Many fall trees full of color

Published 12:18 am Sunday, November 9, 2008

The turning of leaf colors is one of the great phenomenons that indicates seasonal change more than any other in nature. Those of us that are seeking the cooler days of fall can often get upset when this display of foliage fireworks does not meet expectations. But here are some tree selections with never fail color in fall, the kind of trees that you depend on year in and year out for colorful display. Fall and winter is an ideal time to plant them.

Q. I want to plant some new trees that have beautiful leaves in the fall, what are some options?

The Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) has certainly got to be on top of any list. The tiers of white flowers that clothe the branches in spring are usually enough to sell anyone, but then comes the second show in fall, with dropping red leaves and bright-red berries. Variegated selections, such as Cherokee Sunset, offer even more color. Remember it prefers light shade rather than full sun. Be sure to water this shallow-rooted tree during summer droughts, or scorched leaves may ruin the fall show.

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Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboretum) is one of the earliest native trees to exhibit fall color — showing off leaves in brilliant shades of yellows, reds, and purples—predominately red. In summer it is covered with 10-inch long racemose-panicles of white very fragrant flowers. The inflorescence looks like long, slender, out stretched fingers.

Dr. Michael Dirr in his book, Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, says, “Truly an all-season ornamental; excellent specimen plant; it has so many attributes that it should only be considered for specimen use; many gardeners feel, among native trees, this is second only to flowering dogwood .” Sourwoods prefer full sun or partial shade although flowering and fall color are best in full sun with acidic soils.

If you want early displays of color the Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) is the tree to bet on. Fall leaf color is mostly red with some trees exhibiting yellows, oranges and purple colors as well. It is somewhat hard to find in the nursery trade, but well worth the hunt. It has outstanding summer and fall foliage and habit, well suited for naturalized areas and certainly one of the very best and most consistent native trees for fall color. Another plus is the bluish black drupe fruit that ripens in the fall and is eaten by many species of birds and mammals. It doesn’t tolerate high pH soils and grows in semi-shade or full sun.

Q. What is the best way to dispose of leaves?

All these colors end up falling to the ground and becoming yard decorations and eventually yard work. As a child, my brothers and I used to rake them into massive piles which were good for burning or modified redneck trampolines. Unfortunately with today’s regulations and insurance policies I do not recommend you burn leaves; however, for kids, making large piles to jump in or ride bikes through can be a blast. Leaves are also great for compost piles when combined with high nitrogen materials, like grass clippings, or when used as mulch. If you plan on using them as organic matter in a garden, tilling or plowing them into the soil will greatly speed up the decaying process.

David Carter is the director of the Adams County Extensions Service. He can be reached at 601-445-8201.