Nancy Brachey

Make fall color a factor in choosing trees

The clear yellow color of ginkgo leaves makes an outstanding show in mid-autumn. The fan-shaped leaves are also distinctive.
The clear yellow color of ginkgo leaves makes an outstanding show in mid-autumn. The fan-shaped leaves are also distinctive. File photo

There are many different reasons that go into selecting a tree. One of the best is its fall color.

The Piedmont has been very pretty for the past couple of weeks as leaves turn red, gold, orange, purple and bronze. This is such a delightful sight that autumn color should no be overlooked when picking a tree, whether it is a large shade tree or a smaller ornamental. And late fall is the perfect time for planting trees.

Many excellent choices are in the marketplace, so it can be hard to narrow it down to one or two.

While many kinds of trees offer very good fall color, some are outstanding:

The ginkgo certainly ranks among the most beautiful when its fan shaped leaves turn clear yellow in mid-autumn. This is a stop-traffic sight that is gorgeous at its best but tends to disappear fast as the leaves all fall off within a couple of days. It takes space and could, over time, rise to 70 feet. Make sure you buy a plant that has been propagated from a male version. The tag should be marked. This avoids getting a female ginkgo, which bears the most foul-smelling fruit and will have you reaching for the chain-saw at the first scent of it.

Sourwoods are a lovely medium tree, often noticed at the edge of woods along the highways. The white flowers are lovely in summer, but the fall color, a rich scarlet that can’t be missed. It will reach 20 to 30 feet, but very slowly. Full sun will bring out the best fall color.

Perhaps the best known group of trees for great fall color is the red maple. Fast-growing red maples make outstanding shade trees, reaching 60 feet or taller. Many named varieties exist, and two of the best-known are October Glory, which produces scarlet color, and Red Sunset, whose leaves turn a fiery orange and red in the fall. Among the smaller choices, Japanese maples usually produce fine autumn color, usually scarlet such as Bloodgood, sometimes yellow and gold, as is Waterfall. Many kinds of Japanese maples are in the marketplace. It can be difficult to choose just one or two.

Sassafras is a native tree that eventually grows quite tall. Its fall color is among the best. The leaves turn a combination of yellow, red and orange. But it does not tolerate drought very well, so extra attention will be required during weeks of drought, which is a common problem in the Piedmont. The shape, due to the horizontal layering of limbs, makes an interesting silhouette in winter.

The native dogwood, of course, is an easy-to-find ornamental tree of medium height that produces darkish red fall color and makes a popular choice because its spring flowers are so pretty. It is also easy to find.

These are just some of your choices. Tree selection involves many factors, including space, exposure to sun or shade, whether the soil has peculiar problems such as constant dampness and proximity of buildings. But let fall color factor into your choices because it will enhance the beauty of your landscape for a long time.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. What sould I do with the potted chrysanthemum that I bought a month ago and is now losing its flowers?

A. Find a sunny spot in your flowerbed or shrub border. Take the plant out of the pot and plant it so the top of the rootball is level with the ground. Cut off the spent flowers and stems to the base. New growth will start to show up at ground level late this winter.

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