Here in Northeast Kansas, we think highly of our beautiful fall colors. While we certainly are not New England, there have been hundreds of sugar maples planted throughout the area, giving us a name for quality fall color in the Great Plains. Hiawatha, KS is known as the “City of Beautiful Maples” for this reason. But what other trees should we plant to have great fall colors? And what makes the leaves change color?
When the weather begins to change in September and October, chlorophyll production in the leaves of trees and shrubs begins to slow down. As the day length shortens and we begin to have cool nighttime temperatures and some frosts, chlorophyll production stops all together. The chlorophyll then breaks down and is absorbed by the plant to be stored for next year’s production of chlorophyll. An abscission layer develops between the twigs and the leaf petiole where it attaches to the twig. Chemicals such as caretenoids and anthocyanins are left in the leaves. These compound chemicals are what gives leaves there colors.
The more anthocyanins there are, the more reds and purples there are in the leaves. Caretenoids favor the development of oranges and yellows. Rainy and overcast days may be unpleasant for getting out and enjoying the cooler weather, but they also strengthen the color intensity. Having an early frost can result in weaker color development.
Choosing trees just for fall color is not the best choice for your landscape. While it is certainly an important factor, other factors must be checked before buying any tree and planting in your landscape. Below is a chart of the best trees for fall color and their characteristics in the landscape, Use this guide to determine the best tree for your landscape and for fall color.
|Tree||Scientific Name||Fall Color||Type||Size H x W||Cultivars|
|Sugar Maple||Acer saccharum||Red, Yellow, Orange||Shade||60 x 40||Oregon Trail, Legacy, Caddo|
|Dogwood||Cornus florida||Red, Purple||Ornamental||25 x 15||Venus|
|Pin oak||Quercus palustris||Red||Shade||100 x 60|
|Scarlet Oak||Quercus coccinea||Red||Shade||70 x 50||KC Infraray Red|
|Black Oak||Quercus velutina||Red||Shade||70 x 50|
|Serviceberry||Amelanchier sp.||Red, Orange||Ornamental||30 x 30||Autumn Brilliance|
|Black Gum||Nyssa sylvatica||Red, Orange||Shade||60 x 40|
|Sourwood||Oxydendrum arboreum||Red, Purple||Ornamental||40 x 25|
|Black Cherry||Prunus serotina||Red, Orange||Shade||60 x 40|
|Chinkapin Oak||Quercus muhlenbergii||Red||Shade||60 x 60|
|Sassafrass||Sassafras albidum||Red, Orange||Ornamental||40 x 20|
|Zelkova||Zelkova serrata||Red, Orange||Ornamental||40 x 40|
|Hybrid Maple||Acer x freemanii||Red, Orange||Shade||50 x 50||Matador|
|Sweet Gum||Liquidambar styraciflua||Purple, Red, Orange||Shade||80 x 40|
|Crabapple||Malus sp.||Red, Orange, Purple||Ornamental||35 x 35||Royal Raindrops, Prairie Fire|
|Ginkgo||Ginkgo biloba||Yellow||Shade||100 x 80||Autumn Gold|
|Silver Maple||Acer saccharinum||Yellow||Shade||80 x 60|
|River Birch||Betula nigra||Yellow||Shade||60 x 40||Heritage|
|Tuliptree||Liriodendron tulipifera||Yellow||Shade||120 x 60|
|Ironwood||Ostrya virginiana||Yellow, Orange||Ornamental||30 x 30|
|Cottonwood||Populus deltoides||Yellow||Shade||100 x 60|
|Linden||Tilia americana||Yellow||Shade||80 x 60|
|Baldcypress||Taxodium distichum||Orange, Brown||Shade||100 x 60|
|Japanese Maple||Acer palmatum||Red, Orange, Yellow||Ornamental||25 x 25||Orangeola|
|Mountain Ash||Sorbus americana||Orange||Ornamental||40 x 40|