By Jan Pedersen
Even though the majority of nursery plants are purchased in spring, more and more homeowners are asking their nursery professionals about selecting plants that provide interesting fall colour; and why not? Autumn weather on the prairies has been glorious the past two decades, providing lots of opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and prolonging the fall colour season. There are many shrubs for fall colour, as well as vines, perennials and yes, even evergreens!
There are some key tree varieties that you’ll want to consider when you’re at the garden centres this season. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are plants that I think really should be on your “have a look” list when you’re at your garden centre selecting trees for fall colour. Some you’ll be familiar with; others will outright surprise you.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum). These shade trees attain heights of 30 to 60 feet. Some have showy red flowers before leaves open in spring. Fall leaf colour: vibrant shades of red and orange. Summer leaf colour: green. Suggested varieties: Scarlet Jewel, Northwood and Red Rocket.
Tatarian Maple (Acer tataricum). Smaller ornamental trees maturing at about 20 feet, Tatarian maples feature beautifully colourful samaras (seed heads) in mid-summer. Fall leaf colour: shades of orange, red and yellow. Summer leaf colour: green. Suggested varieties: Hot Wings and Rugged Charm.
Birch (Betula). Planted for ornamentation or shade, birch is valued for its exfoliating (peeling) white bark. The popular varieties mature at heights of 26 to 45 feet. Fall leaf colour: bright yellow. Summer leaf colour: green. Suggested varieties: Paper (clump or single trunk) and Dakota Pinnacle.
Honeylocust (Gleditsia). The newer varieties of honeylocust are thornless and seedless. These nice medium-sized ornamental trees provide dappled shade. Fall leaf colour: shiny yellow. Summer leaf colour: green. Suggested varieties: Northern Acclaim.
Northern Pin Oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis). This oak has greyish-black, deeply furrowed bark. Rich dark summer leaf colour. Matures at 40 feet. Fall leaf colour: brick red – very unusual! Summer leaf colour: dark green. Suggested varieties: Shooting Star.
Mountain Ash (Sorbus). Ornamental trees primarily planted for their showy display of berries in fall and winter, mountain ash also provides some shade and attracts birds. Fall leaf colour: striking red-orange. Summer leaf colour: green. Suggested varieties: Cardinal Royal and Black Hawk.
‘Harvest Gold’ Linden or Basswood (Tilia mongolica ‘Harvest Gold’). Strikingly beautiful shade tree, this linden has large leaves that really drop the summer temperature with their deep shade. Lovely exfoliating bark. Mature height is 40 feet. Fall leaf colour: golden-yellow. Summer leaf colour: Deep, dark green.
Larch or Tamarack (Larix). Most people think of larch as an evergreen, but it is actually a “deciduous conifer”, a cone-bearing tree that drops its lacy, needle-like foliage in fall. Larch or tamarack trees are a great solution for areas that do not drain well or where standing water lingers. Mature height is 40 to 50 feet. Fall leaf colour: intense golden-yellow. Summer leaf colour: green. Suggested varieties: Siberian and Oasis. Oasis is so-named because it retains its green colour longer than Siberian larch and retains its needles until winter, then features many small cones.