Trees celebrate autumn with vibrant display
If your garden wish list includes a tree, consider the conditions you have to offer
A late October morning is the perfect time to take in some of the colours of the season.
The days are starting to draw in, and there’s a hint of frost in the air, but that doesn’t mean the garden has lost its magic — some of the best colours of the year are just coming into their own.
Several people have recently asked if I have put the garden to bed. Seriously? I answer with a resounding no — October (and beyond into November) are some of my favourite days in the garden. The thought of stripping the garden bare in the autumn just goes against the grain: I look forward to watching the garden morph from cool greens, violets and pinks to warm shades of yellow, orange, copper, purple and red — the perfect colours to heat up a crisp October morning.
A quick walk around our fall garden reveals a canopy of fiery, scarlet-red Amur maple, orange-red sour gum and golden yellow silver maple leaves. Hot pink and red burning bush brighten a shady corner while the nearby hydrangeas have taken on a rich bronze-wine tone that enhances the last pink blossoms of the season. Cool lavender-blue asters; golden yellow grasses; pink Japanese anemones; apricot and pink old-fashioned roses; silvery panicles of miscanthus; chrome yellow chrysanthemums and marigolds; chocolate brown seed heads; orange blanket flowers and zinnias; violet, white and pink dahlias — there is certainly no lack of colour in the fall garden.
October is also a good time of the year to consider adding a tree to your garden. A tree planted in the autumn will have time to settle in before winter sets in, seasonal rains will keep it watered, and your new tree will be ready to shine in the spring. Over the years, I have been adding more trees to our property. I choose native trees when possible, but it is important to choose a tree that suits your particular site. Let me introduce you to two of my favourite trees for year-round interest: Amur maple (Acer ginnala) and sour gum (Nyssa sylvatica).
The Amur maple gracing the back border is one of the first trees that I planted in our garden. It started out as a multi-stemmed shrub that I was assured would have fabulous autumn colour. Over the past 25 years, the tree was gently pruned and coaxed to a graceful, gently arched form with a single leader, and it delivers spectacular scarletred leaves in the fall, as promised. The fall display varies in intensity, some years are better than others, but that’s what makes life interesting.
The Amur maple is native to China, Mongolia, Siberia, Korea and Japan, and it is very hardy and requires very little attention once established. It is easily grown in moist, organically rich, well-drained soil, but it will adapt to a variety of soils. The best fall colours appear when the tree is planted in full sun, but it will also accept dappled sunlight. Once established, it is relatively drought-tolerant and thrives in my home garden despite being close to a very busy road. Amur maples are well suited to smaller properties: they reach 5.5 metres with a spread of about three metres.
The Amur maple features dark green, glossy leaves throughout summer, showy red samaras appear in late summer. The lobed leaves turn outstanding shades of orange, scarlet and burgundy in the fall.
I feel very comfortable recommending this easy-care, graceful tree as an accent for a shrub border, privacy screen or as a single specimen for a small property. It offers outstanding fall colour. If you can offer a little more space, the sour gum (Nyssa sylvatica) is one of my favourite trees for year-round interest, graceful form and outstanding fall colour. This North American native features spring flowers that are an excellent source of nectar for bees and dark blue fruit that is attractive to birds and wildlife. It is also known as the black tupelo tree.
Easily grown in average, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade, it is very adaptable. The sour gum is slow growing and features a pyramidal form when young and a loose, rounded form as it matures. The sour gum can stretch nine- to 15-metres tall at maturity, so position it with care. It develops a deep taproot and will resent being moved.
Spectacular scarlet fall colour. Oval, slightly toothed leaves are dark green, turning eye-catching shades of orange and scarlet in the autumn. Excellent ornamental shade tree for lawns or street tree. I positioned our young tree in a bed along the property line; and after five years on site, it offers a graceful canopy over our little sitting area — it will eventually fill the area.
The sour gum tree does well in moist woodland gardens or naturalized areas, or in low spots subject to periodic flooding or in boggy areas. It is disease-resistant and very self-sufficient once established. Although slow-growing, offer it plenty of room for future growth so it can reach its full potential.
If your garden wish list includes a tree, consider the conditions you have to offer: soil, moisture, sunlight and space to stretch out. Look for a tree that offers graceful form, habitat potential, self-sufficiency and, last but definitely not least, outstanding fall colour.
A 25-year-old Amur maple (Acer ginnala) is a lovely accent in the fall garden with orange-scarlet leaves and graceful form. It is well suited to smaller properties.
Planted five years ago, the North American native sour gum (Nyssa sylvatica) features brilliant fall colours.