11 trees to plant to paint the shades of autumn

Gingko trees display fall colors on the OSU campus. (Photo by Paul Ries)
Colorful gingko trees line a street on the OSU campus in Corvallis. (Photo by Paul Ries)
Last Updated: 
November 15, 2013

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The smells of apple and cinnamon are still hanging in the crisp autumn air, but the kaleidoscope of fall foliage has started to fade.

Don't let this fall's vivid colors remain a memory. Bring home your own spectacular display by planting a tree this winter.

It's an ideal time of year to plant trees in western Oregon from November to March, according to Paul Ries, urban and community forestry specialist with the Oregon State University Extension Service. That's because trees become dormant in the winter, a state similar to hibernation in which they don't photosynthesize, or make new food.

"The winter time gives trees a good start because they can get watered in with the rain," Ries said. "You don't want to plant in July and August when it's hot out and you have to use supplemental water."

In eastern Oregon, the window for planting is tighter because the ground freezes more frequently. The best tree planting times on the east side are later in the winter and early spring, usually from March into May. In the eastern part of the state, paying attention to seasonal precipitation levels and colder temperature zones are more important.

Wonder why leaves even need to change hues? It's not just to show off. The spectacle of fall color happens as the tree slows down its production of chlorophyll, a green pigment that provides energy for photosynthesis, Ries said. The natural pigments of the tree's leaves shine through as it eases into the dark days of winter. 

When deciding which species to plant, it's important to keep a long-term plan in mind for your whole landscape. Ries advised an urban forestry concept that he calls "matching the right tree to the right place."

"You want a species that won't conflict with your existing landscape," Ries said. "You don't want a tree close to your house and driveway that blocks visibility. Some trees have different shade requirements and some need full sun. Think about a tree's shade tolerance. Take time to assess your available planting space and find a tree to match it."

And don't forget to call your local utility company before you dig.  

As a side note, Ries recommends omitting the ash trees, despite their beautiful fall colors. They are particularly susceptible to the emerald ash borer, a devastating pest that is making its way westward from the East Coast and was recently found in Colorado.

Here are Ries's picks for trees that show off the shades of autumn:  

  • Red — Sweet gum, black gum, dogwood 
  • Orange —Vine maple, Flowering cherry, Sassafras
  • Yellow —  Aspen, Gingko, Bigleaf maple  
  • Multicolor —  Flowering pear, sugar maple

For more information, see the OSU Extension guides Selecting, Planting, and Caring for a New Tree; Designing and Installing a New Landscape; and Fertilizing Shade and Ornamental Trees

Author: Denise Ruttan
Source: Paul Ries