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September 15, 2012

Autumn hues can shine with correct tree, shrub choices



When you think of yellow fall foliage, birches almost always come to mind. But there are plenty of other options when it comes to trees, from small street or yard trees to towering specimens.

Ginkgo biloba may boast the most clear and striking yellow-green fall foliage of any tree that can be grown in the region. The distinctive fan-like shape of the small leaves, and its graceful habit, make this large tree a favorite in parks and similar landscapes. Sunset warns that female trees produce “messy, fleshy, ill-smelling fruit in quantity,” but these trees otherwise come highly recommended, tolerating a variety of poor growing conditions.

Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioca) isn’t exactly a household name, but this slow-growing, unusual tree offers year-round interest, according to Sunset. Scaly bark, contorted branches and changing leaf colors during the growing season make this tree an eye-catcher, and its yellow fall foliage is the finishing act.

River birch (Betula nigra)

is a disease- and pest-resistant variety that offers the enduring image of golden leaves against pale bark without the problems that plague the traditional white birch. These fast-growing trees still require plenty of sun and moisture to prosper, however.

Yellow wood (Cladastris lutea) is described by the Morton Arboretum as “intermediate-sized spreading tree with smooth gray bark and blue-green foliage, which turns clear-yellow in autumn.” Sunset says it’s useful as a lawn tree, but that branches may be susceptible to breakage during ice storms.


Sugar maples are the classic source for bright orange and red fall color, but they aren’t the only option. Here are some off-the-beaten-path alternatives to set your landscaping apart from the crowd.


“Tiger eyes” sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Tigerye bailtiger’) is a specific cultivar of staghorn sumac prized for its vividly colored leaves. According to Fine Gardening, the plant’s new growth comes in chartreuse, with a fall display that ranges from yellow to a brilliant red-orange. Sumac is a common plant in the region; like most varieties, “Tiger eyes” can spread by suckering, but the plant is not officially classified as invasive in New York state.

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