The trees are telling us that autumn is upon us! I wanted to share a few of my favorite ornamental trees that put on a great, early fall show. They are not edible, but could still have a place on the modern homestead along streets and driveways, where you don’t want fruit falling. The native trees will offer some value to wildlife and others are nitrogen-fixers.

American Yellowwood, Cladrastis lutea, is one of the earliest trees to turn in the fall, starting as mid-September as a green-yellow (pictured above) and eventually reaching a strong golden color. The bark is a graceful light gray (lovely in winter), is a slow-growing tree (good for the garden), and produces small, fragrant flowers in the spring. American Yellowwood is native to the Appalachian area and a nitrogen-fixer, earning it’s keep on the homestead by fixing the soil for plants growing underneath it. Use it to fill in those shady to part-shade spots in your garden and under plant it with nitrogen-lovers.

Next up is a plant native to Japan that does well here in many parts of the US: Katsura tree, or Cercidiphyllum japonicum. This tree offers simply great fall color with leaves that look like little gold coins. It begins to turn early in the season and the dried leaves smell like cotton candy. Katsura is not a great contender for a street tree because it wants some good soil and moisture, but can be a great addition if you have a corner to fill with a beautiful ornamental. Imagine tending your autumn garden with the sweet smell of Katsura’s dried leaves filling the air. Ahhhhhh….

Ashes are early fall-coloring trees that are versatile and hard-working. They are often hardy enough to use as street trees, have great fall color and produce a delicate look with their thin leaf texture. I particularly love them planted in front of a huge tree with big leaves, to show off their fine texture even more.

The variety pictured above and below is an American White Ash (Fraxinus american), but Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) and Flame Ash (Fraxnius are also great choices. American White Ash will give you gold color with hints of red and purple. Green Ash will give you mostly strong yellow color. And Flame Ash puts on a wild show with orange, red and purple colors. Cultivars of all these ashes will give you wider ranges, stronger and earlier colors.

These are all my favorite early fall-coloring trees, but I have a soft spot especially for the Pacific Dogwood, a native to the NW. You get lovely white or pink flowers in the spring around May and a rainbow of colors in the fall. Pacific Dogwoods have turned red, orange and purple all over town already. This particular Dogwood does not produce fruit (see instead Korean Dogwood, or Cornus kousa), but it is a native with spectacular fall and spring interest. Hard to find a great tree that puts on a show both seasons.

This is my favorite season of the year and you will find me walking down the streets with a scarf around my neck, head pointed up in the air toward the fall trees. Hope this helps you pick some new additions that will put on a show for you next year.

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Written by Renee Wilkinson