By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner
Soon the hills will start to show the colors of fall.
Already some plants are starting to turn color. Trees
and shrubs under stress will often start to turn fall
color prematurely. Nearby, some Liquidamber trees that
don’t get enough water are starting to show the
reds, oranges, and yellows these trees are noted for.
The fact that the sun is shinning a little less each
day is also a trigger for some plants to start getting
ready for fall and winter. The plants that turn color
in fall make the Foothills a great place to enjoy fall
Whereas your choice of fall color plants is limited
in mild climates, the foothills have what could pass
for a cold winter in California. We have spectacular
fall color unlike most of the rest of the state. Generally
the color of the foothills in fall is shades of yellow.
The oak trees that dot the foothill landscape tend to
turn yellow in the fall. If you would like to add some
other colors to your garden you could plant shrubs and
trees now, that will change color for you this fall.
Reds and oranges can be added to the fall color scheme
with a variety of shrubs and trees. Trees that turn these
colors include Liquidamber “Palo Alto”, “Burgundy”,
and “Festival”. ‘Palo Alto’ turns
orange red to bright red; ‘Burgundy’ turns
deep purple-red, while ‘Festival’ turns a
combination of yellow, peach, pink, orange and red. These
trees grow to about 60 feet tall with a 20-foot spread.
Sometimes the first year a newly planted Liquidamber
will turn yellow without the other colors. This usually
changes the next year with the tree turning the colors
it is noted for. Acer rubrum or the Red Maple turns beautiful
color in the foothill like nowhere else in California.
These round-headed trees grow to sixty feet tall and
forty feet wide. Some good varieties to choose from are ‘Autumn
Blaze’, ‘Red Sunset’, and Autumn Fantasy.
They turn orange red to bright red in fall. Crape myrtles
(Lagerstroemia indica), which are blooming now, have
excellent fall color. Turning brilliant red or orange
the Crape Myrtle provides many seasons of interest. The
smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria) has leaves that turn orange-red
and can be trained as a tree or allowed to be a multi-trunked
shrub growing to fifteen feet tall and wide.
When we think of fall color we usually associate it
with trees and not shrubs. There are many shrubs that
have beautiful fall color that rivals and sometimes surpasses
that of trees. The Barberry (Berberis) family are popular
shrubs that have the most intense red-orange fall color
imaginable. Other shrubs that turn red or orange in fall
include, Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina), Burning bush (Euonymus
alata), Common Snowball (Viburnum opulus ‘Sterile”),
and Witch Hazel (Hamamelis). In the world of vines Boston
ivy or Virginia creeper both members of the (Parthenocissus)
family, turn orange to wine red.
Some trees that have great yellow fall color include
Maidenhair tree (Gingko biloba), Birch (Betula), Mulberry
(Morus alba), and Willow (Salix). Use these yellow foliage
trees with your red fall foliaged trees. Yellow stands
out best when worked in with the red or orange foliaged
Some trees are best picked out when they are turning
color at the nursery. Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinesis)
is grown from seed; therefore there can be a great variation
in fall colors, ranging from yellow to the darkest red.
The only way to get the color you want is to pick out
the tree when it has turned color in the fall. Trees
that are not named varieties, grown from seed, can have
various shades of fall colors and are best picked out
when they are turning color at the nursery.
Weather you plant now or this fall it’s not too
early to think about bringing some fall color to you
garden. One of the great joys of gardening in The Foothills
during the fall is watching the trees and shrubs turn
color in one final hurrah of the growing season.