Late summer or early fall is usually the time of year that evergreen trees like pine and Douglas fir lose their three- or four-year-old needles. As most people aren’t aware that they do drop needles on purpose, this can occasionally be a cause for concern.
“How come my pine tree is full of yellow needles?” they ask. “It looks like it is sick.”
All evergreens shed their needles because of the simple fact that younger leaves or needles are just that much more efficient in collecting solar energy and making food. Older leaves often get shaded out. In any case, nutrients are recycled and new growth is put out the following spring.
As the green pigment chlorophyll dies, other colours are revealed. On deciduous plants (ones that lose their leaves every autumn) this is a cause for enjoyment, not concern. Shorter day lengths and cooler nights cause a spectacular display of fall colour. Adding some to your garden can be as easy as planting a burning bush. The more neglect they endure towards the end of summer the earlier the colour will be on display. However, all plants should receive extra water as the winter approaches to ensure their cells are well hydrated during the cooler months.
Besides the burning bushes, I enjoy walking into the nursery and seeing the Tiger Eyes sumacs, which have excellent leaf texture and colour all year combined with a more compact growth habit than their wild cousins. Right now they are a gorgeous orangey-apricot colour.
Several varieties of barberries add to the fall display. As their regular coloured leaves die, they develop some bright red and orange undertones. They fit well into any landscape and are deer proof and drought tolerant.
In darker red tones, we have the snowball bush and a relation the Summer Snowflake vibernum. These plants really have multiple seasons of interest from the spring through winter.
Fall colour is not limited to just shrubs. Trees like the northern red oak, the pin oak, Amur maple, sugar maple and red maple can all develop incredible fall colour. Vines like the Virginia creeper are well known for it, too.
In case you have no room left in your garden but still want to add some fall spectacle, small perennials like fall asters and Autumn Joy sedum flower from late summer through fall. They are a simple way to keep your garden looking its best right up to snowfall.
As the weather looks good for at least the next few weeks I would encourage you all to water your trees and shrubs in well for the upcoming cold season.
Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.