Yes, we can have trees with color in our yards. Folks might not make an annual pilgrimage here to see our leaves change color as they do where climates are colder, but if you make the right choices with trees, you can watch your own leaves become orange, purple, red and yellow.
Tree leaves change color when days become shorter and nights become longer. Trees prepare for winter and chlorophyll production slows or stops. The chlorophyll that is there begins to break down. As the green starts to disappear from the existing leaves, xanthophyll and carotene start showing in the leaf colors as yellow and orange. Leaves continue to make sugar during warmer days and then cool nights trap the sugar in the leaves, triggering the red leaf color.
Some trees are known in our area for giving more vivid leaf colors in the fall and winter than others. The Possumhaw Holly is a small deciduous tree with slow growth and moderate water needs. It is a Texas native with attractive seeds or fruit that birds and other wildlife love to make a snack of. Its orange and red berries and gray branches give it fall and winter interest. The Mexican Plum is a small, drought-tolerant Texas native with reliable fall color and showy, fragrant flowers. It gives good fall color of yellow to red to purple. The Chinese Pistache is a medium-size deciduous tree with rapid growth and moderate water needs. It gives excellent fall color and bright red fruit that darkens to blue. The Gallery or Bradford Pear tree is a small size option with moderate growth. It has excellent fall colors of red, orange and purple. Willow Oak, Texas Red Oak, Swamp Chesnut Oak, Shumard Oak, Chinquapin Oak, Bur Oak and Cherrybark Oak will all be counted on to give you shades of red or dark orange in your yard.
The star in the leaf color game is the Japanese Maple, or Acer palmatum. This small deciduous slow grower needs mostly shade to be happy in our sunny climate. Its most brilliant fall colors of copper, yellow, orange or red make its slightly sensitive nature worth a little extra trouble. Red maple is another option with its rapid growth and brilliant fall colors of yellow to red. The Flowering Dogwood is a great choice with its white flowers in spring and red coloring in the fall.
Let’s not forget the Crape Myrtle. It’s a little soldier serving us well with profuse spikes of color in the summer and also reliable fall color. Blackgum or Black Tupelo loves our acid soils and rewards us with bright shiny red and purple foliage in the fall. Look for White Ash, Texas Ash, Japanese Zelkova, Cedar Elm and Bald Cypress for even more colorful options. Long live the South! Let us be known for our colors.