Colorful fall foliage is a delight, and we are lucky that the Piedmont produces trees that offer a great range of color, from bright and light yellow and gold to deep and rich scarlet and burgundy. It is something I look forward to every year.
But among the standouts of the season is an ancient tree that is not so widely planted but always noticed when its leaves turn a clear, golden yellow in November.
It is ginkgo biloba, commonly called the maidenhair tree. This is a traffic-stopper wherever it grows and something to consider during tree-planting season this fall and winter.
Its distinction stems from a graceful oval canopy that is covered with unusually shaped foliage that is medium yellowish green through the summer, then yellow in autumn. Each leaf has a distinctive shape like an open fan. It is easy to grow in a wide range of soil conditions and tolerates both air pollution and heat, rarely has a pest problem and grows rather slowly. The tree is capable of reaching 100 feet, but don’t expect that in your lifetime.
Not only does it have a distinctive appearance, the ginkgo has an ancient history. According to the Smithsonian, it has been depicted in ancient Asian art as well as the more recent Art Nouveau movement of the late 19th century.
Plant historians believe the ginkgo is the sole survivor of a set of ancient plants that lived millions of years ago. That is why it is seen as a symbol of longevity and endurance.
Because it grows tall, ginkgo makes an excellent street tree or centerpiece for a lawn. The one thing to be wary about is the fact that the tree produces male and female flowers on separate plants. That becomes a problem only with female trees because the fruit that follows the flowers is very foul-smelling, especially when it falls to the ground. However, modern propagation methods have overcome this problem by producing trees for sale only from male plants. Thus you get no obnoxious fruit. Often, when looking at trees for sale in garden centers, I see tags that note this. It is something to make certain of when you get a tree.
Most of us are accustomed to the slow shedding of foliage by most shade trees, something that keeps us busy with rakes for many weeks in the fall and early winter. But ginkgo is different. It tends to drop all its leaves within a few days, and they are still that lovely, clear yellow. That makes for a pretty sight on green grass that can be enjoyed and allows you to do the raking once instead of going back for more leaves again and again.
Q. What should I do about a nice pothos plant that got very leggy through the summer? I brought it inside and it doesn’t look right anymore.
A. You can cut back the leggy stems, which will improve the appearance of the plant and give you material to root in water for new plants. The plant should continue to grow through the winter, though more slowly than in the warmer, longer days of summer.