Fall has arrived. You feel it in the air, Chief’s football has returned and the landscape is slowly changing color.
The scenery along the riverbanks provides an opportunity to see the best of nature. Local native species will develop into hues of yellows and browns, with a few reds thrown in the mix. Our woodlands will never mimic the bright colors of New England, as our native species simply lack the genetics needed for shades of orange and red. We should appreciate what we have and enjoy the subtle beauty.
Besides genetics, it takes the right weather patterns for nice color to develop. Sunny days and cool nights provide the best conditions for bright hues. This weather pattern develops sugars and the natural pigments in the foliage. As the temperatures drop, the green disappears, revealing the trapped pigments.
The most prized trees for fall color are clad in the reds and oranges that are not commonly found in our native trees. Maples, which light up New England, are some of the best for these colors, and that accounts for the popularity of red maple and the increasing number of other varieties being planted in our landscapes.
But, while red maple and red and silver maple crosses have wonderful fall color, they also have downsides that may not make them the best choice. These species are highly over-planted and suffer from a number of trunk issues when young that affect the health of the tree for a lifetime.
Sugar maples, a popular selection that can develop not only the reds but also the prized orange hues, are not as widely adaptable in our climate since they don’t prefer hot, drying winds. Recommended varieties include Fall Fiesta, Caddo, Bonfire, John Pair, Autumn Splendor and Oregon Trail.
Shantung maples are not as well-known but are a great selection for fall color in the landscape. A little smaller than red and sugar maples, they are more adaptable to harsher conditions. The common varieties on the market are Norwegian Sunset and Pacific Sunset.
Don’t overlook other tree species for fall color. While they may not shine in reds or oranges, they do provide a pop. Ginkgo turns into a bright golden shade that has the uncanny habit of dropping all of its leaves in a matter of hours, making cleanup a breeze. Bald cypress shines in a rusty-orange shade that stands out. It is adaptable to both dry and wetter soil conditions.
Red oak can provide nice fall color, as can the smaller ornamental tree serviceberry. Both of these have potential for the desired red or orange shades.
Take time in the coming weeks to appreciate the changing of the seasons. Whether the tree is in your yard or down the street, or you’re simply passing by, enjoy the sights of a wonderful fall season in Kansas City.
Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit KCGardens.KansasCity.com.