I missed a week of writing my column, off again this time to Houston. I want to take up where I promised with a discussion of larger trees that can be counted on to offer fall leaf color here in Central Texas.
Red maple (Acer rubrum) is a large tree with a narrow, rounded crown and red flowers, fruit, leafstalks, and autumn foliage. This ornamental tree grows 40-60 ft. tall in cultivation, and occasionally reaching 100-120 ft. in the wild. Male trees have pinkish red flowers in early spring, and females display decorative red samaras after pollination. Young trees have smooth, silvery gray bark which provides winter interest. Fall foliage is variable, ranging from the brilliant red to yellow or greenish-yellow. This is a good tree to plant for shade over a house. Because it is much taller than wide, if planted south or west of the house it will cast shade over the roof without the problem of limbs overhanging the structure.
Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) is another tree of similar size to the Red Maple. Growing 60-100’ high x 25-50’ wide, it has needle-like leaves that will turn a russet red to copper brown color and then fall soon thereafter. What remains is a dramatic architectural shape that can be enjoyed all winter. The tree needs a deep moist soil and does best near a creek or river. The Montezuma Cypress (Taxodium mucronatum), is native to south Texas and Mexico and has the same coloring, but is faster growing and better adapted to drier soils.
Cedar Elm (Ulmus crassifolia) is a medium to tall tree than can reach 35-50’ tall x 25-35 wide. It has an upright form, adapted to both rocky and heavy clay soils, and casts a light shade in summer. In fall the small leaves turn a brilliant yellow to gold color. It looks especially at home planted closely in small groves. Another Elm, Ulmus americana or American Elm can grow much larger to 40-80’ high and as much as 70’ wide, in a vase-like form. Fall color is also a golden yellow. The strong, invasive root system of this second Elm can heave sidewalks and invade sewer systems, so it is best planted in parks or on large lots away from potential problems areas.
The Chinquapin Oak (Quercus muehlenbergii) grows to as much as 50-80’ tall x 40-60’ wide. It requires deep, well drained soil to thrive. Fall color is yellow and rust. Again, this tree with its large, stately stature requires a large lot or park setting. The Pin Oak (Quercus palustris) is of similar size, fast-growing, and tolerates wet and more poorly drained soils. Glossy dark green leaves turn russet, bronze or red in autumn. Shumard Oak (Quercus shumardii) is slightly smaller in size, round headed, with bright red or orange fall color.
Texas Ash (Fraxinus texensis) is one of the fastest growing native trees, maturing at 40-50’ tall and wide. It also needs good drainage, and is quite long-lived, unlike some of the other non-native Ash trees such as Arizona Ash. Fall color is multi-colored from purple to red and yellow.
When choosing some of these highly colored trees for fall interest, try to plan for a variety of color over a long period. Grouping the narrower trees into groves, and “punctuating” with a dissimilar but compatible color nearby will give the best design effect. Next week I will provide ideas for using some of the non-native trees which are well adapted here and also give us good fall leaf color.