After blooming so colorfully for summer, crape myrtle foliage turns bright orange and red for autumn.

Why do so many from other regions comment on the mild climates of the west coast of California as if pleasant weather is a deficiency? If horrid summer heat and frigid winter cold were worth bragging about, not so many people would have been so eager to migrate here.

Contrary to popular belief, the four seasons, although considerably milder than in other regions, are enough to keep our gardens productive, dynamic and even colorful in all seasons. All sorts of deciduous plants and fruit trees get just enough chill in winter to bloom reliably in spring. The warming weather between winter and summer that gets most plants to bloom is what spring is all about. Summer is then warm enough for fruit and vegetables to develop. Then there is autumn, when so many deciduous plants turn flashy colors before winter dormancy.

Although the mild weather limits the choices, there are still a few plants to provide autumn foliar color. Actually, autumn is not so colorful locally primarily because the potential for color is not exploited like it is elsewhere. There are just so many other plants that do not turn color in autumn to choose from. Really, Vermont would be less colorful if palm trees grew there!

Sweetgum, Chinese pistache, flowering pear and maidenhair tree are the most reliable trees for autumn color. Maidenhair tree turns remarkably bright yellow. The others get the whole range from yellow to orange to red. Sweetgum also gets burgundy, and has the added advantage of holding foliage until it gets knocked off by wind or rain. Where the big, bright orange (and yummy) fruit that hangs through winter is desirable, Japanese persimmon is as colorful as Chinese pistache. (Persimmons are horribly messy if not harvested.) Various poplars, tulip tree and black walnut can almost get as bright yellow as maidenhair tree.

Crape myrtle and redbud are shrubby plants that provide good autumn color. Redbud turns clear yellow. Crape myrtle though, can also get bright orange and brownish red. Several of the Japanese maples, although not always as reliable, can actually get even more colorful if the weather is right. Boston ivy (which is actually related to grape) is the most colorful of climbing vines, but because it attaches directly to whatever it climbs, it is best on concrete walls that it will not damage.


12 thoughts on “Autumn Foliar Color Begins In October

    1. Oh, I do not travel by airplane! I have done it only twice (or four times if round trips count as twice), and really did not enjoy it. Besides, I enjoy driving. That is how I get to the Pacific Northwest and Southern California. When I went to Oklahoma late in 2012, I thought that I would finally get to experience cold weather, but it did not happen until after we left. I actually appreciate the climate here, but merely find it to be boring. However, if it were cooler, I could not grow some of the tropical plants that I brought here from Southern California. If it were warmer, I could not grow apples and pears.


    1. The climates of California are extremely diverse. There are more climate zones here than in many other states combined. There are more climate zones just on the farm than there are in the entire state of Oklahoma! Heck, my lower garden and my upper garden were in different climates! Anyway, there is no way to generalize about the climates here. However, most climates here really do lack humidity.

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      1. Actually, I went to San Diego on a spring break thinking the weather would be bikini warm but found it to be much colder than here. I think all those beach and Gidget movies had a big influence on how we view CA.

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      2. San Diego can get a bit of a chill, and there are no absolutes with the weather, although generally, it has remarkably mild weather. It does not get too cold for plants that will not tolerate the mild chill in Los Angeles. I know that ‘it never rains in Southern California’, but the heaviest rain that I ever encountered was in Beverly Hills, within the Los Angeles region.

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    1. That is an interesting question. I do like autumn foliar color, and I do like trees that develop such color with minimal chill. However, the Chinese pistache is not one of my favorite trees. I dislike the family somewhat. Really though, I dislike how most Chinese pistache are not maintained properly. They are supposedly a very popular and ‘well rated’ street tree, and they were the most common street tree in Morgan Hill when I inspected their public landscapes prior to 2010. Few were pruned for adequate clearance while young, so developed nicely broad canopies that were supported by limbs that were obtrusively low. Corrective structural pruning of mature trees was not practical. It was very annoying to work with.


    1. Not many Californians appreciate foliar color of autumn because it is not very prominent here. Some Californians find such color to be unappealing, and some believe that it makes trees look like they are dying. However, because of the mild climate, we do not dread the change of seasons like those in harsher climates do. You mind find this climate to be quite boring.

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