Tribute to Fall Color
Who says there is no fall in Central Texas? I hope everyone, plant lovers, art lovers, season lovers, are seeing what this wonderful early cool spell has cast on our hillsides. The Hill Country is being blessed with a brilliant splash of color typically relegated to the northeast. Yellow, orange, and bright red leaves are glowing in the grey overcast days, and radiating on the blue sunny days. While meteorologists still speculate on what makes the perfect fall for leaf lookers, it seems the early and sustained cool spell has certainly made an impact in the local plant pallet.
All the usual suspects have made a miraculous appearance on short notice with rain only just hitting them in September after a year of rain missing in action. These native perennials and annuals made a grand appearance: Rough leaf sunflower (or daisy as some may know it), liatris, maxamillian sunflower, goldenrod, and native grasses. Adapted plants that have provided a good show include: roses, butterfly weed, plumbago, and pride of Barbados. And how about these spring bloomers that have a sudden sense of urgency to reproduce: pomegranate, Bradford pear, and even an errant Carolina Jessamine. Crazy Love! Just a fabulous example of how nature will find a way to survive.
As for the trees that are radiant on the hillsides, their show is practically a jaw dropper. The deciduous ones, those that lose their leaves in winter, are the trees giving us the wonderful color. On wild or native hillsides look for: redbud, cedar elm, shumard oak (close relations: Spanish oak, Texas red oak) rough leaf dogwood, Mexican plum, Texas buckeye, a little bit of sycamore and cottonwood. Along the water ways look for bald and Montezuma cypress, Mexican buckeye, and sycamore.
If you are looking for a specimen tree to make a show in your landscape, investigate these small trees: Texas redbud-not only is it the star of the show in early spring with intense pink blossoms, it also provides a bright yellow nearly heart shaped leaf in the fall. Mexican plum is another spring show stopper-covered in somewhat fragrant white flowers on bare branches it provides loads of nectar for bees, then in the fall the leaves gradate in colors from yellow to peach to reddish. And, for the bonus, a few thumb size pinkish plums. Texas buckeye is a small tree with spring and fall interest. In spring, it shows clusters of tubular flowers yellow or red or crossbreeds in between at the same time as the leaves appear. In the fall it shows great yellow color leaves. Here is one for nearly year round enjoyment, Mexican buckeye. This small vase shaped tree sprouts pink flowers on bare branches at about the same time as the redbud, although redbud holds its flowers longer. The Mexican buckeye displays yellow to copper leaves in the fall, then after the leaves drop, the tree is left with large triangular and bulbous seed cluster. The seeds inside looks like a buck’s eye, hence the name.
For a large specimen tree, the favorite is the Texas red oak. Species include Shumard and Spanish red oak. These trees do not provide showy flowers, but make up for it in the fall with deep rich wine red to orange red leaves. The red oak can grow up to forty feet tall. A large tree for wet areas, near a creek, river or body of water is native cypress: Montezuma or Bald. These trees grow in a stately conical shape-christmas tree like-with very straight horizontal branches. In the fall, the small needle like leaves are some of the first to turn orange, gold, and coppery. Stunning! The cypresses can be upwards of sixty feet tall at maturity. Rusty blackhaw viburnum (pictured here) is sometimes considered a smaller tree but can get large given the ideal circumstances. This tree is even more brilliant that the red oak in its redness due to the glossy nature of the leaves.
Standard shade and common trees found already growing on many city lots are cedar elm, red oaks, burr oaks, and redbud. These are yellow to copper to brown. Easy to grow, good shade, and accent additions to the fall landscape.
Tree Folks produces a Tree Growing Guide for Austin and the Hill Country that illustrates trees appropriate to this area and their relative size to one another. This guide is available at most local nurseries for around three dollars, and from them directly, www.treefolks.org. The booklet produced by the city of Austin Grow Green program, Native and Adapted Landscape Plants, includes color photos of plants and growing information on each species. This publication is free at most garden retailers in Austin. Or, look at their web site: www.growgreen.org
For up close and personal tree viewing, visit the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center where plants are labeled individually. Also, Zilker Botanical Gardens is a great display garden to see plants in groups of who likes to cohabitate with whom.
Winter is the time to plant trees in the Austin area. Getting them in the ground while the weather is cool enables the trees to get their roots established before the brutal onslaught of summer heat. Trees put their energy into developing a strong foundation while the upper parts are dormant in winter. Admire the trees, pick one out and get home and plant it!