Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Inland Northwest, High Desert
November, 2000
Regional Report

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Staghorn sumac in our front yard provides fall color and blocks the view of our road from the house.

The Rich Reds of Autumn

Each fall I look across at other gardens and yards with brilliant fall foliage, wishing I had remembered to plant some trees and shrubs specifically for seasonal color. Here in the high desert, our choices for fall color are pretty much limited to gold. Our highly alkaline soils just won't support many of the plants - such as sugar maples - that produce red and orange fall foliage. Gold is nice, but we yearn for the brilliant reds that set our hearts on fire.

Getting Red with Sumac

I have planted a few trees and shrubs over the years that produce a great show of colors in the fall. For example, although the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) just quietly blocks the view of the road most of the year, after a couple of frosts I remember why I planted it. The leaves and flowers become a brilliant red-orange beacon. It's a great welcome as we drive up the road to our house.

Sumac suckers freely, which irritates some gardeners, but serves my purpose well. I want to block the view of the road, so I welcome the sprouts. Keeping the sumac mostly untouched by pruners helps to maintain its naturally shrubby shape, too.

Reds of Burning Bushes

Burning bush (Euonymus alata) also does well in our area. Unless, of course, porcupines reside nearby. When we couldn't figure out why our burning bush wasn't growing well, my husband grabbed hold of a branch and the whole bush keeled over. It was then we realized that it had been standing on a pencil-point trunk - all that was left after a porcupine had gotten to it.

Other Red Options

Many other tree and shrub choices will turn ablaze in autumn. Mountain ash, Canadian chokecherry, hawthorn, purple smoke tree, amur maple, and pin oak are all recommended for our area and are worth a try. Some of these can get quite big, so make sure you have the room to plant whatever tree or shrub you choose; otherwise, you'll be faced with severe pruning or starting over with another plant.

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