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A PASSION FOR PLANTS: September 2007

California's Fall Color Trees

by Nancy Schramm

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 subtle arrival.


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 fertilizer.


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 the winter.


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 common name.


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.

Local Sources:

Carman's Nursery (408) 847-2313,
West Side Nursery (408) 842-8895,
catalog source: www.forestfarm.com.

Copyright. Out and About Magazine

 
           Third generation 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 edgreenthumb@att.net

Western Horticulture Society
PO Box 166, Mountain View, CA 94042
(650) 948-4614 or (650) 941-6136
info@westernhort.org