41029thumbSweetgum, flowering pear and Chinese pistache are the most reliable trees for flashy autumn foliar color, especially in such mild climates. They may not seem like it this year though. After a late start, only sweetgum is coloring well. Flowering pear trees that are beginning to show color farther inland seem to lack their typical bright yellow and orange, and are showing more dark rusty red.

Like so many flowers that bloom in spring, foliar color in autumn is as variable as the weather. Temperature and humidity can either inhibit or enhance color. It is impossible to say what caused the disappointing color so far, or if foliage that colors later will be just as bland. A sudden chill could change things for Chinese pistache that are still behind schedule.

Maidenhair tree (gingko) is the best for bright yellow, but lacks any other color. Fruitless mulberry, tulip tree and various poplars can be nearly as bright yellow in a good season, and may still color well. Of the various willows, only a few color well, and they tend to be more sensitive to weather. Early rain can rot their leaves before they get much color at all.

Although elms are not known for coloring, some of the modern varieties turn remarkably bright orange. However, the few oaks that color well in colder climates turn only dingy brown locally. The few North American maples that can provide color do not hold their colored foliage very long. All sorts of trees have all sorts of personalities.

Eastern redbud, smoke tree and crape myrtle are shrubs or small trees that color as well as larger trees in autumn. Crape myrtle can be as bright yellow, orange and red as sweetgum. Some Japanese maples color better than others, and some can be quite impressive, but only if their foliage does not get roasted by warm and arid weather through summer.

Where it can be accommodated, Boston ivy is an aggressively clinging vine that provides all the remarkably colorful foliage on freeway sound-walls. It is out on the freeways for a reason though. It can ruin any other surface that it clings to.

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5 thoughts on “Color Is Lacking This Autumn

  1. In truth, never being certain of which colors are going to appear, or how intense they will or will not be, is part of the excitement of the season. If every tree provided full, beautiful color every year, it’s possible we’d get a bit bored with it all, and stop seeing it. Two years ago, our crepe myrtles were the stars of the show, and they were astonishing. I’d never seen such colors on those trees, and it was wonderful.

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    1. I believe it is like that everywhere. No one ever knows. This particular article was actually from a few years ago. (Current articles post on Mondays and Tuesdays. Old articles post on Thursdays and Fridays.) I don’t know what to expect this year because the process is just starting. Dogwoods (which do not do well in most areas farther inland) are already defoliating, mostly with grungy color, although some were briefly very well colored.

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    1. Is that because it got cool suddenly, and with minimal humidity?
      This article is actually from a past year. (Thursdays are for recycled old articles from the gardening column.) Color is just now starting, so I don’t now what to expect.

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