Andrew May enjoys the folliage of northern Wisconsin’s Vilas County, where May and his sister, Linda, now own a family cottage.

Andrew May enjoys the folliage of northern Wisconsin’s Vilas County, where May and his sister, Linda, now own a family cottage.

A GROWING CONCERN: Summer brings autumn colors to your yard

I JUST RETURNED home from another fabulous trip to my family cottage in northern Wisconsin, right along the Michigan border.

I love going to the cottage any time (yes, even in December when the temperature does not get above zero), but my absolute favorite time is during “fall foliage.”

It is positively gorgeous.

The best way for me to describe autumn color for those who have never seen it is “coral above water.”

So what causes these brilliant colors and what plants should I place around my yard in order to create this little slice of awesome in my own domain?

The intensity of our fall foliage greatly depends on the weather we have here on the Peninsula in August and September, leading up to their color change.

To have the biggliest brilliant and vibrant fall color display, a series of days filled with bright sunshine and cool but frost-free evenings are needed.

Sometimes the stress of lowland trees being in water too long will do it.

Other conditions, such as excess moisture causing fungal disease, will lead to an early leaf drop.

Too dry of conditions, like we experience here on the Peninsula in late summer, can also stress out trees and dull their fall colors.

Leaf pigments determine the range of the color palette. Our good buddy chlorophyll fading in the fall gives leaves the basic green color.

Carotenoids, which produce yellow, orange and brown colors (think carrots) are always present in trees like aspen and birch, giving them more predictable colors each year.

Their cousin, anthocyanin, produces red and purple tints which vary with the conditions, making each autumn unique for other species.

But manipulating our landscape using plants, trees, shrubs and bushes will extend the fall colors for several months of enjoyment.

Perennials such as peonies, ajuga, various sedums, ornamental grasses, fall mums and asters give a great fall foliage colors.

Bushes and shrubs like blueberries, Japanese barberry, euconymus, burning bush, sourwood, arctic willow, smoke tree, sumac and dogwoods are excellent choices for a diversified color range.

And of course, a list of awesome fall foliage trees would include Japanese maples, mountain ash, oaks, tupelo, birches, ashes, sunko, maples, forest pansy, cherries and ornamental pears.

Why not throw in a variety of colored evergreens?

As we move through fall and into winter, who among us would not like a botanical coral reef in the backyard?

And with the best time of the year to plant such beauties now upon us, why not go for it, taking this list to your local nursery or post it for Santa to find.

Happy bone meal and mulching everyone.


Andrew May is an ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or emailnews@peninsula (subject line: Andrew May).

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