Fall Color is at its Peak

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Fall Color is at its Peak

Categories: Blog, Garden Guru


It’s that time of the year when our deciduous trees and shrubs must shed their leaves for winter.  In so doing, they turn their true colors that were masked by their green chlorophyll during the growing season.  Different species and even different individual plants show a rainbow of colors now, from vibrant to drab.  Here’s a sample of some of Powell Gardens’ trees and shrubs on October 30, 2013:

Maples are most well-known for their vibrant fall colors and this ‘Red Sunset’ Red Maple (Acer rubrum) is no exception.  Select varieties of Red Maple can have dazzling fall colors and may be the most popular tree planted around Kansas City.  Unfortunately most are in very poor shape because this tree actually prefers a more moderate climate east of here.  This beautiful tree at Powell Gardens is planted northeast of the Visitor Center in a grove of trees so it is sheltered from extreme summer conditions (hot southwestern winds, harsh afternoon sun).  It also does not have turf around its roots and is in perfect condition without all the problems often found on this tree in our region.

Here are leaves from a Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra) planted along the walk by the Fountain Garden.  Northern Red Oak can have red to dull bronze fall color but our two trees in this planting have quite nice fall color.  If you desire a tree with good fall color it is often best to buy them from the nursery when they are in fall color so you know what you are going to get in the future.  Hint: Visit your local nursery after getting ideas out here at Powell Gardens!  Northern Red Oak becomes a magnificent tree and is the largest species of oak in the Midwest-Northeast.

Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida) is one of our best fall color plants and most are studded in bright red fruit now with foliage not quite at peak red color yet.  The berries are great food for migrating birds now and are high in fat — they do not stay on the tree into winter.

Here’s one of our Flowering Dogwoods on the Dogwood Walk in peak fall color now!  The swollen buds on the ends of the twigs are the flower buds for next spring.  Local dogwoods are going to have abundant bloom next spring.

This gorgeous shrub is actually a natural seedling of Flowering Dogwood that came up along the Dogwood Walk.  It has bright Chartreuse yellow-green leaves in summer that turn shades of pink in fall. I can’t wait to see this trained as a little tree as it grows.  It accidentally got cut off and that’s why it’s bushy but we are planning to pin all the side branches to ground and cover them with mulch.  By next year all those branches will have rooted and can be cut from the mother plant — a practice called “layering” and a good way to propagate a good Flowering Dogwood as they don’t root from cuttings. Dogwoods require a pollinator and are not self-fertile so their seedlings are always unique.

The Oriental Kousa Dogwoods (Cornus kousa) are very slow to color and in that unique purplish stage now with almost a bluish cast to the leaves.  As the chlorophyll leaves their leaves now, they will turn redder and redder with peak color usually in early November.

Smooth Witherod Viburnum (Viburnum nudum) is one of the most colorful shrubs in the garden right now.  They flank both of the outer shrub beds of the Fountain Garden.  They have pink to red and orange fall color and are studded with blue fruit that look sort of like raisins right now.

Here’s a complete Smooth Witherod Viburnum in almost pink fall color and fruit.  To its right are a ‘Summer Wine’ Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) in dark purple above, and Magic Carpet Spirea (Spiraea japonica) in golden and pink to its lower right.  You can see this stunning fall combination at the entrance to the Fountain Garden.

A few perennials have great fall color too and this is ‘Weihenstephaner Gold’ Sedum (Sedum floriferum) which is widely used as a groundcover in our Conifer Garden north of the Visitor Center. It turns wonderful shades with an overall orange look in the fall.

Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) with its palmately compound leaves comprised of 5 leaflets usually turns a lovely yellow in the fall.  This one is along the Dogwood Walk in nearly pure butter yellow fall foliage.

Now is the time to come see fall’s glory with the trees and shrubs decked out in their autumn attire.  This year the colors are a bit muted from the cold spring and DRY fall.  The recent rains have been welcome and transformed the foliage from limp to luscious overnight!  We expect the gardens to have many beautiful trees and shrubs in fall colors for the next couple of weeks,