Which is the better tree for fall color?

tj-oakAugust 14, 2009

I live in central C.A. and I live in the country. I have a big back yard and would like to plant 2 trees that will give we some fall colors. What's the better pick, Northern Red Oak or the Red Maple? The ground is clay and it will be very close to my lawn. Is one of these trees messier than the other? I have a cork oak for the main tree and would like to plant one of these on both sides of it. Thanks

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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

You might want to think about pistache as it doesn't need that much water there. Your water prices will be priced higher soon and you won't want to water a NRO. A good contrast would be a Freeman maple cultivar or ginkgo.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2009 at 11:53AM
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Not sure where CA is but you are apparently in Zone 9. Be aware that some northern trees will not color well if moved down south. The red maple should be native to much of the south and might be the better choice. White oak is another southern tree with dependable red fall color. Both of these trees require acidic soils.
For alkaline soils :
Shumard Red Oak is a southern tree with red color.
Mexican Plum is a tree that grows into the south and has orangish-yellowish color. It is a small tree to 25'.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2009 at 3:01PM
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lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Try Shantung maple. It provided some decent fall color in Houston which is Zone 9. Can't say the same for rest. Texas Red oak (Q. buckeyi) has better fall color than Shumard red oak but both red oak seem to be picky about coloring up if conditions are right. IMO, Texas Red Oak is a nicer looking than Shumard. Shantung maple seems to be the most reliable for color up in Dallas area. The fall color is usually bright yellow. Chinese Pistache isn't too bad if you want red fall color. It can tolerate alkaline with no problem. I think it is on recommended tree list in Sacramento.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2009 at 5:57PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Out in the Valley the Chinese pistache is what you notice. In southern coastal California sweetgums are prominent in some districts. The capitol campus in Sacramento is planted as an arboretum with labeled trees, some large, old and spectacular. Might be a good place to walk around this fall and look for some potential candidates (you should wait until fall, buy when stock at nurseries can be purchased demonstrating good color - and weather conditions are more suitable for planting than now, which is a poor time). There is also a labeled arboretum at the University of California, Davis and so on.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2009 at 11:28PM
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I've also read that sweetgums produce stellar fall color in socal. They're wonderful trees. Very tough/tolerant. Difficult to transplant though and people complain about the eventual seed balls that fall down.

Wouldn't plant a Chinese Pistache being that they are listed as invasive pests plants throughout the southwest.

Afraid I don't know enough about what grows there to suggest any trees for ya though.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2009 at 12:02AM
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dan_staley(5b/SS 2b AHS 6-7)

In CA pistache is not invasive. Sweetgums are an issue there with their branch breakage from seed pods and the mess (altho in Sacto I used the seed pods in my flower beds to keep the cats away). If the OP is in Oakland they can go over to Stanford campus and look there as well. The issue with UCD arb is that there is boron in the water and thus not all trees are represented, but along the lake is a nice ginkgo and pistache for the fall palette.

Nonetheless, if it were me I'd do - again - a more water-thrifty tree on either side that captures the evergreen as a background and do ginkgo and pistache or a Freeman maple rather than the northern water-requiring trees...


    Bookmark   August 18, 2009 at 5:27PM
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It kind of depends whether "Central California" to the OP means San Luis Obispo or Fresno. If they live near the coast, very few trees will give fall color because it never gets cold enough.

Pistache, liquidambar and gingko will all color beautifully even in warm-winter areas and need very little water. None are invasive in California, although please don't plant ailanthus (tree of heaven), which is a huge pest in inland areas of the state.

If they live in Fresno, I suggest they repost in the California gardening forum, where there are lots of nearby gardeners who can provide excellent suggestions!

    Bookmark   August 18, 2009 at 6:16PM
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