by: Courtesy of cynthia orlando Vine maple makes a good fall color choice for small spaces.

Ever paused to admire the brilliant hues of a vine maple in the fall, or stopped to appreciate the variety of trees found along Portland streets and parks? Aside from their natural year-round beauty, trees provide important benefits to urban communities including clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, and psychological well-being. Studies show people are more likely to get out and go walking in communities with tree-lined avenues, and trees also help raise property values in the neighborhood.

Tree planting in the fall

With fall in the air, you may be thinking about adding some fall color to your property. If that's the case, you're in luck - the fall months, after leaf drop, are actually a great time to plant trees.

While deciding where to plant your new tree, take a look around your property and visualize how the tree can best fit into the surrounding landscape. Know what its mature size will be, so that the tree you buy will be a good fit for your site - especially if there are overhead wires on your property. Also, know the solar orientation of the site you select, and find out from your local nursery how much sun your tree will need.

Fall color choices - a tickler list

For fall color in small places, consider paperbark maple (Acer griseum) with its showy, shiny scarlet leaves. Another good choice, with its attractive red bark and brilliant red, orange, and yellow leaves, is our native vine maple (A. circinatum). Plant this shrubby selection - about 6 feet tall and wide - in morning sun with afternoon shade. Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) will provide you with spring flowers, summer fruit, and fall colors of deep orange and red. Plant this large shrub / small tree in full sun.

For small-to-medium areas, take a look at Persian Parrotia (Parrotia persica), which can grow tall - but slowly - and has purple, yellow, orange, sometimes even red leaves on the same tree at the same time. Amur maple (A. ginala) is another good choice. A small spreading tree that's extremely hardy, it has colorful orange-red fall foliage and bears small, fragrant clusters of yellow flowers in the spring. The Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) or Red Rage, with its shiny red leaves, is another excellent fall foliage choice. It grows up to 35' in height.

In larger spaces and yards, Scarlet oak makes a great addition to the landscape. The common English name comes from the autumn coloration of its foliage, which generally turns bright scarlet. Its acorns will attract wildlife, and it provides great shade during the summer. This tree thrives in full sun, eventually reaching 60-80 feet in height, with a spread of 40-50 feet and a trunk diameter of one to three feet.

Red maple (A. rubrum) grows fast and is deep rooted, with red flowers in early spring, and orange to scarlet-red foliage in the fall; it can reach 50' in height. Sugar maple (A. saccharum) is a slow-growing, long-lived tree. It can grow to 60' tall with a spread of 40', and leaves turn spectacular yellow-orange and red in the fall. Both of these beautiful trees can lift sidewalks or driveways, however, so pick a planting site where conflicts won't be a problem.

Tree planting pointers

One of the most common tree planting errors is digging a hole that's too small. Another common mistake is planting a tree's roots too deeply.

Avoid these mistakes by digging your planting hole at least 2 feet wider than the size of the tree's root ball. Make sure to cover the roots with soil, taking care not to plant your new tree too deeply; then, water it to help soil settle.

After planting, place a 'donut' of mulch, 3 - 5 inches deep, under the dripline of the tree to retain moisture and discourage weeds. Also, keep the mulch 2-3' away from the tree's trunk. Lastly, avoid planting flowers around the base of your tree, as they will compete with your tree for water and nutrients.

Plan to water your new tree regularly and deeply during its first three years. You can use a soaker hose for this, as well as a bucket or plastic milk jug with a small hole in the bottom. Remember to wait until leaf drop to plant your new acquisition, and choose a spot with enough room for the mature tree - both crown and roots - to grow optimally.

The effort we take to provide regular care and maintenance to the trees we plant or adopt in our neighborhoods will pay us back many times over with environmental and economic benefits for years to come…and, in many cases, beautiful fall color that will delight us year-after-year.

Learn more:

Read more about tree choices and tree care online, at

Your local nursery can also assist you in selecting a tree that's best suited to your site.

Cynthia Orlando has a degree in forest management and is a certified arborist with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

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