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Mr. Smarty Plants - A tree for fall color in VA

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Monday - September 05, 2011

From: Charlottesville, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Trees
Title: A tree for fall color in VA
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

I need a small to medium-sized tree for enclosure/privacy screening. I'm looking for a fast-growing, deciduous tap-rooted tree for a lawn area about 30-40' away from an existing mature Linden, and about 10' away from the end of an existing perennial border on the other side. I know Hickory, Oak and Tulip Poplars are possibilities, but I'm hoping to find one with exceptional fall color. Sweetgum is magnificent, but too messy for this space (and I'm not sure whether it has a taproot). Any other ideas?

ANSWER:

I know that you are thinking that a fast growing tap-rooted tree is just the thing to fill an empty space (or hide something you don't want to see) in your garden without impacting and competing with the existing tree and perennial garden.  However, fast growing deciduous trees are usually pioneer species which means that they are generally weak wooded and short lived in order to make way for more durable species.  Also, all trees that are known to be tap rooted when young (which makes them more difficult to transplant than more fibrous rooted species) still have feeder roots that extend well beyond their drip lines when mature.

For those reasons, I would recommend you consider a smaller (12-36 ft) ornamental tree with good fall color.  You are right that Liquidambar styraciflua (Sweetgum) can have amazing fall color, but it will get much too large and there are only so many "prickle balls" a crafty person can glue into a pine cone wreath.

Here are some trees in that size range (native to your area) for you to consider.

Amelanchier laevis (Allegheny service-berry) (here are some fall color images)

Asimina triloba (Pawpaw)

Cornus florida (Flowering dogwood)

Crataegus marshallii (Parsley hawthorn)

Cyrilla racemiflora (Swamp titi)

Nyssa sylvatica (Blackgum)

Oxydendrum arboreum (Sourwood)

Sassafras albidum (Sassafras)

Sorbus americana (American mountain ash) (more images)

These have been selected based on potential fall color and size only.  You will have to determine if your conditions will meet their cultural needs.  Because there is much color variation within a species, you will want to wait until the trees in the nurseries have started their autumn display to select the "best" one. Even then, your tree may color differently once it is planted in your garden.

 

From the Image Gallery


Allegheny serviceberry
Amelanchier laevis

Pawpaw
Asimina triloba

Flowering dogwood
Cornus florida

Parsley hawthorn
Crataegus marshallii

Swamp titi
Cyrilla racemiflora

Blackgum
Nyssa sylvatica

Sourwood
Oxydendrum arboreum

Sassafras
Sassafras albidum

American mountain ash
Sorbus americana

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