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Beyond Red – The Other Colors of Autumn

Beyond Red – The Other Colors of Autumn

By Nancy Buley, Communications Director, J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.
Photographs courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt & Son Co.

Conjure up visions of fall color, and many autumn leaf peepers see red. Indeed, the bright red tones of red maples, tupelos, sourwood and others featured in last month’s edition of In the Dirt; Grow Cool Shade and Hot Fall Color, are brilliant, but the other colors of fall are spectacular, too. Ranging from red-orange to butter yellow, their warm hues round out autumn’s color spectrum and bring balance to the fall landscape. 

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One of my personal favorites for fall color is the Norwegian Sunset® Maple that anchors the entrance to our nursery headquarters in Oregon. Right around Halloween, its glossy deep green summer foliage turns bright orange, transforming the rounded canopy of this sturdy, resilient shade tree into The Great Pumpkin for a week or two.

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Across the continent, a pair of Norwegian Sunset® Maples growing in North Carolina boast the same great form and fall color in this photo shared by Dr. Tom Ranney of North Carolina State University.

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Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum) are famous for their kaleidoscopic array of fall colors ranging from brilliant red-orange to yellow. Although most grow too large for typical residential landscapes, the columnar Apollo® Maple (A. saccharum ‘Barrett Cole’) is a great fit, thanks to its slender form and mature height and spread of approximately 30’ x 10’.

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Armstrong Gold® Maple (A. rubrum‘JFS-KW78’) is also a good fit for urban landscapes, thanks to its columnar form and adaptability to city growing conditions. Tall and slender, it casts cool shade as it reaches a height and spread of 40’ x 12’. Fall color is bright golden orange.

Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) is rarely found in fall color lists, but the needle-like leaves of this deciduous conifer deliver beautiful rusty orange-brown fall tones before they fall to the ground and make way for winter sunlight. Because the species is variable in growth habit and mature size, it’s wise to consider cultivars for predictable performance.

Lindsey’s Skyward™ Bald Cypress (T. distichum ‘Skyward’ PP 22812) has a petite, columnar shape. This new introduction shows great promise for space-challenged landscapes. Its branches ascend stiffly to form a uniquely pyramidal canopy that will reach a height and spread of about 25’ x 10’ at maturity. Cascade Falls Bald Cypress offers weeping form, and may be trained to cascade from a central trunk, to cascade down a slope or over a wall, or to espalier on a fence or wall.

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Shawnee Brave™ Bald Cypress (T. distichum ‘Mickelson’) is a good cultivar choice thanks to its predictably symmetrical, pyramidal growth habit and mature height and spread of approximately 55’ x 20’.

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If your fall color preferences run to mellow yellow, Hedge Maple (Acer campestre) is a small, tough, low maintenance tree that delivers excellent yellow fall color. Trees grown from seed are typically rounded in form and grow to about 30’ x 30’. Metro Gold® Maple (A. campestre ‘Panacek’) is a cultivar selected for its upright, vase-shaped form that’s ideal for street tree and residential gardens.

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Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) offers incomparable golden yellow fall color in the high elevation canyons of the West, but often disappoints when attempts are made to tame its wild beauty in lower elevation urban settings. Prairie Gold® Aspen (P. tremuloides ‘NE-Arb’) is well adapted to the heat, drought and humidity of the Midwestern Prairie and beyond. Discovered in Nebraska and introduced in cooperation with the Nebraska Statewide Arboretum, we find it to be an adaptable lowland selection that greatly expands the planting range of this mountain species.

Mountain Sentinel® Aspen (P. tremuloides ‘JFS-Column’) is a slender flame of golden light in autumn. This leafy landscape exclamation mark features the same golden yellow fall color and magically unique sound of fluttering leaves that make quaking aspens such popular landscape trees. This uniquely columnar tree is eye-catching even in winter, when its silvery-gray bark glows in stark contrast to a backdrop of dark evergreens or grey winter skies.

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American Hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) sports bright yellow fall color that is accented by hop-like fruits. This underused, low maintenance North American native tree is tolerant of shade, heat, drought and alkaline soils. Attractive green summer foliage casts cool shade. Autumn leaves typically remain on the tree through the winter months, so we’re happy to have discovered and introduced a cultivar that drops its leaves cleanly and completely in the fall: Autumn Treasure® Hophornbeam (O. virginiana ‘JFS-KW5’) is still rare in garden centers, but worth looking for in the next several years.

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Pink Flair® Cherry (Prunus sargentii ‘JFS-KW58) delivers all-season beauty from the moment its big clusters of fragrant, bright pink flowers bloom in spring, to the cool days of autumn when its branches are ablaze with bright, orange-red leaves. Deep green, highly disease-resistant foliage stays clean and fresh even in climates where springs are long, rainy and cool. A proven performer in the Southeast, it’s also a good choice for cold-winter climates as demonstrated by its Zone 3b hardiness rating.

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Lavender Twist® Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Covey’) is another all-season All Star. Elegant and graceful, weeping and compact, this versatile plant is a great feature in a small garden. Springtime’s tight clusters of bright magenta buds open to reveal rosy pink flowers. Slightly zigzagging branches cascade to form lattice work curtains of heart-shaped green foliage that turns buttery yellow in autumn.

Explore estimated peak fall color times for your area and across the continent with this Fall Foliage Prediction Map of the United States. You can also learn the how and why of fall color at this site. Above all, whether it’s a walk around the block or a hike in the forest, get outdoors and enjoy the colors of autumn!


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By Pamela Crawford, author, Instant Container Gardens
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Pamela, a container queen, has written a great article about an amazing container arrangement that’s ideal for late fall, early winter. She wasn’t sure when planting but couldn’t resist trying. And it’s great. click here for an interesting article about a low care arrangement.


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