Better late than never.
Until the past few days the autumn foliage colors have been muted, but with a bit of cold weather and more regular rainfall in the past month there are now some brilliant reds and glowing yellows along the roadsides and in my garden. The extreme heat and late summer drought pushed some trees into early dormancy, so native maples and poplars dropped many leaves prematurely, and those colored only to drab yellows and brown.
Maple cultivars, named varieties that have been selected for their autumn foliage color, have been quite late to turn, but in the past week have changed to red, often with scattered yellow leaves. The contrast is striking, and the mottled colors are perhaps more delightful than is usual, though the display will be short lived.
A mild disappointment thus far have been the black gums, often spectacular with colors on a single tree ranging from yellow to dark red-purple. There are two on my property, one a native that has dropped most of its faded yellow leaves, and a cultivar, ‘Wildfire’, which has held its foliage with some interior leaves turning yellow, and the outermost leaves darkening with a bit of red.
If ‘Wildfire’ disappoints there will be other trees in the garden with wonderful colors to compensate. Fern Leaf Japanese maple (Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’, above) colors beginning mid-October, and will hold its mottled leaves of red and orange for a month or longer. This tree is partially shaded to one side, and the parts of the tree that are in full sun are marvelous, while foliage colors on the shaded side are muted.
‘Seriyu’, ‘Osakazuki’, and the ‘Golden Full Moon’ maple exhibit excellent foliage color, while red leafed ‘Bloodgood’, ‘Shaina’, and the various cutleaf weeping cultivars deepen in color, but the contrast is not striking.
The native dogwoods (Cornus florida, above) exhibit dependably beautiful red foliage that begins to turn by mid-September, and the leaves will persist into November. Even when the leaves drop the clusters of bright red berries are delightful until the birds have had their fill. Chinese dogwoods (Cornus kousa ‘Satomi’, below) color inconsistently, with some turning red while others have almost no autumn color at all.
Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia, above) is just beginning to turn in my garden, and though the leaves will not last more than a few weeks, the display is outstanding. The Franklin Tree (Franklinia alatamaha, below) is one of the favored trees in my garden, with single, white camellia-like blooms in August, with a few flowers that often linger until the leaves begin to change in late September. This year the blooms began early and faded more quickly than is usual, and the autumn foliage color has been delayed. Still, this is a splendid tree in bloom and for its autumn foliage color.
A tree with surprisingly excellent autumn foliage is crapemyrtle, though not all cultivars. I have found that the pink flowered ‘Sioux’ (below) is particularly outstanding. In my garden ‘Pink Velour’, Arapaho’, and ‘Centennial Spirit’ have dropped their leaves without much of a display this season, and the foliage of the tall, white flowered ‘Natchez’ remains green late into October.
In the past week Gingko (Gingko biloba, below) has turned from a subdued light green to a glowing yellow. While other trees will drop their leaves over a few days, once gingko decides to shed its foliage it happens within a few hours. One moment the tree is a blazing yellow, the next there is a yellow carpet beneath the barren tree.