An excellent example of fall and winter color is blue spreading spruce and a yellow pseudo cypress stand against the brilliant red hues of a Japanese maple and euonymus burning bush. (Andrew May/Peninsula Daily News)

A GROWING CONCERN: 13 trees, shrubs to plant for magnificent fall color

I HAVE PUSHED fall color. Well, guess what? The next six to eight weeks are the absolute best time to plant shrubs and trees. The rain along with the temperature and the natural dormancy of trees ideally align in October and November.

Our climate is perfect and our elevation makes for optimum growing conditions for deciduous material.

The Peninsula has an abundance of natural yellows, so here is my list of 13 great trees, shrubs and bushes to plant for a New England-style autumn — in mostly reds and oranges.

1. Sorbus (mountain ash).

A genus of about 100 species, mountain ash are perfect trees. Their berries feed winter birds and are very ornamental. They flower nicely in spring, provide filtered light with their small leaves and dazzle with the fall color as the leaves slowly change.

Noted varieties are “Americana,” a good native species with a nice berry; Sorbus reducta, which is a nice thicket-forming plant with good red-purple color; Sorbus sargentiana, a broad upright tree that yields orange-red fall color; and the handsome Sorbus scalaris, which has a nice flower, big red fruit and wonderful red-purple late fall color.

2. Prunus cherry.

With more than 200 species, cherry is a great choice. Not only do prunus have attractive glossy leaves, but they also are beautiful fall trees and can provide edible fruit.

Finally, cherries are great spring trees as they cover themselves in showy blooms.

For non-fruit-producing types, try “Kanzan” “Sargentii or “Hokusai” with noted brilliant orange-red fall color, “Mount Fuji,” “Okami” or “Spire.”

Prunus cerasifera “Nigra” sports deep-purple leaves all summer long.

You should go to the local nursery and get one of the fruit-producing cherries. Why not eat and get great fall color, too?

3. Acer pseudoplantanus (plane tree or sycamore).

Back to maples, the sycamore is the tree of trees. It will get huge, 100 feet plus and 80 feet wide with beautiful mottled bark, and the reds of the sycamore make fall worthwhile.

4. Quercus (oaks).

Oaks are huge trees with a winter interest because of their eerie branches and very nice late fall reds and burgundies. Oaks have nice growth rates here, so try one for a majestic sentinel.

Quercus coccinea (Scarlet oak) is very beautiful, as is the dark-red “Splendens.” Quercus alla (white oak) likes acid soils (which we have) for a nice purple-red fall color. Quercus phellos (willow leaf oak) is a good novelty tree.

5. Berberis thunbergii (Japanese bareberry).

A low shrub, barebarry is perfect around here. Its wiry characteristics are perfect for seashore themes or garden interest.

Colored leaves last all growing season, and bareberries then have brighter red leaves during fall.

Try the adorable edged “Golden Ring,” the variegated “Rose Glow,” the very nice super dwarf “Crimson Pygmy” or “Darts Red Lady” and the yellow-leaf Aureum.

6. Euonymus alatus (burning bush).

Plant them as single specimens; thin but don’t cut back, thus enjoying the winged nature of mature branches in winter.

Also nice is Euonymus europaeus, “Red Cascade” or the yellow evergreen Euonymus fortunei “Emerald Gold”.

7. Oxydendrum arboreum (sourwood or sorrel tree).

Sourwood is a lovely conical to columnar tree that not only has a brilliant yellow to red-purple fall display but also puts on a very nice late summer bloom of white flowers.

8. Nyssa sylvatica (black gum, tupelo, sour-gum).

A broad conical tree with drooping lower branches, the leaves turn a vivid orange or red in the fall. A handsome tree, it has dark glossy leaves that grow 6 inches long.

9. Grasses.

Plant some fall grasses for wonderful effect. Have you seen the big tassels of the pampas grass (Cortaderia selloana) or the nice bronze reds of New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax var) “Aurora,” “Dazzler” or “Tom Thumb”?

Try the nice reds of Japanese blood grass or nice yellows of Acornus “Sweet Flag.”

And now for the maples.

10. Acer palmatum (Japanese maple).

These are the perfect bush at 5 to 20 feet high and just as wide. Japanese maples have an interesting growth habit and serrated, heavily lobed leaves that have wonderful summer leaf color.

Do one thing to improve your yard: Plant a Japanese maple in plain sight. Noted varieties include “Burgundy Lace,” very deeply cut “Linearilobum” with long slender leaves, “Garnet” with red-purple leaves all year and “Rubrum,” one of the taller varieties and a year-round red.

11. Acer japonicum (full moon maple).

Full moon maple leaves are larger than Japanese, have more lobes and are toothed. Full moon maples are larger than Japanese maples, so they are a must to commingle.

Full moon maples have same outstanding habit, leaf structure, summer color and fantastic fall color.

Outstanding verities are “Vitifolium” with shallow lobed leaves, a finely toothed different shade of red in the same leaf; “Laxiflorum,” which is a rounded plant with arching branches and streaked bark; “Acontifolium,” a deeply lobed free-flowering variety; and “Aureum” with yellow leaves turning bright red in fall.

12. Acer maple.

When talking great fall foliage, we must point out a few maples. Maples are unsurpassed for breathtaking reds, yellow and oranges.

Include a large maple along with Japanese and full moon maples to plant in your yard.

Acer rubrum (red maple) “October Glory” is noted for its color. Other varieties are “Autumn Flame,” “Embers” and “Schlesinger.”

Other great maples are Acer plantanoids “Crimson King,” which has a year-round scarlet leaf, and the very showy Acer ginnala (amur maple) with its deeply lobed leaves and slender branches.

And now for something different.

13. Colored evergreens.

Fall can be enhanced with the nice textures of yellow evergreens that also provide year-round enjoyment.

Everyone should get the exciting oriental spruce “Skyland” (Picea orientalis), the yellow-tipped cypress (Cupressus) or even Leylandii “Salway Gold” and “Robinson Gold.”

Yellow arborvitae such as Thuja plicata and “Stoneham Gold” are great.

And finally, I think everyone should have a weeping yellow Alaskan cedar: (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis “Pendula Aurea”) or its brothers, golden “Tetragona Aurea” and miniature yellow “Nana Aurea.”


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist. Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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