed 70 feet in height and 40 feet in width.


A North American native shrub with white flowers in spring and warm red foliage in fall, viburnum also produces ruby-red fruits that are favored by wildlife. A wonderful shrub for a foundation planting or a mixed shrub border, viburnum is tough, hardy, and grows 5 to 15 feet tall and 5 to 10 feet wide. There are many different types of viburnums. Look for American cranberrybush viburnum (Viburnum trilobum) at your local garden center.


Megan Hughes lives and gardens on a farm in eastern Iowa, which she shares with her husband, their two young daughters, two Labs, one cat, and 14 chickens. They are all looking forward to welcoming a new little brother in November.   A horticulturist and a writer, Megan loves to share the joy of digging in the dirt. From planting edible gardens to building garden sheds, she covers all aspects of garden living for a multitude of publications, including Better Homes and Gardens and Country Gardens.


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