“I want my yard to be on fire in the fall,” my daughter told me recently after returning to Spokane from eight years in Texas.
She missed the fall colors which were muted in the Austin area. Now that they are house hunting, these kinds of questions are coming up.
Many newly constructed yards are much smaller than in the past, so scale is an important factor. Most small yards can’t fit in a wide and tall maple, oak or birch. They all can grow to 30 feet or more and have a spread of 20 feet. So, what will work in a small yard?
Because I like to see natives used as often as possible, my first picks are our local Saskatoon serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) or its cousin, Autumn Brilliance serviceberry (Amelanchier × grandiflora). The Saskatoon serviceberry has muted red, orange to yellow fall foliage while Autumn Brilliance has brighter yellow foliage. Both are multistemmed, moderate growers to about 20 feet tall and wide. Both are brighter in full sun but can handle part shade. In the spring both have white blooms followed by edible berries. The Saskatoon serviceberry is more drought tolerant than the Autumn Brilliance.
If you like yellow, then a columnar Fairmount ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba, Fairmount) is a good choice. It grows quickly to about 20 feet but only gets 10 feet wide making it good for tight spaces. Ginkgo trees date back 200 million years and are found in fossil records. Their unique tri-lobed leaves will turn color and drop all at once. It needs more sun than shade and moist soil. As a note, reputable nurseries will always sell male ginkgoes; female trees produce a very smelly fruit you don’t want to deal with.
Viburnums can grow as either a tall shrub or a small tree that gets to 15 feet tall and wide. In the fall, they turn shades of muted red which is a good foil for brighter trees. A particularly good cultivar is the native cranberry bush so named for its edible red fruit. In the spring, the plant hosts tight clusters of white flowers. Best in full sun but will take some light shade and moist soil.
Fothergilla is an underused native shrub that shines in the fall with a mix of orange and red-yellow leaves. It prefers sun but will take light shade and moist soil. It grows moderately to about 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide. In the spring, its white flowers produce a delightful honey scent. So plant it where you can enjoy the fragrance.
And witch hazel, Hamamelis, is a great choice for a smaller, shadier spot with moist soil. In the fall, its leaves turn a golden yellow which can brighten a darker corner. In the very early spring, it produces small wispy yellow flowers. It is either a large shrub or a small tree topping out at about 12 feet. The cultivar Henry Lauder’s Walking Stick has twisted, gnarly branches for added interest.
Correspondent Pat Munts can be reached at email@example.com.
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