Oakleaf hydrangeas have large leaves which turn burgunday in the fall.
Oakleaf hydrangeas have large leaves and large cone-shaped early-summer flowers, left, then they turn burgundy in fall.
George Weigel

Many shrubs are stunning for the two or three weeks while they’re in bloom, then they fade into the faceless background the rest of the year. But some do more than one thing in one season, giving them interest over several time frames… and sometimes in all four seasons.

Dark-leaf ninebarks have white flowers and nearly black leaves during the growing season, and peeling bark in fall.
Dark-leaf ninebarks have white flowers and nearly black leaves during the growing season, left, then in winter the leaves drop to reveal peeling bark on the stems.
George Weigel
Spirea “Ogon” produces white flowers in early spring, then the foliage turns coppery in late fall.
Spirea “Ogon” produces white flowers in early spring just as the willowy leaves are sprouting, left, then the foliage turns coppery in late fall.
George Weigel

Check out these five hard-working shrubs if you’re trying to add more four-season interest to your yard:

  • Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). This native hydrangea is distinctive for its large, hand-sized, oak-type leaves that turn from green to rich burgundy in fall. Plants get white or pink cone-shaped flowers in summer and also have peeling, cinnamon-colored bark for winter interest. Most grow 5 to 8 feet tall and wide. (Best in part shade, hardy in Zones 5-9.)
  • Purple-leaf ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius). The spring and summer leaves of this native shrub are nearly black, turning copper to rust-colored in fall. Plants produce small, white, snowball-like flower clusters in late spring followed by reddish fruits. Leaves drop in fall to expose peeling brown bark in winter. Diabolo® is the best known 7- to 8-foot variety, while Summer Wine®, Little Devil® and Tiny Wine® are more compact varieties. (Full sun to light shade, hardy in Zones 2-8.)
  • Dwarf nandina (Nandina domestica). A long-time staple of Southern landscapes, this broad-leafed evergreen now comes in varieties as compact as 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Warming winters have made them more doable in colder climates – as low as Zone 6. Leaves of many are red to burgundy. Spring flowers are white, and some varieties produce clusters of pea-sized red berries in fall and winter. (Full sun to shade.)
  • Spirea ‘Ogon’ (Mellow Yellow®) (Spirea thunbergii). This loose-growing, textural, 5-foot flowering shrub gets dainty, snow-white flowers in early spring just as the narrow, willowy leaves start appearing. Leaves are golden all summer, then they turn coppery in late fall and often hold those leaves into early winter. (Full sun to part shade, hardy in Zones 4-8.)
  • Dwarf weeping Japanese maple (Acer palmatum). These compact, slow-growing versions of the Japanese maple tree grow only 6 to 10 feet tall and wide along with a weeping habit. They’re especially colorful in fall when their narrow leaves turn fiery red to bright red-orange. Many have deep red or golden foliage in summer. Leaves drop in fall to reveal elegant, weeping and curving branch structures in winter. (Best in morning sun and afternoon shade in wind-protected sites. Hardy in Zones 5-9.)