Fall Color in Temperate Climates
Q: I'm from the East Coast. I really love living on the California coast, but this time of year I have a hard
time with the lack of obvious season change. I miss the colors! Are there any plants that I can plant in this climate that will give me the changing colors that I’m longing for? - Julie S.
A: I’ve seen the East coast in the fall, and it can be quite stunning, so I understand why you're missing it. We don’t have the right climate for most of that intense color change, but there are things you can plant to get a little bit of the East coast feel, here on the West coast. (Being at least one mile inland will definitely help.)
Any tree, shrub, or vine that is deciduous will probably at least get yellow-tinged leaves before it loses them and that, plus the bare branches, will give you a feeling of seasonal change. Some plants that fit this criteria are Apple trees, Ornamental Plum trees, Birch or Poplar trees, Grape vines and Wisteria vines.
There are also some trees that will give you a bit more color than just yellow before they drop their leaves, such as Maples, Cercis (Redbud) and Liquidambar. Ginkgo biloba turns a gorgeous yellow in the fall and Pistacia chinensis is a tree that gives great red and orange fall color, even in mild climates.
Deciduous shrubs such as Berberis and Cotinus have beautiful red foliage all year, which turns more even more vibrant before it drops.
Lastly, there are non-deciduous shrubs that have colorful foliage or berries in the fall to add to your plant palette. Some of these are Cotoneaster, Nandina (Heavenly Bamboo), Photinia and Viburnum.
Planting now, even if the leaves have already dropped, is fine- you'll be all set for next fall. This should give you a good start in creating a seasonal garden. Good Luck!