Planting for fall color

(News article for November, 2019)

Fall color is almost over in the Felicianas but November through February is the ideal time to plant trees. Late fall is the perfect time to plan which trees you want to incorporate in your landscape that will deliver spectacular color next fall.

Let me begin by noting that most of the fall color in south Louisiana comes from a handful of trees that I don’t necessarily recommend for planting in your landscape. Tallow trees are beautiful in the fall but they are also very invasive! Plant one and your neighbors will hate you. Ornamental pears turn bright red in the fall but are very susceptible to disease; therefore, I don’t recommend them. Sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua) produce a variety of breathtaking colors from yellow to orange to burgundy. They attract multiple species of birds and are a great, native tree but be warned- those little sweetgum balls are a nightmare for bare feet!

There are plenty of trees I do recommend that are perfectly adapted to our climate and soils, look attractive throughout the year, and provide beautiful fall color. The southern sugar maple (Acer barbatum) is one of my favorites. It is a native tree and turns a vibrant yellow/orange color in the fall. It also is a Louisiana Super Plant; meaning it has been tested by LSU and is proven to do well in our area. The southern sugar maple has a beautiful, bushy canopy that still looks great after it has lost its leaves.

Another fall winner is the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum). Not only is the bald cypress our state tree, it is unique because it is a deciduous conifer; meaning it has needles and sheds them every winter. Most conifers are evergreen and don’t turn colors or shed their needles.Bald cypress needles turn a brilliant rust color in the fall and make a beautiful addition to any landscape. For those worried about having to mow around bald cypress knees, plant your tree in a dry area with good drainage and it shouldn’t produce knees. Cypress knees are roots growing above the ground to provide oxygen to the tree. Trees in swamps or wet areas send up knees to get oxygen that they can’t get under water.

Other native trees I recommend for fall color include yellow poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), Nuttall oak (Quercus texana), Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii), red maple (Acer rubrum), and sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). I also like rabbiteye blueberries (Vaccinium virgatum) planted in the landscape for fall color. Blueberry leaves turn deep red and the plants love our acidic soils.

Gingko (Ginkgo biloba) and Chinese pistache (Pistachia chinensis) are two non-native trees that shine in the fall. Gingko turns a butter yellow color and Chinese pistache trees turn yellow, orange, and red. Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are also a great selection and their delicate leaves add an interesting texture.

Fruit trees are a great addition to colorful fall landscapes. Think about satsuma and oriental persimmon trees. Many of them are loaded this time of year with orange fruit that not only adds color but tastes great! Possumhaw (Ilex decidua) is another unique addition to fall landscapes. Possumhaws shed their leaves in the fall leaving branches full of bright red berries that attract birds and other wildlife.

Last, but not least, is a list of native trees that look great in the fall but are hard to find for sale in nurseries. Sometimes trees aren’t available in nurseries because they are hard to propagate or because they don’t perform well in specific soils.If you can find one of these in the wild to dig up, you could try transplanting it into your own landscape (digging with permission, of course). Black cherry (Prunus serotine), hickory (Carya spp.), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), American elm (Ulmus Americana), blackgum (Nyssa sylvatica), sassafras (Sassafras albidum), and fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) are all great choices.

Jessie Hoover is a County Agent with the LSU AgCenter covering horticulture in East Feliciana, West Feliciana, St. Helena, and Tangipahoa parishes. For more information on these or related topics contact Jessie at 225-683-3101 or visit the LSU AgCenter Website.

Southern Sugar Maple

Southern sugar maple at the Hammond Research Station. Photo by Jessie Hoover.

Bald Cypress

Bald cypress trees along Hwy 10. Photo by Jessie Hoover

11/26/2019 9:53:49 PM
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