October is often a month with warm days and chilly nights, the perfect of conditions for the leaves on trees and shrubs to turn from summer green to autumn colors.
The sun is also lower in the sky, providing less hours of sunlight to the leaves.
Both the reduced sunlight and the cooler temperatures cause the leaves to stop their production of food, the green chlorophyll breaks down, and the mix of chemical changes allows the colors in the leaves to shine through.
Bright warm, sunny days brings out the brightest and the darkest colors while cloudy and rainy weather will soften and often dulls the fall colors.
Even in years that the colors are soft, there are a few trees that will always give a great show of fall colors.
Some of the most consistently colorful trees include the Crape Myrtles with Native American names, our American Dogwood, and many of the Maples that seem to grow well on the Eastern Shore.
There are Crape Myrtles that grow at least 20 to 30 feet, creating a beautiful small tree.
“Potomac” blooms in the summer with clear pink flowers and gold leaves in the autumn.
“Arapaho” blooms with bright red flowers and “Moskogee” has light lavender flowers that color the landscape all summer long.
In the autumn they both light up the landscape with bright red foliage.
“Natchez” has snow white flowers that shine against the dark green summer foliage that turns a vibrant orange red in the fall.
The American Dogwood love to live in the morning sun and afternoon shade and usually grows only 15-25 feet tall.
It has shallow roots that need weekly watering during the heat and droughts of summer to keep the leaves their beautiful dark green.
In the autumn when the night temperatures cool down, the leaves of the Dogwood turn burgundy and scarlet, almost upstaging the bright red berries that grace the branches.
The American Red Maple is a large shade tree, growing 40 to 70 feet tall and 30-50 feet wide, casting wonderful shade during the hot summer months.
These Maples start out in the springtime with tiny red leaves which quickly expand and turn bright green.
It is only when the temperatures cool down in the fall that the leaves begin to turn red again.
There are a number of cultivars that offer the brightest reds including “Autumn Blaze,” “October Glory” and “Red Sunset.”
Another large and colorful maple is the Sugar Maple which grows 60-75 feet tall and 25-45 feet wide.
In the fall, the bright green leaves change to golden yellow, vibrant orange and scarlet.
The cultivar “Fall Fiesta” has the same brilliant fall colors on a tree that is able to grow better in Maryland.
The fall colors can be brilliant or soft but they don’t last long, so as soon as the colors begin to change from green to glorious yellows, golds, oranges, reds and scarlets, be sure to drive around and admire the autumn tree colors.
(Editor’s Note: Ginny Rosenkranz is a commercial horticulture specialist with the University of Maryland Extension.)