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5 Uncommon Trees for Gorgeous Fall Color
Ideas for mixing up your fall foliage palette with colors and shapes your neighbors don't have
I’m a writer, designer, and lifelong gardener. I'm also author of "Why Grow That When You Can Grow This?", a book due out from Timber Press in November 2012, and I host/produce a podcast and column called Garden Confidential at Fine Gardening Magazine. My company, Oakleaf Green, is a boutique landscape design firm specializing in planting design with primarily sustainable and native plants. Oakleaf Green is currently on hiatus while I wrap up a book, for Timber Press, due out in Fall 2012. In the meantime, you can find me here or on my blog, Garden Smackdown.
I’m a writer, designer, and lifelong gardener. I'm also author of "Why... More »
Everyone loves fall foliage, but what if you’re hankering for something with a bit more character than your neighbor’s maple? For the discerning customer, here are five amazing fall trees that somehow manage to fly under the radar — all the more surprising because four of them are native to North America.
Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica, USDA climate zones 3-9, find your zone) turns blazing reds and oranges in fall but promises great, glossy foliage year round. This versatile tree develops a deep taproot, meaning that even though it's common in wetlands, it works great in drought once it's settled in. (It also means you should site it carefully for the long term.) Did I mention it’s native to the eastern half of North America? Tupelo grows 30-50 feet high and 20-30 feet wide.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons user Berean Hunter
There may be a correlation between taprooted trees native east of the Mississippi and fall color, because it’s the same story with shagbark hickory (Carya ovata, zones 4-8). This tree turns a gorgeously clear yellow in fall and wows year-round with its namesake shaggy bark. It has the potential to grow very large, at 70-90 feet high and 50-70 feet wide. (I’ve seen it grow much smaller among other trees.) And if you’re looking for hickory nuts to eat, it’s best to plant a group.
Photo: Derek Harper
I never see anyone planting oaks anymore, which is a shame because you’d be hard pressed to find a tree more beneficial to more kinds of wildlife. Red oak (Quercus coccinea, zones 4-9) is a fantastic choice for fall color if red is your game. Plant it where its acorns won’t be a bother, and let it grow. It gets 50-70 feet high and 40-50 feet wide.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons user Grotte
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum, zones 4-9) is another eastern native and known for its spicy scent — it was traditionally used in Native American medicine. An understory tree, it can take a measure of shade and often grows as a suckering, shrubby colony, but suckers can be clipped to make it a single-trunked tree. Its leaves turn red to orange to gold in fall. A large tree, it grows 30-60 feet wide and 25-40 feet high, and a taproot means it’s drought-tolerant and that you should plant it with care in a spot you want it to stay.
The only non-native in this group is also the smallest: an easy-to-grow spindle tree called Euonymus carnosus (zones 4-7) with big, glossy leaves that turns a deep red-purple in fall. This plant isn’t a thug like its popular, weedy cousin burning bush (Euonymus alata), and it grows into a graceful small tree, about 12-20 feet high and wide, the perfect size for patios.
Ideabook published on Nov. 15, 2012.
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