• crazyhillgardens

August 2021: Bring on the fall color!

by Michael Kerkes, CPH, Co-Owner of Crazy Hill Garden & Botanical, published as the column “Ramblings of a Crazy Gardener” in the North Bay Review


After this long, hot summer, some of usage looking forward to cool fall nights. The cooling weather and the shorter days bring on the brilliance of fall.

Fall color in leaves is intriguing, we all enjoy the kaleidoscope of changing colors but just what makes this happen? And The leaves on the trees are food factories, changing sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into car- bohydrates which is called photosynthesis.

The leaf is constructed of man cells that contain chlorophyll (the green pigment) which is the chemical the leaf uses to change sunlight into sugars and starch. Along with chlorophyll, the leaf contains other chemicals which create other colors. Yellow to orange pigments are created by carotenes and xanthophyll and reds are created by anthocyanin. These chemicals are present all year long but only become dominate when chlorophyll begins to exit the leaves in the fall.

Some trees that have beautiful fall color are:

Japanese Maples (Acer Palmatum). There are many shapes and sizes of these trees and they all do fantastic here in the Northwest. Stewartia pseudocamellia, a great tree with a beautiful growth habit. It is a summer bloomer with white Camellia-like flowers. Best of all, it has stunning fall color in fiery shades of red and orange. Parrotia persica. This tree is sure to impress in the fall with a brilliant show of golden yellow and orange.

There are some smaller trees and shrubs that give quite a dazzling show. Witch Hazel (Hamamelis), gives a fantastic fall show as well with a color-shifting display with brilliant reds, chartreuse, gold and orange. Once the color show is over this tree continues to stun with its ribbon like winter to spring blooms. My favorite variety is ‘Arnold Promise’. Fothergilla gardenii, there is nothing like this shrub for fall color. Bold reds, oranges and yellows all with a deep, rusty brown hue.

The best time to buy trees and shrubs for fall color is in the fall when you can see what each individual tree colors-up like. Trees and shrubs planted in the fall of the year also tend to take root better and become healthier and happier having all winter and spring to build a strong root system.

Most importantly, have fun and enjoy the changing seasons.