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By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

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 gardening.

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 trees.

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.

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