Fall is definitely the month of pumpkin spice lattes and jackets… And being in love.. And being in leaves..Haha.— Joshua Micah (@iamjoshuamicah) September 15, 2014
You can see fall color anywhere, from the North Carolina Mountains to New York. Even better? Bringing a number of easy-to-grow maple trees, flowering trees and shrubs to your own backyard. You’ll see gorgeous fall color without taking a road trip.
Before 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 go into dormancy, they stop producing chlorophyll. The remaining chlorophyll in the leaves gets broken down. 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. When bright sunlight breaks down sugars, in leaves anthocyanins are produced.
Weather affects the brightness and intensity of plant’s red fall color every year. An early freeze in autumn can really dull shades of red, but sunny days early in the fall and warm nights make for deep shades of red once colors change. However, carotenoids are produced in leaves year-round 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. 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.
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, but it will make your other trees and plants pop. If you have evergreens or your home boasts dark brick, then you’re ahead of the competition. Plus, the Nellie Stevens 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.
Maple 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 it’s a hybrid of the silver and red maple, it grows very quickly. And anthocyanins in its leaves aren’t as easily affected by the weather.
Maples grow quite tall and 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.
If 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 you can use. For example, the Lynwood Gold Forsythia is a choice hedge. 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.
Enjoy Fall Color
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 color. There are a ton of varieties of trees and shrubs that you can plant to turn your own yard into a fall color and foliage destination. The color combinations you can create with reds, oranges, yellows and even purples are endless.