The air is crisp and cool as the wind blows deciduous leaves to the ground this time of year.   Autumn colors are beginning earlier this year, so a carpet of color lines the sidewalk.  The leaves that haven’t fallen fill the landscape with brilliant trees full of mixed hues.  Nature’s colors never cease to amaze us.

A change in leaf color is not by chance.  Every year we see the deciduous leaves change color as part of their cycle of life.  Leaves catch sunlight, turning the carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and sugar.  Chlorophyll is a green pigment found in leaves and plants.  Chlorophyll absorbs light energy to make “food” and keeps the leaves green.  As summer ends the days begin to get shorter and there is less sunlight as well as temperature changes.  This signals to the tree “stop making food” (chlorophyll) and get ready for winter.  Once the Chlorophyll breaks down, changes begin and the green color fades into reds, oranges and yellows and the landscape is transformed.

Eventually, a distinct layer of cells develops and gradually separates the tissue that supports the leaf.  As the weight of the leaf and wind develops the leaves fall to the ground.  There are some trees like Oaks where the dead brown leaves may stay on the tree until growth starts again in the spring.

If you haven’t noticed Japanese Maples are super stars for fall color.  Most of them have respectable year-round color and in the fall are dazzling.  I love the organic structure of Japanese Maples especially when they are allowed to grow naturally.  Colors range from vivid reds, oranges and yellows with varied leaf shape. 

Acer circinatum ‘Burgundy Jewel’ is a short and stout tree with a generous number of leaves.  It’s perfect for any size yard since it is a small tree and after many years only reaches 15’x15’.  Foliage tends to be a beautiful purple-red and has best color when grown in full sun.

Of course, Acer palmatum ‘Tsuma gaki’ is a great tree for introduction into Japanese Maples.  The tree has a unique contrast of bright yellow leaves outlined in a deep purple red border on the tips.  This tree does not do well in full hot sun, so be sure to choose a shady location.  This is the perfect size dwarf tree averaging roughly 10’x10.’

Alternatively, make your next tree purchase an Acer palmatum ‘Fireglow’.  This Japanese Maple is perfect for a hot and sunny location.  As well as an excellent container tree for a burst of color.  The name ‘Fireglow’ was given because of its eye-catching fire red leaves and when the sun shines through the leaves it is dazzling.  It’s an easy tree to tuck into any area with a growth about 10’x10’.   

Another dwarf variety of tree is Acer circinatum ‘Sunglow’ (Pacific Vine Maple) which is a good selection in any yard.  Leaf color begins peach in the spring, fading to lime-yellow and continues to change to crimson colored in fall.  Best growing conditions for this tree would be partial shade with morning sun with protection from hot afternoon sun.

Whatever tree or shrub you choose for fall color you’ll be delighted.  The colors often turn bright and bold, making the landscape come alive.  Stop into our Corner Store Nursery today to check out our selection!

Written by Karen Smith, Lane Forest Products Plant Specialist