Wednesday, November 9, 2011


It is very easy during this season to forget to pause and give thanks for our blessings.  However, the vibrant, glorious colors of autumn command our attention, snap us out of our bustling, and give us evidence that a Higher Power must exist who deserves thanks for all we have.

This fall has been spectacular in Birmingham, Alabama.  Daily, trees in my area are absolutely glowing in hues of gold, orange and crimson.  Their brilliance and breathtaking color have made me stop and take the time to appreciate my surroundings.
That got me thinking... what better way to give thanks this season than by reflecting on the beauty of nature and perhaps adding a tree or shrub to your own yard to enjoy for seasons to come?
After all, autumn is THE TIME to plant trees and shrubs because the plant is entering its dormant season, plus the cool days and nights allow it to adjust to its new environment, establish its root system and transition into the garden before the spring growing season.
So, here are my suggestions if you are so inclined to plant.  Come next fall, you will be glad you did!
Fagus grandifolia

Majestic tree whose glossy green summer leaves become golden and deepen to a chestnut bronze in fall, then fade to a parchment tan as winter progresses. Leaves persist throughout winter until new leaf buds push old leaves off branches in spring. Handsome, smooth bark makes branches prized for indoor fall and winter floral arrangements.  Give this tree room to grow!  See photo below for an example of spread of the American Beech.

Taxodium distichum

Large, pyramidal conifer that turns a burnt orange as fall progresses before the needles drop.  Interesting winter silhouette remains until feathery spring foliage emerges a bright, vivid green.  Has THE most interesting late summer two-toned cones that appear carved.  Can take extremely wet conditions and is an outstanding tree for a stream bank or pond’s edge.  Must have acid soil to thrive.  Find one near the pond at the Birmingham Botanical Garden where I took these pictures.  See photo below for cones of Bald Cypress!

Ulmus parvifolia ‘Allee’

I never fully appreciated the beauty of these trees until recently.  A TOUGH, TOUGH tree that delivers impact on so many levels.  Fall color begins golden and deepens to shades of peach and apricot.  As tree ages, flaking, “lace” bark becomes an unusual combination of mottled browns, oranges, grays and greens giving winter interest. The beautiful, rounded canopy of toothed medium green leaves are enjoyed in spring and summer.  Fast growth can allow this tree to reach 60 feet tall and wide.  Check these trees out in Crestline Village where they line the main road!  Below is a photo to give you an idea of its summer look:

Acer barbatum (floridanum)

Not as large as the standard Sugar Maple and better adapted to our planting zone which has hotter summers and milder winters.  Rich, robust shades of yellow and orange burn brightly in fall on this medium sized maple.  Can also take some wetter soils and can be found as a forest understory tree along streams.  Its summer leaves, seen below, are a beautiful, lush green.

Acer rubrum

There are a plethora of Red Maples.  All fairly fast growing with trademark red twigs, branchlets and buds.  Very showy “flowers” in late winter that emerge prior to leafing as seen below in second photo.  Usually grows to about 60 feet tall and 40 feet wide.  Varieties with consistent color in fall are ‘Autumn Flame’, ‘Red Sunset’, and ‘October Glory’ (which should be November Glory here).  Beware where you plant your maple in that its roots are greedy - so try to give it a place where it will not impact pavement or other plantings.  

Callicarpa americana

A carefree Southern native that flowers in summer and is followed by clustered berries in fall through winter. Leaves can be a respectable yellow  to purplish in fall and the shrub can reach 6 feet high and wide. Especially beautiful massed in a woodland setting with its graceful, arching stems.

Hydrangea quercifolia

So many cultivars to choose from.  All reward the owner with vibrant autumn foliage hues which range from scarlet, crimson, burgandy, maroon to purple. The deeply lobed leaves resemble oak leaves, hence its name. In late spring through early summer these shrubs are smothered in snowy white, elongated clusters of flowers.  ‘Alice’ has a particularly rich red autumn show and ‘Snowflake’ bears double flowers which keep pale inner sepals as the outer tinge a dusty rose.  Planted en masse these shrubs make a beautiful border.  Try in a location which gets morning sun and afternoon shade.  Here is a photo of mine at its peak last spring.

Cornus sericea ‘Baileyi’

Just planted one, so I will let you know how it does.  Living in a creamy brick house, I love the contrast of reds against that backdrop.  So, when I had a large, bare spot between two windows in dappled sunlight, I decided to try the Red Twig Dogwood.  It is yet another dogwood with brilliant red fall foliage, but this one has bright red winter twigs and branches.  I put this in the “shrub” category because it reaches maybe 8 feet tall with slightly greater width.  In the summer months, it bears small, creamy white flowers which are followed by white berries!  Does well in moist ground, so I am hoping that by virtue the sprinkler head is by this shrub, it will LOVE its new home.  Here is a close-up of its flower buds below:

Rhus typhina

I love this woodland shrub.  Upright, spreading native plant that can reach 10-15 feet and spread by suckering.  Has jaw dropping fall color with the added interest of plumes of fuzzy crimson fruits which appear from its antlers (branches).  Last year, I had to stop my car along the roadside where a wild clump of these shrubs were growing at the edge of a woodland.  Had my pruners in the back of the car and lopped off some branches to use in an arrangement.  If I lived on Cherokee Road or other forested area in Alabama, this would be high on my list to use in my naturalized garden!
Itea virginica

Sun, shade, wet, dry, this hardy native shrub can thrive anywhere. Narrow, oval leaves are a purple to bright red in autumn.  In spring, after leaves emerge, fragrant, creamy white summer flowers are clustered all over the plant. ‘Henry’s Garnet’ is an excellent selection growing 4 feet tall and 4-6 feet wide.  Nice substitute for an oakleaf hydrangea or spirea for a change of pace.  See picture below for summer blooms.

Hope you are enjoying the season!  Don’t forget to take the time to pause during this busy season and offer thanks.
Make sure and check back in December when we will be talking about conifers and other evergreens!  

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