Fall HouseEveryone seems to love the fall. It’s a time when the weather cools off and people can spend more time outdoors. Fall provides the much needed relief from the sultry dog days of summer. People can switch from their frappes to warm coffee again. Halloween decorations appear on the shelves, and kids forget that summer has ended. Football comes back for guys and new fall colors come out for the ladies. The one thing that beats the cool weather, warm drinks, and holidays is the color.

Fall color is so beautiful that people will take road trips just to look at pretty leaves. You can take a “fall foliage road trip.” You can see fall color anywhere from the North Carolina Mountains to New York. This is a great idea and all, what if you’ve used all of your vacation days for the holidays? Bringing a number of easy to grow maple trees, flowering trees and shrubs to your own back yard is a great way to experience the changing of the seasons in your own yard, without taking a road trip.

The Science

The-ScientistBefore we talk about what to plant, let’s talk about the natural process of leaves changing colors. While we’re vacationing during the summer trees are hard at work photosynthesizing sugars from carbon dioxide and water. This is where pigments, the substances that produce leaf colors come into play. Leaves need chlorophyll, which is a green pigment, to capture the sun’s energy. Chlorophyll is essential to a tree’s life! In the fall when plants are ready to rest for the winter and go into dormancy they stop producing chlorophyll and the remaining chlorophyll in the leaves gets broken down. As the day’s become shorter and leaves receive less sunlight they know it’s time to start getting ready for dormancy. Chlorophyll masks other colors like yellows and oranges. As the green pigment breaks down and fades away the other pigments in the leaves finally get their chance to shine. Carotenoids make up bright orange and yellow hues while anthocyanins make up shades of red and purples. Anthocyanins are rare, not every tree can produce this pigment. The trees that do can only produce it in the fall if the conditions are correct. When bright sunlight breaks down sugars in leaves anthocyanins are produced.

Weather Affects

RedleavesWeather affects the brightness and intensity of plant’s red fall color every year. An early freeze in autumn can really dull shades of red in leaves. A large number of over cast days also have a dulling affect. Sunny days early in the fall and warm nights make for deep shades of red once colors start to change. However carotenoids are produced in leaves year around and aren’t affected by the weather. The wetness of other seasons can also affect fall colors. Severe droughts can delay the fall color change by a week or two. When exactly will leaves change color? Unfortunately it’s very difficult to predict an exact date. Many factors go into the changing of the leaves, like the temperature, weather, and sunlight. Some leaves have started sporting their new colors already, but the peak for fall color isn’t predicted to hit this year until mid to late October. Your elevation affects your leaf color. Trees in higher altitudes will change sooner than those in lower altitudes. People living in mid to low elevations can expect their trees and shrubs to show seasonal colors from mid-October to early November.

What to plant?

I have a few planting suggestions that will impress your friends and neighbors with beautiful fall colors. Fall foliage really stands out with a dark background behind it to make it pop so my first suggestion is the Nellie Stevens Holly. It’s an evergreen, and won’t give you fall color besides dark green but it will make your other trees and plants pop. If you have evergreens or your home is a dark shade of brick already then you’re ahead of the competition. I know we’re looking for some leaf color here, but the Nellie Stevens Holly shouldn’t be so quickly over looked. It has seasonal red berries that are great for decorating. You can clip a few red berry bearing branches and place them around your home to bring the fall feelings indoors.

AutumnBlazeMaple-01Maple trees are vastly known for their ability to produce beautiful hues during the fall, but which maples exactly? The October Glory Maple and Autumn Blaze Maple are excellent choices. The October Glory Maple has beautiful scarlet red to burnt red leaves in the fall. October Glory Maples are very eye catching and popular on the East coast.

The Autumn Blaze Maple is a fairly new tree that was recently introduced. They provide reliable fiery red leaves year after year. Since the autumn blaze is a hybrid of the silver and red maple they grow very quickly and the anthocyanins in their leaves aren’t as easily affected by the weather. The massive and beautiful Autumn Blaze Maple will leave a great impression on your friends and neighbors who have likely never seen one.

Maples grow quite tall, wide, and can dramatically change your landscape. If you’re looking to make a change that’s a little more subtle consider Japanese Maples. Some have dark scarlet red leaves in the summer, and others have green. In the fall their leaves turn to shades of orange and scarlet red. Japanese Maples can add more colors to your yard’s autumn palette. For example, the Green Mist Japanese Maple’s green leaves turn a bright orange color and the Emperor Japanese Maple’s dark purple leaves turn a shade of bright red.

Crape Myrtle Trees are often over looked as an autumn foliage tree. While Crape Myrtles do provide people with beautiful blooms in the summer, the blooms often times last into the fall. I’ll let you in on a secret about them; their leaves turn amazing colors in the fall as well. Catawba Crape Myrtles have purple blossoms that will stand out in your landscape into the fall, and their leaves turn shades of reddish-bronze, orange, and yellow. The Tonto Crape Myrtle has blooms that range from dark fuchsia to red. During autumn the Tonto Crape’s leaves go from deep green to dark maroon.

forsythia_1If you’re thinking that a tree might take up too much space or make too much of drastic change to your landscape, there are flowering shrubs that you can place in your garden and yard instead. The Lynwood Gold Forsythia is a hedge in my landscape that I love watching all year. In the spring it produces a ton of yellow blooms, then in the fall the leaves turn bright yellow as well! The golden color is attention grabbing during two different seasons! Autumn Royalty Encore Azaleas give your landscape a pop with huge purple blooms that last into fall. Purple isn’t really a color that first comes to mind in the fall, but you can make it a traditional color to have around every autumn.

Enjoy Your Own Fall Foliage.

You don’t have to load up your car and pack your kids in for a long drive to see a vibrant display of fall colors. There are a ton of varieties of trees and shrubs that you can plant to turn your own yard into a fall foliage destination. I only gave you a list of my top picks! The color combinations you can create with reds, oranges, yellows and even purples are endless. After planting your beautiful new plants relax with a large warm cup of coffee and put on your sunglasses to enjoy the bright colors that your fall foliage will provide year after year.Japanese maple tree in front of B&B, Pennsylvania

What is your favorite fall color plant?

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12 years ago I was sitting around, talking with two of my favorite, fellow Plant Geeks. We were trying to figure out why so many, superior plant varieties were not available to the public and were seldom offered in Garden Centers. Instead, the stores sold less attractive, older varieties, proven to be disease and insect prone. They also sold the sprays and chemicals that their customers would eventually need. The Ah Ha moment hit us and a company was formed. We decided that we would only offer the highest quality plants that must be Easy to Grow.
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  • Cheryl Adams-Zanewicz

    We have built a cabin beside the Daniel Boone Nat Forest. Last year the autumn colors were prettier. We have a HUGE variety of indigenous trees 75-100 ft tall…. with a few smallish maples. The maples are not pretty…..colors dull and typically don’t they put on a fall show? What can I do to help enhance the leaf change to a nicer color? I understand the chlorophyll issue …….but ‘hoped’ you would say fertilizing might help. Also a guy driving a bobcat knocked one maple down. We have it vertical and staked….Is there anything else we can do to save it? Another thing….I have hostas and day lilies in town….can I successfully transplant them now and can I spray them with something to keep deer off?
    Thanks for your guidance! Cheryl

    • AllisonTrees

      The weather can effect fall color, for example since the East coast had a dry summer with lots of sunshine towards the beginning of Autumn the color has been extremely bright and beautiful this year. Days with warm sunshine, and cool temperatures is the best weather for fall color. However, and early freeze can cause leaves to drop before they turn. How has your weather been?

      Dull fall colors can be an indicator that your trees need to be fertilized. Apply your fertilizer 6 weeks before the first frost, or wait until the spring when it warms up again.

      Your vertical maple just needs a little TLC. Place an insulting material like mulch or pine straw around the base of your tree to keep the roots insulated. This will help them become reestablished.

      As long as it is at least six weeks before the first frost of the season it’s a perfect time to plant day lilies and hosts. Just make sure that they aren’t affected by an autumn drought.

      There are a huge variety of organic sprays to keep the deer away. There are also capsules that you can place on the ground around your plants to deter them. Deer Off spray is a great option, it’s organic and will keep the deer away without harming your plants.