Fall will soon be here, with it comes cooler weather, football, and the changing of color of many of our plants. For fall, there are a few plants that I always look to for a great show of color.
Fall color is one of the reasons we all enjoy the season. The leaves turn from green to red, yellow, or orange in the fall due to the pigments present in the leaves. During the spring and summer months, green chlorophyll is the dominant pigment in leaves and this hides the other pigments from view. In the fall, the production of chlorophyll slows down and eventually stops altogether to allow the other pigments to show up in our leaves. The different conditions we see each fall affects the how much and how vivid the colors are in the fall, which is why some years we have better fall color than others. Clear days, cool nights, and dry conditions in the fall promote high quality fall color, according to Iowa State University.
Garden mums or Chrysanthemums are wonderful for fall color. They bloom in August and September in colors such as purple, pink, orange, yellow, white, coral, and deep burgundy or red. They need to be pinched back 2-3 times in June until Independence Day to ensure that they bloom properly in the fall. Some mums have low winter hardiness due to repeated freezing and thawing throughout our winters. If this occurs, add extra mulch around the plants before winter, cut the plants back in the spring rather than in the fall, and discontinue fertilization by the end of July.
Shagbark Hickory is one of my favorite trees that are underutilized in Nebraska. In the fall this tree turns a brilliant golden-yellow color to help enrich your fall landscape color. The shaggy bark appearance that the older trees grow into is another unique characteristic of this tree. This is a native plant to the region so it will withstand the constantly changing weather that is typical of Nebraska. Also, because it is a hickory tree, it produces a tasty, edible nut that is similar to hickory nuts, making it a great tree choice for nut production and for wildlife.
Burning Bush is a terrific large shrub choice for most any landscape. This is a type of shrub that can grow up to 20 feet tall, but there is a compact version that grows up to 10 feet tall. It has a deep glossy green leaf throughout the spring and summer but in the fall it turns a bright red color or pink in shady locations. One problem with Burning Bush, however, is that it is a plant that is susceptible to scale insect. Scale can be controlled when in the crawler stage, typically in the early spring, with an insecticidal soap or Horticulture oil.
There are also a lot of great oak trees that can be planted for great fall color. Red and white oaks turn red in the fall. Bur Oaks turn a yellow color in the fall. Shumard oak is another great oak tree that has reliable red fall color. Oak trees are a great tree choice for Nebraska and their fall color just makes them that much better. They are well adapted for most of the conditions we face in Nebraska and can typically withstand drought conditions fairly well. Plus, their acorns are a huge draw for wildlife for those who enjoy to view deer, squirrels, and other wildlife.