Planting with future Fall colors in mind

Autumn is one of the most colorful times of the year in the world of Nature, and one of the most enjoyable times for those of us who love tending to our landscape.

Recently I've been asked by several readers to give them specific planting ideas for creating a thriving landscape that will burst with color at this time of year. This is an appropriate time to be discussing this topic, because in most parts of the United States, Fall is the perfect time to be planting trees and shrubs. And so today, we'll go over some simple step-by-step plans for planting an area that will provide spectacular Fall color for years to come.

Of course, first you need to select your plants. Regular readers will know how much I enjoy the sight of Red Maples (acer rubrum).

But today, I have some suggestions for some other trees and shrubs that you might not immediately bring to mind.

Northern Red Oak, also known as Quercus borialis has a well-earned reputation for its strength, fast growth and lovely Fall foliage. It is very much a "wildlife friendly" tree, as a wide variety of animals from deer to birds to squirrels enjoy eating its acorns. The squirrels might not care much about the beautiful autumn colors but you will.

Black Tupelo, or Nyssa sylvatica is a tree that is native to North America, and I think it is among the five best shade trees you can find. This is a black gum tree, and even if you think that's not a particularly pleasant-sounding name, I think you'll really like the look of the foliage throughout the Spring and Summer and particularly the Fall.

Aromatic Sumac (Rhus tribolata) is sometimes known as three-leaf Sumac and boasts glossy, dark green foliage that turns to a deep reddish-purple in the Fall, a nice contrast to the gold-orange leaves of your red maples or red oaks.

A sidebar here: if you always think "poison" when you see the word "Sumac", rest assured that this variety is definitely non-poisonous. This is the easiest time to tell which is which. Poison Sumac has greenish-white berries that hang downwards. However, non-poisonous Sumacs produce red berries in the Autumn that point upwards. Of course, "non poisonous" does NOT mean the berries are edible; just that they don't cause skin irritation.

Crabapple (Malus transitoria) is another tree that offers lovely Autumn color with leaves turning from copper to yellow at this time of year. And consider some smaller shrub-like trees, such as Japanese Maple (Dissectum atropurpureum) as these will give a lovely variety of red, gold and orange foliage. Think about adding some Red Switch grass that becomes rust-colored in the Fall and usually lasts all Winter after fading somewhat to a brownish-yellow.

Now to your planting.

Some of the trees I've mentioned here can grow to quite impressive heights. For example, a red maple could easily reach a height of 60 feet with a thirty foot spread. A red oak might reach 90 feet tall. Crabapple trees will often reach 25 to 30 feet in height.

Because of the potential mature height of your trees, it is important to remember not to plant trees too close to your house or other structures. How close is too close? Position trees at least 15 to 20 feet away from the house's foundation. You definitely do not want the tree roots damaging the substructure of your home!

Then dig holes for you trees. If you're planting "balled" trees, dig a hole at least twice as wide and one and a half times as deep as the rootball. If you're planting bareroot, follow the nursery's instructions. If you're not sure, send me an e-mail and I'll offer my advice!

Once the trees are in their holes, refill with about 50% soil that you had removed and 50% of a commercial soil mix that includes a slow-release fertilizer.

The shrubs and ornamental grasses can, of course, be planted much closer to your house if you wish, but planning out you "Fall Landscape" on some grid paper will give you an indication of how the mature plants will look when laid out in a formal, semi-formal or seemingly random pattern.

I've talked about watering and post-planting care in previous columns which are archived at my website, or of course you're welcome to contact me with specific questions. Start planting now and you'll enjoy many years of wonderful Fall color!