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Garden wisdom from deer country!

Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

One large tree and one small tree for late color

by Carolyn Singer
November 7, 2009

Nyssa sylvaticaI have been lying on my back looking up through the orange tupelo at the blue sky, thinking about writing this article. My art teacher would approve: bold strokes of complementary colors. Simple, pleasing color.

Unfortunately this artistic combination is fleeting. Soon the sky will cloud over again and the leaves will fall. Which is all the more reason I should be lying on my back on warm fall day, absorbing the beauty.

Nyssa sylvaticaThe only tree in my landscape that gives good strong orange color is this magnificent tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica). The foliage begins changing to gold after the leaves of the red maple have fallen. Soon the color deepens to orange, and finally it takes on a red tone just before the leaves drop.

Tupelo, also known as sour gum, is a tree native to the eastern United States. It does best where soils are deep and the tap root can grow without restriction. With good soil, my specimen has grown to about 30 feet in 15 years. Deer browsed a little when the tree was young, so the lowest branches were selected to be just out of reach.

Nyssa sylvaticaDuring the dormant season, the dark brown bark with its hint of red is an attractive addition to my winter garden. While the deep root allows some drought tolerance, thorough irrigation once a month during the heat of the summer is a good idea.

By mid-November a small tree near my entry, paperbark maple (Acer griseum), will begin its autumn splendor. Color usually lingers into December.

Acer griseumThis tree, too, has been in my landscape almost 15 years. At more than 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide, it is close to its mature height and spread. For year-round interest, this tree is wonderful. In fall, each leaf looks as though painted with watercolors of every imaginable fall hue.

This fall color must be viewed closely, so plant the tree where it will be enjoyed. Because paperbark maple is attractive in every season, I placed it just outside a window. The front walkway wraps around it. I appreciate its beauty each time I pass, from inside the house and outside.

Once the leaves fall, the exquisite, peeling red-brown bark is dominant. Winged seed pods add even more interest for winter, usually hanging on despite winter winds. Deer have not shown any interest in this tree though the lowest branches are well within reach. Acer griseum

Plant the paperbark maple in good soil, full sun or light shade (especially in the hottest foothill exposures). Irrigate at least once a month during the dry season. Remember to mulch the tree, as you would any tree in your landscape.

We live in the perfect climate for fall color. While the red maples dominate the display in October, add to your palette with selections that extend the season. And remember to save every leaf that falls. No burn piles! Each leaf is rich in nutrients, a perfect addition to compost or to use as a mulch. Covering bare soil with leaves will protect it during winter rains. The earth has given to us this richness of plant material. We must use it wisely, and give back to the earth. AND keep our air free of smoke so we can all enjoy fall gardening.

©2009 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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