As autumn returns to the high country, trees and shrubs show off one last time before they hibernate in preparation for spring 2014. Today's column highlights the new, the improved, and the unusual show offs with fall colors that we can bring into our gardens.
This week's featured plant is the Alta Southern Magnolia. The glossy waxed surfaces of the very rich, jewel-toned green leaves have undersides dressed in white. This magnolia is covered in these spectacular hand sized leaves worthy of framing. In summer dozens upon dozens of huge white magnolia flowers cover the tree in classic southern style. Although ideally suited to fall planting, this variety is so new that it is hard to find. So, scoop up this one when you find it, regardless of the time of year!
The glossy, evergreen, backed in white, leaves of the 'Alta' magnolia makes for a stunning companion plant to the Red Rhapsody Amur Maple. This short maple is famous for red foliage that ignites a landscape in tall columns. It is well adapted to mountain clay soils, sun, wind, and cold winters. Once rooted in a landscape it is easy on irrigation, and is perfect for fire-wise landscape needs. Though sometimes mistaken for a Japanese Maple this mountain variety is the far hardier of the two trees. Whether grown as a short multi-trunk tree or a tall shrub, it is on my list of preferred 'water-wise' plants.
Ornamental Pistachio trees are for gardens exposed to wind and subjected to microbursts or other weather anomalies. This is a real autumn show-off that thrives not only in harsh environments but also with neglect. The attractive umbrella shape turns a brilliant crimson; no other tree produces such a vibrant, broad range of fall color. It can serve dozens of uses: as a shade tree, street tree, accent, or front yard specimen. It is the ideal choice for flanking driveways or in pairs to meet overhead at street side. Grow this colorful water wise tree against a solid evergreen background to provide intense contrast to any landscape.
Lace Leaf Staghorn Sumac is another plant that celebrates autumn in the mountains. It's one of the drought hardy plants that can be grown as a shrub or as a small tree. Its auburn orange through red foliage is striking, and the more sun this plant receives the brighter its colors. When the wind has blown away the last of the leaves, the plant is left with a very unusual characteristic: It appears to be covered in a fur that is very soft to the touch.
Virginia Creeper is so common it grows wild in forested lots, but there is a new variety to choose for this fall's gardens. In full red color now, the Star Shower Virginia Creeper is a brighter hued introduction to the mountain vine category. It has the same autumn glow as its common cousin, but the leaves in spring are variegated in silver. Used to grow over rocks and up fences or as a ground cover, this vine likes full sun locations. In fact, the foliage is brighter when exposed to intense sun. It's one of my fire-wise and water-wise plant selections.
Armstrong maple is the brightest of orange shade trees. This autumn orange maple is similar in size to its cousin the Blaze maple so give it some room. Mature growth is 40 foot tall by 20 foot wide and roars into autumn with rare colors that compliments the red of blaze maples, purple of raywood ash and aspen golds.
Try to get new plants with fall foliage in the ground before they turn color so you can enjoy their colors this year. Even better, since nursery trees can live in their nursery growers' pots for months before planting, use them as fall decorating elements with some pumpkins, a few mums, and a pansy or two. When the leaves have all dropped, plant them in their permanent spots in the landscape.
You folks from the Midwest already know the importance of the fall planting season. Gardeners from other parts of the country should adopt this knowledge and not be afraid to plant now. This week's cool down should increase planting success rates even more.
Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.