Save yourself a drive to the mountains

By for CAES News

By Marco T. Fonseca
University of Georgia

As temperatures begin to drop in the fall, the life-giving green chlorophyll in the tree leaves fades away, unmasking a rainbow of colors to splash the countryside with yellows, oranges, reds and purples.

When those leaves fall and the canopy rests in the winter, the activity in the dark, colorless world beneath the soil doesn't stop. The roots explore, colonize and mine new soil, recycling organic compounds from the now-fallen leaves to provide nutrients to the trees.

Such is the colorful cycle of life, never ending, always changing. The colorful senescence of fall and drab dormancy of winter always leads to the rebirth of spring flowers.

When I lived in New England, though, I always felt that fall was the best season. My soul was humbled by nature's display of fall color.

But you don't have to travel to New England to enjoy the fall colors. Just a few hours' drive north of Atlanta from mid-September to late October, the trees on the north Georgia hills display radiant colors.

Better yet, since fall is the best time to plant trees, why not establish your own backyard fall color?

Red buds, sweet shrubs and fire bushes can frame any home landscape with fiery reds, along with the majestic scarlet and crimson red oaks and blood-red black gums. Golden hornbeam and beech provide yellows.

Here are a few quality landscape trees Extension Service horticulturists have recommended over the years:

Sourwood is seldom planted in yards but is an excellent tree with brilliant, deep red fall leaves.

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum) is well known for its brilliant yellow, orange and scarlet fall colors.

Chinese pistache provides bright orange and red fall colors. It thrives in the lower coastal plain of Georgia where few other trees have great fall color.

Ginkgo is sometimes called maidenhair tree. No tree can match the luminous yellow color of its fan-shaped leaves.

Japanese maple is one of the most spectacular small trees you can grow in Georgia. It grows slowly but provides good fall color.

Red maple produces bright red to yellow colors. Maples offer the greatest potential for fall colors in Georgia yards.

Scarlet oak is usually the last tree in Georgia to develop its brilliant red fall color.

To learn more about planting colorful shade trees, see the UGA publication, "Fast Growing Shade Trees" ( Or call your UGA Extension Service county office.

Marco Fonseca is a Cooperative Extension horticulturist and the state Master Gardener program coordinator with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences