by Judy Kautz, OSU Extension Master Gardener
Many of us have lost many trees in our landscape during our recent drought and hot weather, but there can be a silver lining. If you have the need to replace trees, consider adding trees that have beautiful foliage in the fall. Although we do not enjoy as brilliant the foliage of hardwood trees as they do in the Northeast, there are still many trees that we can grow here that will beautify our yards with autumn colors.
Local nurseries and garden centers have been having sales, with many trees featured at reduced prices. This is the perfect time to consider planting new trees in your yard to bring you lovely fall foliage next year. Let’s look at some perfect varieties for Oklahoma.
A favorite tree which sports orange-red fall color is the Chinese Pistache; at maturity, it can get as large as 25-35 feet, and its foliage is relatively pest free. The female tree has attractive red or blue fruit, and this tree has a medium growth rate. It becomes more rounded as it grows, and is hardy throughout Oklahoma (zones 6-9.) It is readily available in our area.
Chinese Pistache tree is well-suited to Oklahoma with beautiful red foliage.
If you like yellow fall color, consider the Lacebark Elm; it grows 40-60 feet at maturity, and has glossy leaves and attractive red fruit. Another unique feature of the Lacebark Elm is its exceptional brownish-orange mottled bark, which adds viewing interest. If it is irrigated and fertilized, this tree will grow very fast, becoming rounded at maturity, and is also hardy throughout Oklahoma. Additionally, it is an excellent disease-free substitute for the American elm.
Lacebark Elm has not only lovely yellow foliage, but very interesting bark as well.
Another tree which grows well here in Oklahoma is the Bald Cypress; growing from 50-80 feet at maturity, its fern-like foliage will turn reddish-brown in the fall. An added benefit of this tree is that it is drought tolerant, with a medium to fast growth rate. It is pyramidal in shape at maturity and has attractive, rounded fruit. This tree is hardy throughout Oklahoma and readily available locally.
Maples are known for their beautiful fall color, and there are many varieties that do well here in Oklahoma. These trees are generally smaller in size, about 15-20 feet, so may be better if you have a small area. They have shiny, three-lobed leaves and some varieties have attractive red fruit as well. They are quite adaptable to many conditions, pest free and hardy throughout Oklahoma. Ask your local nursery or garden center for varieties that have red fall color.
Shantung Maple is one of the many varieties of maples which provide brilliant foliage in fall.
Once you have decided which trees you want, how do you plant them? First, dig a hole 2-3 times the diameter of the tree’s root ball; don’t dig too deep, as the tree should be planted at the same or slightly above the original grade of the ball. Be sure to cut any rope tied around the tree, designed to keep the burlap covering the root ball, as it will cut into the tree as it grows; it is okay, however, to leave the burlap in place on the root ball. Place the tree in the hole and fill with native soil; tamp lightly and do not over-fertilize newly planted trees. It is a good idea to stake a young tree if it is top-heavy or in a windy area, but remove the stakes after the first season.
Keep a 5-6 foot circle weed- and grass-free around the tree, and place 1-3 inches of organic mulch in this circle. Water at least 1 inch weekly, and continue to water throughout the winter. It is also a good idea to wrap the tree as winter approaches to protect the young, tender bark from rodent damage and temperature fluctuations. Your tree may also benefit from wrapping for the first couple of summers to protect it from sunscald.
Planting new trees this year will give you fall color next year! Now is the perfect time to add beauty to your yard!
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