On a recent trip to Vancouver, I realized I am very envious of the autumn colours they enjoy on the West Coast. In my case, I inherited some trees when I purchased my home, and then I planted other trees for specific purposes — like apples for fruit or cedars for winter interest.
I didn’t plan for fall, and now I have some serious regrets.
Thankfully, there are some great ways to remedy this situation besides planting several specific tree species like maple and gingko, which are known for their fall colour. Personally, I don’t have 15 to 20 years to wait for them to grow large enough to make a big impact. Instead, there are lots of shrubs that can be planted in clumps to add some serious impact next fall. Look to options like burning bush, purple smoke bush and even red-twig dogwoods for that pop of deep gorgeous crimson.
Believe it or not, the colour that you see in autumn is always there. The green that we identify with summer-leaf colour is in fact the chlorophyll the tree uses to produce food. When the nights become cooler, the trees stop producing food and the chlorophyll starts to break down, showing the colour of the leaves.
I’ve been asked lately from readers why their trees don’t have the same colours as their neighbours, or why some trees have great fall colour one year and very little the following year. I’ve found these emails refer to maples, which in my opinion can be absolute show stoppers, making them more noticeable in full colour or when they drop their leaves early.
Trees that are in stress are usually the first ones that turn. Watch for the trees that are in the middle of parking lots, or along city boulevards, surrounded by pavement, asphalt and concrete. Those trees get less water and are usually the first to turn as a result. Early may seem great, but these trees are not as healthy as the ones that turn later in the season and they often go brown faster or drop their leaves altogether. Giving trees extra water in times of drought helps them have stronger, healthier leaves and a more saturated fall colour.
The other easy solution for your trees also works really well for your grass at this time of year. Aerate the lawn. Trees that grow in areas with less compaction in the soil traditionally have the best fall colours. By aerating the area around the roots of the trees, you increase the overall health of the trees by allowing the roots better access to nutrients and oxygen. Don’t be fooled though, this is not the time of year to fertilize your trees with nitrogen, used for increased foliar growth. Instead, mulch heavily around the roots of the tree to hold more moisture in the soil for longer.
Even if you can’t get the best of fall colours this year, you can make some changes now for next season.