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As you enjoy Mother Nature’s beauty pageant this fall, look at your own landscape to see if it might benefit from an injection of seasonal color.
JEANNA DUERSCHERL | The Roanoke Times
Bright red leaves cover a tree located at the corner of Route 42 and Route 311 in New Castle.
JEANNA DUERSCHERL | The Roanoke Times
The Craig County Driving Tour begins in New Castle and travels along Route 42 and Route 624.
Fall Sugar Maple
Saturday, October 19, 2013
Nothing epitomizes fall as well as the annual leaf color change that happens in this area. Although the colors don’t last long, the display is spectacular.
The color change has started, but peak colors don’t usually happen in this area until mid- to late October. While you’re enjoying Mother Nature’s annual beauty pageant, it’s a good time to also take a look at your own landscape and see if it could use an injection of fall color.
A Sunday drive can identify the trees, shrubs and vines you like best, and an Internet search can ensure that you have the proper conditions to grow them at home.
Fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs, so use this fall as an opportunity to bring autumn beauty to your yard in the coming years.
How leaves change color
A tree produces a pigment called chlorophyll to keep its leaves green. This time of year, the cooler, shorter days cause the trees to make less chlorophyll . This decreased production of chlorophyll in turn causes the leaves to turn red, orange, yellow and purple.
This summer, we had plenty of rain that helped the trees stay green, but October’s weather has a greater effect on the intensity of leaf color than summer weather.
If we have bright, sunny days in October, the tree is able to produce a lot of sugar. If these bright days are followed by cool, crisp nights with temperatures above freezing, we get vivid fall color.
Trees with fall color
There are trees that go unnoticed the rest of the year but become landscape stars when they begin to sport brilliant fall foliage.
If you have such a star, you can show it off at its best by planting it against a dark green background, like that provided by evergreens, or by adding another tree with an eye-catching contrast. Since fall color is most vivid when plants get plenty of sunshine, choose a location that receives at least six hours of sun a day.
Fall color varies quite a bit depending on the climate and soil, the changes from season to season, and from tree to tree. If you want to maximize your chances of getting a tree that produces great color in this area, buy your tree now from a local nursery where you can observe its color yourself.
Consider your lot size when choosing a tree. While large trees are spectacular, they aren’t always practical. If you have a small lot, choose a tree with a mature size under 25 feet. You’ll still get wonderful fall color, but will avoid the need for lots of pruning.
In this area, the red maple stands out as an excellent choice for brilliant scarlet leaves. Sugar maples will peak before Japanese maples, so mix up the variety of trees to extend your leaf display.
Other trees also stand out in the fall. Sourwoods will turn a brick red color and dogwoods will turn scarlet or purple. An ash tree will turn yellow or maroon, and an oak might turn red, brown or russet.
Good choices for trees with yellow or orange leaves include beech, hickory, poplar, sweet birch and yellow buckeye.
Shrubs and vines
Trees aren’t the only plants changing color this time of year. Shrubs and vines also put on a show.
Probably the best known shrub for brilliant red fall leaves is the burning bush, but a Highbush blueberry or Redvein Enkianthus will also provide strong red leaf displays.
Depending on the cultivar, Japanese barberry, Bunchberry, Witch Hazel, and Staghorn Sumac will provide red, orange or yellow fall color. The red chokeberry provides red to purple fall color, and Wintergreen’s leaves turn burgundy. For yellow leaves, try Summersweet Clethra or Buttercup Winter Hazel.
Look in wooded areas for inspiration on color-changing vines and you’ll see the bright red leaves of sumac and Virginia creeper. Native wild grapes usually have yellow leaves, and American bittersweet turns a bright golden yellow.
Other vines for fall color include climbing hydrangea, which turns yellow, and Boston ivy, which turns scarlet.
One of my favorite fall vines is American Bittersweet, whose red-orange fruit seems to symbolize fall. This vine is rare and endangered in much of the East, and you often see its Asian cousin, C. orbiculatus, instead. Be aware that the Asian variety is very invasive and weedy and will often smother trees in natural areas by girdling, with vines growing into the tree trunk and cutting off water and nutrient supplies.
Why plant in fall?
September through November is often recommended as an excellent time to plant trees and shrubs in this area. The cooler weather we experience means that plants are less stressed by heat, while the plentiful rainfall supports roots in their growth, allowing them to store up energy reserves for next spring and summer.
Young roots of plants have time to establish themselves before winter frosts begin, giving them a head start on those planted in spring. The root system has a chance to grow before the hot summer returns.
Don’t wait too late in the fall to plant trees or else root systems may be damaged and growth affected negatively.
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