71122thumbThere may not be a good time to talk about it this year. The late warmth really put a damper on some of the autumn foliar color. Some trees are dropping their leaves as soon as they start to turn color, leaving only fading green leaves in their canopies. Only the most reliable trees for autumn color, sweetgum, Chinese pistache, flowering pear and gingko, are trying to make up for lost color.

Now, just because these four trees happen to color well and reliably in autumn does not necessarily mean that they are the right trees for every application. No tree is perfect. Gingko comes close in regard to adaptability to a broad range of applications, but provides only bright yellow autumn color. Flowering pear can be an excellent tree in most regards, but it very susceptible to fire blight.

The other two eventually get too big for some applications. Chinese pistache gets broad with low branches, and old trees (that predate the selection of the standardized male cultivar) can be messy with tiny but profuse fruits. Mature sweetgum trees are notoriously messy with obnoxiously spiked mace-like fruits, and can develop serious and potentially hazardous structural deficiency.

There are certainly more trees and plants that can provide foliar color in autumn. These just happen to be four of the most reliable, and most brilliantly colored. Chinese tallow turns dark burgundy and almost purplish, but colors best in response to a sharp and sudden chill. Red oak turns a monochromatic brown like that of a paper bag, but of course, the color does not appeal to everyone.

Years ago, it was advisable to select flowering crabapples and flowering cherries while blooming in spring because that was the most accurate representation of their floral color. (Photographs were not what pictures are nowadays.) This is still good advice. For autumn color, it is probably better to observe trees around the neighborhood, and then identify those that are most appealing.

Once a few are identified, it is easier to research them to learn about their distinct characteristics, and to determine if they are appropriate for particular applications or situations. Some might be too big. Some might be too messy. Some are not as colorful as others. Persimmon has the added bonus of fruit. Crape myrtle blooms nicely in summer. It is better to know before planting them.

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12 thoughts on “Autumn Color That Proves It

    1. Crabapples are unpopular here, but gingkos rock. However, the butter yellow one with the fishtail like leaves is ‘Saratoga’, but it is rare in Saratoga. The bright yellow ones are more popular here because we do not have much bright color in autumn.

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  1. Oh, I meant to say that spring flowers were best selected when they were in bloom. Also, autumn color is best selected while in color. They are certainly not the same thing. Flowering cherries can get some nice bright reds and oranges, but their flowers are only pink and maybe white.

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    1. Brent, my colleague down south digs the autumn color here, only 350 miles or so away. They get a bit of color there, but it is not nearly as common. There is more farther inland on the way to the desert. San Diego has almost no autumn color. It seems that everyone likes gingko! I think that it is rather simple, with only bright yellow. Yet, people like the brightness of it. The more colorful types have more problems.

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      1. Someone near Sydney just commented about theirs, which is funny. I had just asked about the perceived lack of deciduous trees there, and was assured that there were plenty of them. I would not have guessed that they would be popular there.

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      2. So, autumn is spring, people drive on the right, hurricanes and flushing toilets go backward, the equator is north; Australia is a strange place. Is gravity reversed there as well?

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