The multicolored pageantry of October is a spectacle to behold. The foliage of trees and shrubs becomes a kaleidoscope of yellows, oranges, reds and purples. Clinging to trees above us, floating in the air around us or rustling on the ground at our feet, the bright leaves of fall make this time of year especially picturesque.
These colors, present in the leaves throughout the year, finally are unmasked with the loss of chlorophyll in the autumn. Only then, when the green has faded, are we able to enjoy their beauty.
Few trees can hold a candle to maple trees for spectacular fall foliage. The stately specimens are a tradition in this neck of the woods. People flock to Baldwin to witness their glorious display. The red maples and sugar maples glow in red, orange and yellow.
Lest we operate under the mistaken notion that maple trees are the only ones with a showy glow, let's not forget the clear yellow leaves of ginkgo trees (which have a peculiar habit of dropping all their leaves in one fell swoop) or the golden yellow fall foliage of witch hazel.
Dogwood trees, thought by some to be marginal in these parts, put on an awesome scarlet red display. The staghorn sumac treats us to orange-red leaves and the star-shaped leaves of the sweet gum tree turn scarlet, as do those of the pin oak and the Japanese maple.
Trees aren't the only plants sporting colorful fall palettes. Many deciduous shrubs flaunt brightly colored foliage as well. And for those whose garden or budget prohibits the addition of trees, shrubs with notable fall color are the perfect answer.
One shrub leaves no doubt about its brilliant fall color. Euonymus alatus shouts its autumn fate with its common name burning bush. The small leaves of this dense shrub turn brilliant red in October. The shrub may be large, sometimes growing to 15 feet or 20 feet in height and almost 10 feet in width. Dwarf varieties grow only to about half the size.
Burning bush thrives and colors more brightly when planted in full sun and in moist, well-drained soil. Burning bushes are best left unpruned, allowing their natural form to unfold.
Gardeners tout the virtues of viburnums. Many bear fragrant flowers in the spring, berries in the summer and red foliage in the fall. Many viburnum shrubs are hardy through the winter. And birds cherish their berries. With more than 150 species to choose from, these shrubs make a wonderful addition to the garden.
Viburnum burkwoodii varieties offer an array of choices for fall color: Chenaultii sports bronze leaves, Mohawk offers leaves that are red-orange and some of the leaves of Park Farm Hybrid turn orange, some red.
If you want a viburnum in your garden, though, make room for it. They can grow quite tall and wide. For gardeners with less space, consider the compact Korean spice (Viburnum carlesi). This treasure grows only to 2 feet. Its foliage turns brilliant red and its small, black berries are sought after by birds.
Deep yellow colors the leaves of the sweet shrub (Calycanthus floridus) in fall. This deciduous shrub loves fertile soil and grows well in sun or partial shade. Its aromatic bark and deep crimson flowers smell like strawberries.
One shrub worth mentioning even though its fall foliage is not showy is Pyracantha, or firethorn. Bright orange-red or gold berries may completely cover the bush in autumn. Birds enjoy eating the berries off the thorny stems. Firethorn does best in sun or partial shade. Berry production suffers when it receives too much shade.
Sadly, we can't force summer to stay with us. But we can ease its departure by planting trees and shrubs that reward us with a colorful departure to the gardening season.
Let's enjoy the red, yellow, orange and crimson leaves. There will be ample time later for raking.
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and garden writer for the Journal-World.