There are some trees with never-fail color in fall, the kind of trees that you depend on year in and year out for colorful displays.
Most of them are commonly available in local garden centers and nurseries. And now is an ideal time to plant them. Here's a rundown of the best trees to fill out your landscape.
Autumn is the season to display vibrant, saturated colors in the garden. The most intense colors usually come from Japanese maple selections whose leaves are green in summer.
Our top choices of two-season maples for fall color include Hogyoku (rich, deep orange), Sango Kaku (ethereal yellow with apricot overtones), and Osakazuki (absolutely brilliant, crimson fall color). Osakazuki colors unusually late, peaking around Thanksgiving in Atlanta, Birmingham, and Little Rock.
When people think of crepe myrtles, they envision warm summer days and pink, red, lavender, and white flower clusters sagging in the sun. But look at these classic trees in fall, and you might be surprised. Brilliant blooms will be replaced by orange, red, and yellow foliage for an outstanding autumn show.
Crepe myrtles have rounded, light green leaves that emerge in the spring. As the weather warms, the foliage hardens off and turns dark green. Then, when the temperatures drop in the fall, leaves gradually transform from green to sparkling fall hues. Many gardeners select crepe myrtles by bloom colors, but you can also choose a plant by its fall foliage.
Brilliant in color and easy to grow, ginkgo is hard to forget. Bright green in summer, they change to a glorious butter yellow in fall; a fully colored tree shines like the sun. Leaves drop in a shower that completely denudes the tree in a day or two. If you like to get raking done in one fell swoop, you'll appreciate this courtesy.
An established tree is tough and undemanding, tolerating drought, pollution, and almost any well-drained soil. Insects and diseases simply avoid it. Ginkgo makes a superior shade, lawn, and street tree if you have sufficient room. It gets its nickname -- "maidenhair tree" -- from its fan-shaped leaves, which resemble the leaflets of a maidenhair fern.
You can't beat the dramatic coloration of flowering dogwood in autumn. Frankly, the tiers of white flowers that clothe the branches in spring are quite enough to sell anyone on this tree. But then comes the second show in fall, with drooping red leaves and bright-red berries.
New variegated selections, such as 'Cherokee Sunset,' offer even more color, but there's nothing wrong with just plain old dogwood. Remember, the tree prefers light shade rather than full sun. And be sure to water this shallow-rooted tree during summer droughts, or scorched leaves may ruin the fall show.
Now is the best time of year to plant a small tree to brighten your yard's autumn palette. Once you select the perfect tree and site, dig a hole as deep as the tree's root ball and twice as wide. A mattock and round-point shovel are essential for planting, and an ax comes in handy if the hole has lots of roots. Mix organic matter, such as sphagnum peat moss or soil conditioner, with the excavated soil.
Gently set the tree into the hole, placing the top of the root ball a couple of inches higher than the ground. If your tree was container-grown and the roots are matted together, use a pocketknife to loosen the roots.
Shovel half the amended backfill in the hole until the tree stands upright on its own. Step away, and make sure it's straight with the best side facing forward. Make any adjustments before shoveling in the remaining backfill. While filling, occasionally stop to pack the soil down against the root ball with your foot.
The ideal time to plant a tree is in the late fall or winter when they're dormant, but they can be planted any time. New trees benefit from 3 or 4 inches of mulch to keep moisture in.
Using your hands, shape loose soil into a circular mound around the tree. The bowl shape helps pool water, which trickles down onto the roots with minimal runoff. After planting, water thoroughly, allowing a hose to slowly drip at the tree's base for an hour or two. For the first few weeks, new trees need several soakings.
You don't have to think big to think fall. Here's a list of more small trees to plant in large containers or in your yard:
• Flowering Crabapple
• Goldenrain Tree
• Japanese Flowering Cherry
• Red Buckeye
• Star Magnolia