Autumn’s Arrival

Posted: September 23rd, 2016 | Featured, Homes & Garden, Lifestyle | No Comments

10 Plants with beautiful fall color for San Diego

By Gary Jones

Can’t tell by the look of your garden when fall arrives? You must be missing those important trees and shrubs that provide gorgeous fall color in San Diego. As Southern Californians, we need to look beyond the classic maples and deciduous oaks that other climates revel in each autumn, since most don’t grow well here.

However, we do have our own fall beauties to enjoy. Here are 10 tried-and-true plants that will provide years of colorful autumn leaves.

autumnal liquidambar or sweet gum tree leaves

Sweet Gum (Liquidambar) – Many people confuse this for a maple since the leaf shape is so similar. But liquidambars are more vertical in shape and they also have a distinct and rather large, spiny seed pod that falls almost year-round. For that reason, it is best not to plant them near sidewalks, patios or courtyards. In very late fall, the colors are stunning—from red tones to orange and peach. The foliage of Palo Alto turns bright red to orange-red. Burgundy provides deep, reddish-purple leaves. Festival will give you a range of autumnal hues including peach, rose, orange, yellow and red.

Oakleaf Hydrangea in the Fall

Oakleaf Hydrangea in the Fall

Oakleaf Hydrangea – The flowers as well as the leaves provide beautiful color each fall. Huge, conical flower clusters of white take on bronze and pinkish-red tones as the flowers mature. As the summer season wanes, the large, deeply cut leaves turn bronze and red and even stay on the plant for a very long time.

Ginkgo tree

Ginkgo tree

Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo) – A mature ginkgo tree in full fall color is a sight to behold. The color is pure, clear yellow. It seems as if every leaf has been formed from the same sheet of bright construction paper. This angular, architectural tree is a beauty all year—with or without leaves. Be sure to plant male trees only for tidiness.

Chinese Pistache – Pistaches provide a wonderful, umbrella-shaped canopy of feathery shade all summer. Come fall, leaves turn red, orange or yellow, depending on the climate. Chinese pistaches are very adaptable to soil types and a wide range of water conditions, including very little.

Autumn Boston Ivy Background

Boston Ivy (Courtesy of Armstrong Garden Centers)

Boston Ivy, Green Showers – Clothe an unsightly or boring wall with this verdant, shiny-leaved ivy. You will be enveloped in a rich robe of green. This self-clinging vine turns rich red in fall and covers a lot of area fast.

Chinese Pistache

Chinese Pistache (Courtesy of Armstrong Garden Centers)

Lombardy Poplar – These deciduous trees make a strong vertical statement. They are softer and wider than Italian cypresses, but punctuate landscapes in much the same way. Bright green in spring and summer, its leaves turn golden yellow in the fall.

Crape Myrtle – You certainly get a unique color combination with crape myrtles. It includes wonderful white, lavender, pink and red flowers from summer into fall and brilliant orange and red fall foliage. If you live near the coast, be sure to plant a variety bred to be resistant to mildew. There are ten or more resistant varieties to choose from.

Callery PearBradford is the most common variety of this tidy growing, inviting spring-flowering pear, but newer forms have much better fall seasonal colors. Consider columnar types Whitehouse (purple-red fall color) or Capital with its copper fall leaves. Rounded varieties are Aristocrat, Chanticleer and Trinity, all with autumnal shades ranging through orange, yellow and red.

PomegranatePomegranate – The arching branches of this large shrub sport magnificent red fruit by autumn that will stay on long after the tiny leaves turn orange, red and yellow then drop. Pruning will keep pomegranates smaller. They will tolerate poor soil and considerable drought if needed.

Roger’s Red Grape – This selection of California’s native grape, Vitis californica, turns a delightful red in the fall. Plant it where it can be back lit by the low autumn sun, but not where the fruit drops on a patio or sidewalk. Roger’s Red is fast-growing and splendid in both fruit and flower. The small fruit is edible, but has large seeds and birds absolutely love it.

—Gary Jones is the Chief Horticulturist at Armstrong Garden Centers, which has locations on Friars Road and Morena Boulevard. Email your drought and gardening questions to

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