Native trees for fall color

Native trees for fall color

By Misty Gil, Posted in
October 24, 2022


Native trees to consider for fall color

We think of the North Carolina Mountains when we think of fall color. But the eastern part of the state has fall beauty to share as well. Anywhere from early October to the end of the month, you can drive and see changes in leaf color. Reds, yellows, and oranges dot the roadsides in the Triangle. But what are the trees that are giving that color? There are plenty of trees that have been introduced that will give color like Chinese Pistache and Gingko. And some explicitly introduced because of fall their fall color. But we are focusing in on the trees that made North Carolina home before we began importing and moving.

Native trees that give color include:

Red Maple
Sugar Maple
American Hornbeam
Flowering Dogwood
Green Ash
Red Bud
Bald Cypress
Black Gum
Red Oak
Shumard Oak
This is a good list of trees that may fit well in your home landscape and not give too much trouble. You never want to plant trees near septic systems or near your underground utilities. The roots systems, mature heights of the trees and growth habits play a role in your selection. You don’t want to plant an oak or large maple close to your home because the roots can move foundations as an example. Redbuds and dogwoods are smaller trees and do well closer to a dwelling. You also don’t want to plant trees that get 25-30’ at maturity under power lines. Consider each variable and plant the trees that make sense long term.

Timing on the leaves changing is greatly dependent on the weather. Sunny, warm days and cool nights are optimal ahead of a good leaf change. The color comes from sugar production in the tree and the slowing down of chlorophyll production. As chlorophyll declines, carotenoid (orange) and xanthophyll (yellow) pigments emerge from within the leaves. Meanwhile, the increasing concentration of sugar produces a third pigment, anthocyanin, which creates hues of red and purple. 

You can enjoy fall color in your landscape with a multitude of options and mix and match, much like painting a canvas. Fall color planning is not much different that planning a vegetable or herb garden.