A PASSION FOR PLANTS: September 2007
California's Fall Color Trees
Fall is in the air! Well, maybe not yet, but it's on the way,
and it's worth planning for and celebrating. The East Coast may
be the hotbed of fall color, but even in this middle part of
California there are some wonderful trees that will put on a
spectacular show as our local brand of fall weather makes its
One of the first trees I think of for fall color is Ginkgo
Biloba. The name has become familiar because of health food
claims, and the tree itself deserves just as much attention.
Ginkgos have been around since prehistoric times. Their ability
to survive is amazing-one Ginkgo tree was near ground zero of
the nuclear blast in Hiroshima-and it re-sprouted the following
spring. All spring and summer the fan-shaped leaves are a fresh,
medium green, but in fall they turn a gorgeous shade of gold
that almost looks like they're glowing. Ginkgos take full sun,
average water, and appreciate good drainage. They typically get
35-50' tall. The female Ginkgo has an unpleasant smelling fruit,
but once you get past the outer flesh and shell, the nut inside
has a wonderful flavor.
Another familiar tree for fall color is the Japanese Maple
(Acer palmatum). There are many named varieties available,
but if you are on a budget, seedlings of the species can be an
excellent option. Seedlings are often hardier and more tolerant
of sun, wind, heat and drought than grafted varieties. Fall colors
include yellow, orange, and red, often on the same tree. These
max out at about 20' and appreciate protection from hot afternoon
sun and wind.
A lesser known maple is Acer Buergerianum, the trident
maple. With rounded, three-lobed leaves, this tree can get
20-25' tall. Fall color is red with occasional orange and yellow.
Another lovely species maple is the Paperbark Maple (Acer
griseum). Its leaves are in three parts (with a scary resemblance
to poison oak!) and turn bright red in the fall. The bark is
a cinnamon color and has an attractive peeling habit. Showy seeds
form in the spring and are held on the tree all summer.
The Washington thorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) is definitely
a four-season tree. Clusters of small white spring flowers become
red summer berries. These same berries hang on during the winter
long after the lobed leaves have turned a striking orange or
red or sometimes purple and then fallen. The tree can reach 25'
tall, prefers good drainage, and is most healthy without much
Parrotia Persica is an underused tree. The oval leaves
have wavy margins and go through some marvelous color changes.
They are a reddish purple when the tree first leafs out, and
rich green all summer long. In fall, they go from gold to orange
to pink and finally red. The 15-35' tall tree has an attractive
branching pattern, with the white patched gray bark in view during
Trees aren't the only plants that put on their finery in the
fall. In the shrub category, the smoketree (Cotinus coggygria)
gives you purple leaves all summer long, and yellow and orange-red
fall color. Another species Smoketree (C. obovatus) has
blue-green leaves and a spectacular assortment of fall color-yellow-orange-red-purple-all
on the same plant. Both smoketrees are naturally multistemmed
and do well in full sun and poor rocky soil. When the insignificant
spring flowers fade and fall, the branching structure left behind
looks like a haze of smoke hovering around the plant, hence the
The Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is another
large shrub worth finding space for-up to 6' tall and 8' wide.
The very large (up to 8") somewhat fuzzy oak-leaf shaped
leaves turn bronze or red in the fall. This plant also rewards
you with large clusters of white flowers that bloom in late spring
and persist on the plant.
Here I go again. I haven't saved room to tell you about several
species of Hornbeam (Carpinus) another underused, well
behaved tree, or Euonymus alatus, common name burning
bush, or chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia). Both shrubs
have an amazingly brilliant red fall color. Or any of the vines
that put on a fall display, like Vitis californica 'Roger's
Red', some Wisteria, and Parthenocissus, the
Virginia creepers & Boston ivy.
But I do want to suggest that you go shopping in the fall for
plants you hope will give you fall color. While the fall color
on some trees will intensify with maturity, good color while
young will always mean good color when mature.
And now, go out and plant something! Fall is the very best time
of the year to plant almost anything in this part of California.
Celebrate the planting season.
Carman's Nursery (408) 847-2313,
West Side Nursery (408) 842-8895,
catalog source: www.forestfarm.com.
and About Magazine
owner of Carman's Nursery, Nancy Schramm and her husband recently
moved the nursery from Los Gatos to Gilroy where they have lived
for 24 years. The nursery is known for growing rare and unusual
plants including bonsai starters, dwarf conifers, rock garden
plants and (of course) less common fruiting plants. Nancy has
been a member of the Western Horticultural Society since 2003.
She follows in the footsteps of her father Ed Carman, the founder
of Carman's Nursery. Ed was one of the charter members of the
Western Horticultural Society and also served on the first Board.
Contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org