By Stephanie Lavoie Walker
Every autumn we delight in the beauty and natural phenomenon of the landscape’s changing colors. The quality and intensity of fall foliage never ceases to delight photographers and outdoor lovers alike. But like snowflakes, no two autumn palettes are alike. The nuances of each season’s hues depend on many things: plant chemistry, climate, temperature, light, and health of the tree.
The spectrum of scarlet to yellow is the result of chemical processes that take place in the tree when chlorophyll—the green pigment crucial to photosynthesis—levels recede as a result of cooler weather, less sun, and decreased soil moisture.
If you are looking for a show stopping fall color in your garden, then this is the right time to go shopping. Buying and installing trees in the fall, as well as using this time to establish shrubs and other plants, enable them to settle in over winter. This approach allows their root systems to grow, making them better equipped to deal with next year’s summer heat.
For optimal results, we recommend planting trees and shrubs in October and November, or about six weeks before the first frost.
5 steps to get your trees off to a healthy start:
1. Choose the right tree. When selecting a specimen tree for your garden, there are many things to take into consideration. Learn what types of trees perform the best in the designated location and how they will look when they grow. Trees need space to develop underground root systems so no big trees in small areas. Think about the mature size and shape and whether their roots are invasive. Ask a professional arborist or horticulturist to help you pick the best and right tree for what you want.
2. Understand its purpose. How will your new tree anchor the garden? Do you want a large shade tree or a small tree that blooms beautifully in the spring with an equally gorgeous splash of color in the fall? Do you want privacy, increased property values, a windbreak, or bird habitat? Should this tree be evergreen or deciduous, multi-trunk or have a strong single leader?
3. Know its nourishment needs and disease vulnerabilities. Many of our favorite trees are not native to the area, but have adapted quite well. Be sure to know what soil amendments are needed to support and condition the soil. Some trees may be more susceptible to disease and insects due to their new habitat so it’s important to keep an eye out and know what to look for during the transplanting and adjusting period. (Or call a professional to help do that for you.)
4. Irrigation requirements. When watering, consider that many irrigation systems can be modified to water your new trees on their own zone with bubblers. Or you may enjoy hand watering your tree for a while. The root ball of your new trees will need special attention while they are becoming established. Probe deeply to determine if more or less watering is required; the top couple of inches of soil don’t tell us much.
5. Organic soil boosters and mulch. Protecting the roots and ensuring an even soil temperature is only one benefit of mulch. It also prevents weed growth, adds nutrients, and provides a finished look. Freshly layered mulch, microbial soil conditioners and liquid compost tea support healthy root systems and when organic, are safe enough to be applied monthly.
My favorite fall foliage trees make me glad my iPhone camera is always ready to capture their amazing color palette. What I love best are the October Glory or red maples (for their vibrant scarlet), ginkgo trees (super yellow), Japanese maples (all colors), Liquidambar “sweet gums” (yellow-to-red), Shantung maples (yellow-to-orange) and, for contrast and texture, blue Atlas cedars for a full-on wow!
The best fall foliage trip you could ever take might be the one in your own backyard.
About the author:
Stephanie Lavoie Walker is a veteran horticulturist and Client Relations Manager at Lambert Landscape Company. firstname.lastname@example.org