Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
October, 2010
Regional Report

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I love the yellows and reds of my maple tree! It's the first tree in my landscape to show fall colors.

Favorite Fall Colors

There's an unmistakable crispness in the air, a sure sign that summer is coming to an end. I think fall is a magical time. I love the cooler temperatures, shorter days and awesome autumn foliage. They have a soothing effect after the hectic pace of summer, especially when savored with a cup of hot apple cider.

In our maritime climate, the seasonal change may not be as dramatic or inspiring as in the east, but with some careful plant selection, it's possible to create a personal fall paradise filled with those incredible yellow, orange, red and purple hues.

Favorites For Fall Color
Every garden needs a strong foundation of trees and shrubs. I choose them as the backbone of my garden based upon their sizes and branch patterns, but going the extra mile and choosing those with pronounced autumn color helps provide an added bonus as the seasons change. Because leaf colors can differ within a species, fall is the best time to select new plants. The trees and shrubs I like most are chosen not only for their fall colors, but also for their adaptability to our climate.

Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) is one of my favorite autumn foliage trees. It's a moderately slow grower, transforming itself from a lanky young tree into a dense, graceful 60-foot-tall and 50-foot-wide specimen. When the weather cools, the leaves turn beautiful shades of scarlet, crimson, orange and sometimes yellow.

Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) is native to our forests and grows naturally as an understory tree. It's a multi-stemmed tree growing 10-15 feet tall, will grow in part sun to full shade and is quite winter hardy. If planted in sun the leaves turn red, orange and golden yellow in the fall; if planted in the shade, the leaves turn a beautiful golden color.

Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is a wonderful autumn foliage specimen. As the weather cools, the 7-inch-long, dark green leaves turn yellow, orange, or scarlet. When they drop, the branches hold beautiful orange or scarlet fruit long into the winter months.

American sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) has maple-tree shaped leaves turning from deep green to purple, yellow, or red in the fall. Sometimes you'll see all three colors at once on individual leaves. Even as young trees sweet gums give good color each fall.

Shrubs provide another way to introduce or expand autumn color in your landscape. A few of my favorites include:

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica) is an upright shrub with foliage that turns reddish when the weather cools but greens up again in the spring.

Lowbush blueberries (Vaccinium angustifolium) provide lovely orange and red fall color before the leaves drop, revealing bright green and red winter stems. The small tart berries that ripen in summer are good for baking. Look for 'Burgundy' and 'Brunswick' varieties. Both are self-fertile.

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) grows 6 feet tall in part shade. Planted in rich, porous soil, this graceful shrub develops 8-inch-long leaves which turn bronze to crimson in fall. It produces creamy white clusters of flowers in late June.

Bumald spirea (Spiraea x bumalda) is an easy-to-grow shrub that blooms from early summer until fall in pink, white or magenta. It is easy to maintain, requiring only light pruning in the late winter or early spring. Grow it in full to partial sun. In the autumn the foliage turns yellow to orange red. The varieties 'Anthony Waterer', 'Froebelii', 'Limemound', and 'Goldflame' provide a long season of beautiful flowers.

The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is an unusual full sun shrub that sports showy flowers and, depending on variety, edible fruit. In autumn, its bright green to golden green leaves turn a brilliant yellow. The variety 'Wonderful' is the best known fruiting pomegranate. It requires regular deep watering to ensure fruit production.

There are so many magnificent plants capable of providing autumn color in your garden. Try these gems and search out other species. You'll be glad you did!

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