One of the great things about living in the northeast part of Texas is that we typically have four distinct seasons. Yes, spring and fall some years are altogether too brief, with hot weather shortening the pleasant days and nights of these delightful times of year. But, more often than not, in the fall, conditions are good for many trees to put on a final, glorious show before turning loose of their food making factories (their leaves).
The palate of red, yellow, orange, and purple leaves paints the landscape in both woodlots and in every neighborhood. It’s at this time of year we often think of adding a plant to our landscape to get the same effect.
One thing you may have noticed is that not all trees of the same species color up at the same time. Genetic variability does play a role for trees grown from seed, but location and weather are even bigger players. In order for fall colors to develop, tree leaves need to be exposed to bright sunlight. Those shaded by neighboring trees are often delayed in their transition due to lack of intense sunlight, which breaks down the green chlorophyll pigment, revealing hidden yellow and orange pigments. Also, sunlight is required to produce the bright red pigment called anthocyanin. This is why trees along the edges of woods, on hilltops, or isolated from other trees in a neighborhood usually color up first. Cloudy, rainy days delay this transition.
Fall is a great to time to plant trees and shrubs in the landscape. If you are thinking about adding some fall color to your yard, here are just a few suggestions for reliable color. Before seeking out a tree or plant to grow, make sure you have room to allow it to develop to its full potential.
Crape myrtles – Not only do crape myrtles provide outstanding summer flower power, but many varieties have brilliant displays of orange and red foliage. After the leaves have dropped, their attractive smooth trunks continue to create interest throughout the winter. Crape myrtles come in sizes ranging from dwarf to small trees up to 30 feet tall, with possible foliage colors of orange, purple, yellow or red. And they are drought tolerant and very easy to care for. They need full sun for the best floral and foliage displays. Do your homework, and you should end up with a great addition to your yard.
Japanese maples – Japanese maples are the aristocrats of the small trees. There are hundreds of varieties and sizes, though local nurseries may only carry a few cultivars. For best fall color, Japanese maples should receive morning sun, but give them protection from intense western sun exposure. Fall colors range from pure yellow to brilliant red and orange. Japanese maples have shallow roots, so they can drought stress easily, and need good care, especially during the establishment years.
Some other small trees with reliable fall color include dogwood, rusty blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum), grancy greybeard or fringe tree (Chionanthus), and Japanese persimmon.
Blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica) is an east Texas native that reliably turns a deep, dark red every year. This slow to moderate growing tree is ideal for locations with poorly drained soil, but growth rate will be better on sites with good drainage.
Red maple (Acer rubrum) is a fast growing native tree with reliable fall color, usually, as the name suggests, turning brilliant red. Southern sugar maple (Acer barbatum), also called Florida maple, is another native with golden yellow to red and orange foliage in the fall.
Several oaks can produce attractive fall foliage, including white oak (Quercus alba), Shumard oak (Q. shumardii), willow oak (Q. phellos), and swamp chestnut oak (Q. michauxii). These trees grow large, so be sure you have room for them to develop their full potential.
Some other large trees with good fall color include hickory, elm, ginkgo, Chinese pistache, and bald cypress.
Shrubs for Autumn Color:
Besides trees, many shrubs provide a burst of color in the fall. Here is a sample to consider: Azalea (Rhododendron) – varies; Blueberry (Vaccinium) – orange/red; Farkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum) – orange/red; Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) –
burgundy red; and Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) –red/orange/yellow.