Extension Educator, Horticulture
Some trees seem to be content to stay in the background of our consciousness most of the year until fall rolls around. Then as the daylight hours lessen and the nights grow cold, that same wallflower of a tree suddenly demands our attention with its show of glorious leaves.
Many people enjoy traveling to certain areas of the country to enjoy the fall colors. However, there are many trees in our own backyards, city streets and parks that offer beauty even without covered bridges and rocky streams. This is the prefect time to select trees for great fall color to plant in your own yard. Buying trees and shrubs this time of year will insure you get the fall color you desire.
Here are just a few of the many trees that offer beautiful fall color. Take a bike ride or walk through your neighborhood to discover the magnificent trees of autumn. Just like Dorothy from Kansas, we don't have to look much farther than our own backyards.
A magnificent group of trees west of the Illini Union on the U of I campus that color beautifully every year are the black gums or black tupelos, Nyssa sylvatica. Black tupelo is a wonderful native North American tree growing 35 to 50 feet tall. It is one of our most consistent and most beautiful fall colored trees turning from a lustrous green in the summer to a yellow orange scarlet and purple in the fall. The young trees have a pyramidal shape and become more flat topped as they age. Black tupelo is a beautiful low maintenance shade or specimen tree. They do have a taproot that can make them difficult to transplant. Transplant young balled and burlapped trees in early spring or purchase container grown trees. Black tupelos prefer deep, moist, well-drained and slightly acidic soils.
Of course there is the magnificent fall color of maples that can range from reds to yellows. Don't expect all maples to be red in the fall. Silver maples show yellow fall color. Sugar maples show great variability. The New England native sugar maples show more red tones while the native Illinois and Indiana sugar maples show more golden yellows. For good red fall color choose a maple cultivar selected for that characteristic such as red maple 'Autumn Flame' or 'Red Sunset'. Some of the areas to enjoy maples are the older areas of town especially Church and University Streets in Champaign.
The brilliant yellow fan shaped leaves of the Ginkgo are iridescent in the bright sun of an autumn day. However look quick since the ginkgo leaves hold hands in the fall, dropping all at the same time. Ginkgos have extremely few pest problems. I have found them to be slow to establish, but then they take off to be long term additions to the landscape as they reach 50 to 80 feet tall. Since the fruit of the female trees will make you check your shoes looking for the source of the pungent odor, be sure to plant only male trees such as 'Autumn Gold'.
Other trees for fall color include sweet gum, serviceberry, baldcypress, white oak and sassafras.
Enjoy some fall colors by joining city of Urbana arborist Mike Brunk and myself for tree identification and care workshop on Saturday October 21 at 10:00am at Illini Grove on the corner of Lincoln and Pennsylvania Avenues in Urbana. Learn tips for fall care of trees such as pruning, fertilizing and mulching. Discover some basic tips for tree identification. Also get a copy of the new State Street tree trail guide. Bring your bike for a guided tour of the trail or enjoy the trail on your own after the workshop. No fee or registration required. For more information: U of I Extension at 333-7672.