Fall is an excellent time to plant trees, especially trees that have shown beautiful fall color.
There are a lot of good reasons to plant trees, some give you beautiful flowers in the spring, summer and into the fall while others provide cooling shade during the heat of summer.
Most spring flowering trees will be available in the garden centers this coming spring but the beautiful shade trees are available now, so look around at the colorful fall foliage, the shapes, textures and sizes of the trees, then check to see if they will fit on your property.
The warm days and cool nights of autumn are less stressful to the tree leaves, and that allows the roots to expand and spread into their new home. Fall also gives a more gentle rain than the thunderstorms of summer, allowing the rain to filter into the soils.
Small trees should be planted no closer than 15 feet from your home while very large trees should be planted 30-50 feet away from your home to prevent root damage to the foundation of the home.
This distance will also prevent overhanging branches to grow over the home and damage the roof. If your home has a well and septic, trees need to be planted at least 20-30 feet away from either. And last, before going to the garden center, do a bit of research to help make the decision on which tree will grow best in your yard.
Here are some native trees that will thrive on the Eastern Shore. Catalpa trees are medium to large trees that can grow 40-70 feet tall and 20-50 feet wide. In early spring the light green heart shaped leaves emerge and from May to June the orchid shaped white flowers striped with purples and yellows burst into bloom, covering the trees. The flowers mature to very long, thin seed pods that resemble thin cigars.
The American Linden is also a medium to large tree, growing 50-80 feet tall and 30-50 feet wide. The trees have large dark green leaves and in June tiny but very fragrant flowers bloom, feeding many native pollinators.
There are many cultivars of the American Red Maple, and the most colorful include “October Glory,” “Autumn Blaze” and “Red Sunset.”
All of these cultivars have bright red flowers that mature quickly into red winged seeds, then brilliant red leaves emerge that turn green as they expand into 5 lobes. The trees grow 40-50 feet tall and 30-40 feet wide with a broad rounded silhouette of branches. In the cool nights and warm days the dark green leaves begin to shade towards bright orange-red to brilliant red. Another maple that has beautiful fall color is the American Sugar Maple, and the cultivar “Fall Fiesta’ is the most colorful of them all. “Fall Fiesta’ has a vigorous growth rate to create an upright tree with a rounded, symmetrical silhouette, deep green glossy leaves that are more resistant to summer heat and drought and will turn shades of yellow, orange and scarlet in the fall. A medium sized tree is the Sourwood which prefers to grow in slightly acid soils along with azaleas and rhododendrons. Sourwood is a medium sized tree growing 20-50 feet tall and 10-25 feet wide with glossy green finely toothed leaves that have a sour taste if you should try to nibble one. In June to July the trees bloom with tiny Lily of the Valley-like flowers that cascade in panicles 4-8 inches long. In the autumn the green leaves blaze into crimson red color.
Sassafras has unusual leaves that can be shaped into an oval, a mitten shape and with 3 deep lobes. They are a bright green in summer and turn orange and yellow in autumn. These trees like to live under taller trees and only grow 30-40 feet tall, 25- 30 feet wide. The dark green leaves often begin to turn colors in August but by fall they are scarlet red.
The Flowering Dogwood is one of our finest native trees, with beautiful flowers in the spring, lovely dark green leaves in summer that flame in shades of red in the fall, brilliant glossy red fruit in autumn that the native birds love, and have a lovely silhouette in the cold winter months. Although the Flowering Dogwood grows only 15-30 feet tall and wide, it is one of the most lovely Native trees and will thrive with only a few directions: plant the Dogwood about 1 inch above the ground in a spot that gets afternoon shade, add about an inch deep of mulch around the trunk of the tree (keeping about an inch of open space around the trunk) and water the tree at least once a week every week, especially during the heat of summer.
The Flowering Dogwood has very shallow roots and the strong sun and heat of summer can kill the roots.
(Editor’s Note: Ginny Rosenkranz is a commercial horticulture specialist with the University of Maryland Extension.)