Friday, December 17, 2010

California Does To Have Fall Color!

I'll admit that fall color in the native landscape of California can be a bit drab. But urban areas can be quite colorful and there is a nice selection of plants with showy fall color that grow well here. Last week, the fall color seemed to peak so I headed out to photograph a bit of the show. We had an early cold snap this year that made colors even more vibrant.

fall color view

First up is one of the tried and true trees for fall color, Sweet Gum or Liquidambar styraciflua. Fall color ranges from yellow-maroon. It is a big tree, holds onto its leaves well but should be planted away from sidewalks and lawns due to its surface roots. In fact, a big garden may be necessary for this one, because gardening underneath is practically impossible. Not ideal for the small garden unless you want to devote all your space to this tree.

liquidambar styraciflua fall color

Next up is my favorite for fall color tree, Pistache or Pistachia chinensis. It is the perfect size for an urban garden and works well as a street tree. I have three in my garden plus one that I planted in my next-door neighbor's parking strip. Fall color ranges from yellow to red. Select your tree in color to be sure to get one to your liking. I also like the females which have pretty red drupes that persist after the leaves have dropped.

pistachia chinensis fall color yellow
pistachia chinensis fall color orange

The classic yellow fall color tree, if you're willing to wait for it to grow up to size, is Ginkgo biloba. We couldn't deal with the wait. We planted one as a street tree but took it out after it put on only 6" of growth after 3 years. They are very slow at first and then take off at some point. Regular water helps with growth the first few years. Ours didn't get that much water.

ginkgo biloba fall color

I noticed this man collecting fallen leaves at a Buddhist temple. He was carefully examining each one. I wonder what he did with them?

collecting leaves

Of course, the maples look great.

maples and pistache fall color

acer palmatum fall color

The ornamental pears, Pyrus calleryana, were really in top form too. With a lovely range of yellow, orange and red all on one tree, you can have a veritable rainbow with this one. People seem to feel the need to plant this tree in rows but they look lovely planted individually with some Miscanthus and evergreen shrubs, among other things.

pyrus calleryana fall color

Usually grown for its fruit, it's hard to beat the fall color of Fuyu persimmon trees!

persimmon fuyu fall color

My fig even colored up nicely this year due to the early cold snap. It usually isn't as bright yellow.

ficus brown turkey fall color

And the Crepe Myrtles were really aflame with the extra cold snap too. They're usually not quite as vibrant here.

lagerstroemeria fauriei fall color

I believe these next two trees are both beech trees. Beech will give you a wonderful gold and copper fall color. More subtle, but lovely in their own right.

copper beech?
fagus sylvatica purpurea

These elms were glowing yellow and quite impressive in their sheer mass. This guy has a ways to go. Glad I'm not him!

elm of some sort, ulmus americana?

Wisteria vines can even give you a shot of yellow, although the color tends to be less reliable around here.

wisteria floribunda fall color

And Berberis thunbergii is great for shrub-sized fall color.

berberis thunbergii fall color

I was totally stumped as to what these small street trees were. They had excellent fall color but I just couldn't place what they were.


Until I saw this monster: Pomegranates! The street trees were just missing the fruit. I didn't have my camera with me when I saw this pomegranate so I snapped the photo with my camera. I love how it looks like a crazy yellow monster with red pomegranate eyes!

pomegranate monster


  1. Nice array! The various Pyrus and Prunus in our neighborhood were especially nice this year. I think as of last night they are are all totally leafless.

    I get the best fall color from grapes in my garden. I have Roger's Red, and I added the Emeryville Pink from Annie's this year. That one seemed to turn mostly yellow, but they are still small plants so who knows what's to come.

    Leaf-cutter bees feast my Acer palmatum in my garden, and even more so on Acer circinatum. They deprive me of fall color every year. Next year I might try applying some kind of pepper spray to the leaves. Or something.

  2. A very beautiful post...the fall color spectacular! The fence with the stained glass is really cool - love that!

  3. There is nothing drab about this collection of fall foliage. I would not have guessed the colors would be so rich, and lucky you they are just now turning. I feel cheated out of some of our fall when the the weather went straight from November to January.

  4. Chuck - 'Roger's Red' is great. I wish I had room for it. I've never noticed the 'Emeryville Pink' to have much color, at least from the one grown in Richmond. That is interesting about the leaf cutter bees. I can't believe they use that many leaves!

    Whimsical Gardener - The gate with the inlaid stained glass is at a garden I've been working at recently. The garden was originally installed by Keela Meadows and I'm assuming the gate must have been of her design.

    Les - That would be a bummer miss out on fall because of an early winter. Fall is probably my favorite season. It was so great to get the extra color in the leaves this year.

  5. Gorgeous! Looks like New England. We in Austin had decent fall color this year too, thanks, I suppose, to an early cold snap here also.

  6. Great photos. That Ginkgo looks amazing. Were you by chance standing in a petanque court when you took that photo of Mt.Diablo? I was admiring a very similar view last winter around this time. And I think I pruned that pomegranate this spring in the same garden. Great to see it in fall glory; I took a lot out of it and I'm glad to see it healthy.

  7. Yeah, shout out to Cali Fall Color! My friend back in Wisconsin have a challenge when I tell them we have fall. Now there's proof. Matti

  8. Hmm...coming back to this post now in January I'm noticing how nice all that luscious green is in the background. That's something they don't have back east. It's something that makes our fall color special.

  9. I recommend adding a photo of the California Pepper Tree. They are my favorite for Fall color in California.


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