Plants that say...Autumn!

Chris Gardner

Thu August 28, 2014 10:04am

Pomegranate tree

10 plants with gorgeous fall color
for San Diego gardens

Can’t tell by the look of your garden when fall arrives? You must be missing those important trees and shrubs that provide gorgeous fall color in San Diego. We Southern Californians need to look beyond the classic maples and deciduous oaks that other climates revel in each autumn, since most don’t grow well here. However, we have our own fall beauties. Here are 10 tried-and-true plants that will provide years of colorful autumn leaves.
Sweet gum (Liquidambar) – Many people confuse this for a maple since the leaf shape is so similar. But liquidambars are more vertical in shape, and they also have a distinct and rather large spiny seed pod that falls almost year round. For that reason, it’s best not to plant them near sidewalks, patios or courtyards. In very late fall, the colors are stunning — from red tones to orange and peach. The foliage of Palo Alto turns bright red to orange-red. Burgundy provides deep reddish-purple leaves. Festival will give you a range of autumnal hues including peach, rose, orange, yellow and red.
Oakleaf hydrangea – The flowers as well as the leaves provide beautiful color each autumn. Huge, conical flower clusters of white take on bronze and pinkish-red tones as the flowers mature. As the summer season wanes, the large, deeply cut leaves turn bronze and red — and stay on the plant for a very long time.
Maidenhair tree (Ginkgo) – A mature ginkgo tree in full fall color is a sight to behold. The color is pure, clear yellow. It seems as if every leaf has been formed from the same sheet of bright construction paper. This angular, architectural tree is a beauty all year —with leaves or without. Be sure to plant male trees only for tidiness.
Boston Ivy Green Showers – Clothe an unsightly or boring wall with this verdant shiny-leaved ivy. You’ll be enveloped in a rich robe of green. This self-clinging vine turns rich red in fall and covers a lot of area fast.
Chinese pistache – Pistaches provide a wonderful umbrella-shaped canopy of feathery shade all summer. Come fall, leaves turn red, orange or yellow, depending on the climate. Chinese pistaches are very adaptable to soil types and a wide range of water conditions, including very little.
Lombardy poplar – These deciduous trees make a strong vertical statement. They’re softer and wider than Italian cypress, but punctuate landscapes in much the same way. Bright green in spring and summer, the leaves turn golden yellow in fall.
Crape myrtle – You get a “two-fer” with crape myrtles: beautiful white, lavender, pink and red flowers summer into fall, and brilliant orange and red fall foliage. If you live near the coast, be sure to plant a variety bred to be resistant to mildew. There are 10 or more resistant varieties to choose from.
Callery pear – The most common variety of this tidy growing, beautiful spring-flowering pear is Bradford, but newer forms have much better fall color. Consider columnar types Whitehouse (purple-red fall color) or Capital (copper fall leaves). Rounded varieties are Aristocrat, Chanticleer and Trinity, all with fall color ranging through orange, yellow and red.
Pomegranate – The arching branches of this large shrub sport gorgeous red fruit by fall that will stay on long after the tiny leaves turn orange, red and yellow then drop. Pruning will keep pomegranates smaller. They will tolerate poor soil and considerable drought if needed.
Roger’s Red grape – This selection of our native grape, Vitis californica, turns a gorgeous red in fall. Plant it where it can be back lit by the low autumn sun, but not where the fruit drops on a patio or sidewalk. Roger’s Red is fast-growing and gorgeous in fruit and flower. The small fruit is edible but has large seeds. Birds love it.
Chris Gardner, California certified nursery professional, is manager of the Mission Valley Armstrong Garden Centers. Email questions for him to growingdialogue@armstronggarden.