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Dec 01

How to Enhance Fall Color on Your Shade Trees

Blazing reds, rich oranges, jewel-toned purples, and sunny yellows juxtaposed against the landscape…there's nothing quite like the look of fall color. And as we approach the last days of fall, you might be wondering: 'How do I preserve this color and make it last?'

Though your climate and local conditions are responsible for most of the color variation you see, there are a few things you can do to preserve and enhance fall color trees.

Why Do Leaves Change Colors?

First, it's important to understand why leaves change. There are a few factors involved when it comes to fall color change, including leaf pigments, weather, and the length of night in your area.

As the nights become longer and days become shorter in autumn, leaves begin to change and then fall. Biochemical processes in each leaf follow the calendar, basically. Temperature, rainfall, and a tree's food supply does play a part, however.

For instance, cooler temperatures in the late summer, along with more sunshine, often leads to the development of brighter colors sooner. Fall trees like cool weather, but if it drops below freezing, the leaves will start to fall. You'll see the most vibrant color from a moist growing season, cooler late summer temperature, and sunny days with mild nights.


How to Care for Fall Color Trees

To make your fall color trees last longer, optimal care is essential.

Generally, you'll want to plant fall color trees in an area that receives full to partial sunlight. The more sunlight that these trees receive, the brighter fall colors they will have.

Most trees will adapt to your natural soil, even if it is sandy or heavy in clay, as long as it drains well. However, maples prefer soil that’s slightly acidic. Add organic matter like peat moss to your soil in order to increase its acidity.

Other varieties have may different soil requirements, so it's important to reference the care guidelines for the specific tree you purchase. Thankfully, rainwater usually provides enough moisture for most of these shade trees. But if you live in a more arid climate or experience drought, supplemental water and ensure the surrounding soil of your tree stays moist about 2 or 3 inches down. The soil should moist all the way to the drip line of your tree, which is the area of the ground that your tree's canopy covers.

Can Fertilizing Shade Trees Enhance Fall Color?

Yes, fertilizing and giving your tree extra love and care can enhance their fall color!

Technically, most shade trees don’t need any fertilizer, but you can give your trees a boost in the early spring and fall by fertilizing them with an all-natural, organic fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen, like formula 16-4-8, or 12-4-8. Remember to avoid fertilizing your trees with a heavy application until they have experienced a year of growth.

If you can, we recommend conducting a soil test to determine whether the soil at your tree's planting site needs more phosphorus or potassium. Amending the soil to recommended levels promotes establishment of the tree, which in turn gives you healthier, more vivid foliage. We also recommend leaving the leaves your tree has dropped to its drip line - your tree is very efficient at recycling, and tons of good nutrients for your tree come from its dropped foliage.

Keep in mind that signs of low nutrition are poor growth, pale green or yellow leaves, mottled veins, dead spots, and stunted leaves or early loss of leaves.

When to Fertilize Shade Trees

If you've conducted a soil test and found that your tree does need fertilizer, apply it any time from late September through early April. Oftentimes, best results are seen when a tree is fertilized after the first hard freeze in October or November.

Blair Brown

Blair is the Content Marketing Manager at, and though she's not your traditional gardener, the planting world is definitely growing on her (pun intended!). She's enjoyed digging into plant care and maintenance and growing her plant collection, especially with exotic indoor varieties.