Tag Archives: fall foliage trees

The November Garden

Cercis_Forest_PansyOutside my window, the Forest Pansy Redbud has started to display its spectacular burnt orange fall color. There’s a suet feeder hanging from the branches so I get to enjoy the antics of the Pygmy Nuthatches, Purple Finches and the Chestnut-backed Chickadees all day long as I watch the changing colors of the foliage. Out back I have a Catawba Crape Myrtle also starting to show fall color. Its leaves are turning a rich butterscotch shade which is lovely but not the reddish-orange described in the books. What causes fall color to vary from plant to plant? How does location in the garden, weather, climate and growing conditions affect what you see each fall?

The brilliant fall color we see in the leaves of trees and plants is always there. It’s just masked by Japanese_Maple-fall_color.1280chlorophyll during the growing season as the plant is busy making food while the sun shines during photosynthesis. Come autumn, shorter days and cooler temperatures cause the trees to switch into energy-storage mode, at which point their leaves stop producing chlorophyll. For the few weeks before the leave fall to the ground, they are colored only by their natural pigments. It’s these colors – red and purple anthocyanins and yellow and orange carotenoids that make fall foliage so glorious.

Some years the show is more dramatic than others. The best conditions for intense leaf color to develop are dry sunny days followed by cool, but not freezing nights. A warm, wet autumn will almost surely result in less-than-spectacular foliage because the process of chlorophyll loss will be less consistent. Freezing temperatures or winds meanwhile can cause leaves to drop suddenly denying them opportunity to enter their slow, colorful dormancy. Finally, trees that are under stress because of pests, disease, injury or drought may drop their leaves with no color change at all.

Japanese_Maple-fall_color2.1280So if your garden becomes shady early in the fall this may result in less vivid fall foliage. If your trees are stressed by drought like this year you may not get the usual colorful fall display. These and the above factors all affect the intensity of fall foliage colors.

Now is a good time to shop for plants and trees that can punch up the color of fall in your garden. Seeing your new addition in person will show you exactly what color you are going to get. Sure Autumn Gold Ginkgo will probably always color up bright yellow and Sango Kaku Japanese maples will show off their characteristic golden foliage but the fall color of Purple Smoke Bush, Katsura tree, Witch Hazel, Pomegranate, Oakleaf Hydrangea and Blueberry, to name just a few, can vary.

First Frost
I received an email from someone new to the area about when to expect our first frost. I’ve kept a weather Japanese_Maple_Sango-Kaku_fall_color.1600journal since 1992 and based on my records occasionally we get a light frost at the end of October. Mostly though, the earliest frost has occurred about second week of November with late November being the most common. Be prepared by moving frost tender plants under overhangs if possible or having frost blankets (not plastic) ready to cover delicate plants.

Transplanting in Fall
Need to move a plant or install plants out of containers and into the garden soil? Now through February offers the best time to do this. Soils are still warm at this time of year which helps new roots get established quicker than in later winter.

Prepare the new location first before excavating any plant. Dig a hole twice as wide as the rootball, but just the same depth. Use a sharp spade to make clean cuts through roots. Cut roots will form new, dense and healthy roots.

Before replanting, especially from a container, check for roots that have circled the interior of the pot. These must be tugged loose and straightened when planted. Don’t be shy about loosening roots. When replanting be certain to keep the rootball at the same level it was and don’t add soil over the rootball. Most plants need oxygen at the soil level.

Fall Color Trees for the Santa Cruz Mountains

Walking around my neighborhood I see neon red fall foliage at every turn. Japanese maples covered with vivid red, bright orange or yellow leaves steal the scene wherever they grow. Surrounded by greenery Canadian redbud now pop with burgundy and yellow color. Flowering dogwood look like they're on fire. Because we live among so many trees and shrubs that stay evergreen in winter, fall color is especially important for us. What plants put on a good show in our area?

We are all familiar with the brilliant fall color of Japanese maples. Bloodgood is probably the single most popular upright purple-leaved variety seen in gardens. Beautiful in color and form, it's easy to grow and fits nicely in the smaller garden. Mine is covered with glowing red foliage now even though it grows year round in the shade.

My Coral Bark Japanese maple has had glowing golden and red foliage since early September. It's one of the earliest to start coloring in fall and make quite a statement in the garden when combined with warm-toned plants like heauchere 'Creme Brulee'.  I love this tree as it grows more upright and looks great near an entry as an accent. That luminous spark of lighter color is beautiful next to the deep reds of the other trees.

I surveyed some fellow designers for their favorite fall color varieties and found another Japanese maple favored not only for fall foliage color but the purple leaf color maintained during the summer even in hot situations. Called Red Emperor it's a moderate grower to 15 ft tall and wide. Like other Japanese maples it needs regular watering-weekly or more often in extreme heat especially during the first growing season to establish a deep, extensive root system. Watering can be reduced after establishment. Keeping mulch over the root zone is vitally important in our hot summers. Japanese maples look dramatic when planted with Japanese Forest grass, deer fern, flowering cherry and coral Bells.

Another favorite of mine for fall color is Crape Myrtle. You see them covered with large, colorful flowers starting in summer and lasting through fall. They are planted everywhere for good reason. Easy to grow and fast growing they take heat or cool coastal conditions. They are not fussy about soil and ask only for deep but infrequent watering. As if the flower color weren't enough to attract you, they absolutely glow in the fall with shades of red, orange and yellow. I'm partial to purple flowers so varieties like Catawba, Muskogee and Zuni top my list. Watermelon red and other bright red flowering varieties are also popular.

A great tree for the gardener interested in edibles is the Fuyu persimmon. This beautiful small tree is ornamental with glossy green leaves and also offers a dramatic fall display in shades of yellow, orange and red. Bright orange fruit begins to develop in late October and clings to bare branches usually through December. The tree looks more like it's covered with holiday ornaments than fruit.

Chinese pistache is a good tree for a patio, lawn or streetside. They can get by with almost no water but will tolerate lawn watering if drainage is good. Luminous orange to red fall foliage color is reliable even in mild winter areas. They are usually grown from seedlings.  When you buy one, it might be either male or female but a male tree without berries will develop better color.

Other trees with vivid autumn color that also do well in our area include red maples like October Glory and Autumn blaze, liquidamber, ginkgo, ornamental pear, cherry or crabapple, dogwood, goldenrain, locust, katsura, oak, redbud, sumac. All add to the fall drama of the landscape.
 
Now through late fall is a good time to shop for trees that change colors because you can see in person just what shade of crimson, orange, scarlet or gold they will be. I'm off to the eastern side of the Sierra to see for myself the Black oak and Quaking aspen fall color.
 

Fall Color for the Santa Cruz Mountains

The end of daylight savings time signals to me that autumn is really here in our mild California surroundings. We may not have as many fall color foliage trees and shrubs as other states but we love ours just as much.  Besides we don’t get snow two days before Halloween. Can you imagine? Enjoy these crisp mornings and warm days and to make your garden more compelling, try mixing in trees and shrubs with bold leaves and a wide range of autumn color.

Bright trees and shrubs add color flashes to fall gardens. Sasanqua camellias have already started blooming and will continue to flower throughout the winter. In addition to asters and rudbeckia, Japanese anemones are the stars of the border at this time of year. The electric blue flowers of dwarf plumbago contrast with reddish leaves as night temperatures dip. Summer Snowflake viburnum, Encore azalea, Endless Summer hydrangea and loropetalum are blooming now, too.

But what about vivid foliage in the garden? Which plants put on the best show in our area? Here are some of my favorites.

We are all familiar with the brilliant fall color of Japanese maples. Bloodgood is probably the single most popular upright purple-leaved variety seen in gardens. Beautiful in color and form, it’s easy to grow and fits nicely in the smaller garden.

A great tree for the gardener interested in edibles is the Fuyu persimmon. This beautiful small tree is ornamental with glossy green leaves and also offers a dramatic fall display in shades of yellow, orange and red. Bright orange fruit begins to develop in late October and clings to bare branches usually through December. The tree looks more like it’s covered with holiday ornaments than fruit. And have you priced persimmons in the store lately?

Blueberries are a must for the edible gardener. They can used to make a beautiful hedge that provides showy red or yellow fall color.  Because of our colder winters here in the mountains, we can grow both northern highbush which are self-fertile and southern highbush which produce better with another type to pollinize them. They can be great foundation plants around the home as well as in the garden.

A vine that lights up with the onset of autumn is Rogers Red California grape. If you have an arbor, wall or fence that need covering quickly, this is your plant. The green and gray leaves are transformed in autumn into great draperies of rich, scarlet red leaves with clusters of summer fruit turning all shades of purple.

Japanese barberries are deer resistant, low water-use small shrubs that make them superb hedge plants, background plants against fences and foundations or accent plants. Red or lime colored summer foliage changes to orange, red or amber in the fall. I love the graceful growing habit of many of the varieties but there are pillar forms and also dwarf types.

Bright foliage on trees like red maples, liquidamber, Chinese pistache, ginkgo, ornamental pear, cherry or crabapple, dogwood, goldenrain, locust, katsura, oak, redbud, sumac and witchhazel all add to the fall drama of the landscape.

Light up your garden as the light fades and the days shorten. I know my garden needs a greater variety of fall color than just the Japanese maples in pots on the deck and the barberries. Maybe I’ll add a purple smoke bush with leaves than turn luminous scarlet to add color flashes to my fall garden.
 

Fall Color- Foliage and Flowers

"May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end…down into a desert of red rock…where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you_"
_Edward Abbey

A friend and fellow columnist, Carol Carson, ends her emails with this quote and it never fails to get me to thinking and appreciating this place, this planet  we call home. I hope you enjoy it, too. And then I hope you’ll enjoy some time in the garden. Here are some tips for this month.

Now that we’ve had a bit of rain it’s time to get serious about fall planting. One could almost hear the landscape sigh with relief and drink up when the first drops started to fall. Everything looks brighter and more vivid now. I can even get a shovel in the earth to turn over the soil in those dry spots where I’d love to plant a new tree or shrub. The soil is still warm and will nurture new root growth. It’s a good time to plant a new fruit tree, edible shrub like a blueberry or maybe even something with beautiful fall color.

I’ve got my eye on a new Sango Kaku Japanese maple. Their upright growth is perfect for the smaller garden or that nook near the entry that needs an accent. They are one of the earliest maples to start coloring in fall and make quite a statement in the garden when combined with warm-toned foliage plants like heuchera Creme Brulee and fall blooming plants like liriope. Other early fall color I’m seeing these days comes from Chinese pistache and liquidambar trees. Deciduous viburnums, like my favorite Doublefile viburnum, have beautiful bright red foliage now.

Better Choices for Old Favorites

Thinking about planting a new area or redoing a part of your garden that has gotten out of control? If many of your old favorites just get too big, insects and diseases plague them or they  take too much time to prune you need some new favorites.  What’s a gardener to do these days when we want our yards to be sustainable?   Here are some substitutions for good plants gone wrong. This time it’s gonna be the right plant in the right spot.

Phormiums have been popular for many years now. This plant from New Zealand looks great in low water landscapes providing architectural interest but usually grows much wider and taller than anticipated and next thing you know it’s taken over. One of the cultivars that behaves itself is called Jester. This phormium has beautiful 2-3 ft long pinkish leaves that have an orange midrib and lime green bands near the leaf margins. Combine it with teucrium  chamaedrys germander for an awesome combination.

If you want a similar fountain-like plant in your landscape that never reverts to plain green, try a cordyline Festival Grass. Vivid burgundy red leaves to 2-3 ft tall arching over so the tips reach the ground. Tiny pale lilac flowers appear in the summer, with a jasmine-like fragrance.  Plant in full sun to part shade and water regularly. Plants in shade have a darker more purple color while sun grown plants have more red.

What’s deer resistant with fragrant, gold foliage, uses little water once established and stays compact? Danny’s Sport Breath of Heaven is a bushy, finely textured shrub of the citrus family. They have slender stems and tiny narrow leaves which give off a spicy, sweet scent when crushed. Bright yellow new growth is upright, growing to 3- 5 ft tall. They thrive in sun or light shade and are hardy to around 18 degrees or less. Use it as a foundation plant, informal hedge or specimen plant. They are very showy in the landscape.

Ornamental oregano is a great perennial to use in a border or to tuck between other plants. Most oregano varieties are wonderful while in bloom but offer little interest after the main show is over. Oregano Santa Cruz is a better choice. Antique-toned, dusty rose-colored hop-like flowers, are offset by bright green calyxes and remain all summer on branched red stems. This plants grows 18" – 24" high and 3 ft wide. For a pleasing fusion of color, combine it with penstemon Blackbird or another rich burgundy penstemon. Add a grass such as muhlenbergia capillaris to complete the vignette.

Everybody loves clematis. They come in so many styles but how do you prune them for best flower production? Plant a Sweet Autumn Clematis ( clematis terniflora ) and your worries are over. They are a gorgeous sight now covered in pure white, lightly fragrant flowers. Later in the fall the vine will become a silvery mass of fluffy seed heads. This small-flowered species looks impressive covering an upscale arbor or even embellishing a plain fence of garden shed. It blooms on new growth so you can easily keep it in check by cutting stems back to 12" in the spring. It will bloom well in partial shade, too.

A smaller cultivar of the old favorite oak-leaf hydrangea is Sikes Dwarf. This lovely plant provides year-round seasonal interest.  At this time of year their huge, whitish-pink conical flowers turn a papery soft tan color. In later autumn, the leaves will take on striking shades of crimson and bronze-purple, and through winter the dry flowers persist above the branches lined with exfoliating copper-brown, cinnamon and tan bark. Oakleaf hydrangeas are fast growing and accept full sun or partial shade in rich evenly moist soil. They’re real lookers in the garden.
 

Persimmons

With the holidays upon us, there’s probably no other tree that typifies the season more than the Bright orange fruits peak out between the leafy branches now but soon they’ll hang alone like Christmas ornaments.

Persimmons are one of the best fruit trees for ornamental use. Their handsome branches spread wide to 30 feet and they can grow almost as tall making them a beautiful shade tree in the garden. Striking, dark green leaves turn stunning shades of yellow, orange or red in fall even in the mildest of climates. After the leaves drop and especially after we’ve had frost the fruit colors brilliant orange-scarlet and brightens the tree for several months, unless harvested.

Persimmons are easy to grow, too. They are one of the few fruit trees that are deer resistant ( the foliage anyway ).
They accept almost any soil, acidic or alkaline, as long as it is well drained. Reaching bearing age at 5 you can expect your tree to live 50 to 75 years. That’s a lot of persimmons for eating fresh,or for baking into cookies, bread and pudding. Or you can try your hand at persimmon wine or beer as the early settlers did or dry the fruit. They are loaded with vitamin A and C.

Fruit drop is one of the only problems you may encounter when your tree is young. Persimmons have a natural tendency to drop their fruit prematurely. Large quantities may drop if the tree is under stress from over or under watering or given too much nitrogen fertilizer.

How much water and food does a persimmon need? Apply enough water to wet the soil 3-4 feet deep when the soil 6" below the surface is just barely moist. Fertilize once in late winter with organic fruit tree food. Persimmons do not respond or need fertilizers other than nitrogen. They are not troubled by excesses or deficiencies of other elements. Persimmons are remarkable free from disease and pests.

The most common types of persimmons grown are the Japanese varieties, Hachiya and Fuyu. Hachiya is the most popular commonly available in markets. Fruit is astringent until soft when it becomes very sweet and pudding-like. They make be picked when firm-ripe to protect them from the birds and allowed to ripen off the tree. They keep a month or more in the refrigerator.

The smaller Fuyu persimmon is a non-astringent variety. These are picked hard and have a mildly sweet flavor. When they soften off the tree they become sweeter and can be kept for several months in the refrigerator. You can also freeze whole persimmons or pulp.

Be sure to harvest either type using a pruning shears.  Cut 1/2 to 1 inch above the fruit so the greenish crown remains intact. Don’t try to remove fruit without also taking the calyx cap and a short bit of fruit stem or they can rot. Whether you plant your own tree or buy the fruit at the market, take advantage of persimmon season and the beauty they bring.

Persimmon are among the best fruit trees to grow for the gardener who has little time to spare.