Best Autumn Colour

Autumn is perhaps the best time of the year. That’s when clear, gentle days are filled with the russets, golds, scarlets, crimsons and the purples of all those wonderful autumn leaves. The cooler areas of Australia are the best for autumn colour – Perth, Melbourne, Sydney, the Adelaide hills, the mountains and Tasmania. In Bright where we filmed our segment the scarlet oaks (Quercus coccinea) and pin oaks (Quercus palustris) were decked in crimson foliage, but in most areas of Australia they don’t colour well. Don looked at some of the best plants to grow for a spectacular autumn display. Your local nursery will have a range of these plants in stock, and they can give you advice on the most suitable ones for your climate and situation.

Ash (Fraxinus sp.)

The claret ash (Fraxinus ‘Raywood’) grows to about 20 metres (60′). It has glossy green foliage which turns claret to deep purple in autumn. The foliage of the golden ash (Fraxinus excelsior ‘Aurea’) turns a clear yellow in autumn. It grows to around the 15 metre (45′) mark, and has yellow branchlets with conspicuous black buds.

Chinese Tallow Wood (Sapium sebiferum)

This is one of the best trees for autumn colour in warmer areas. It grows about 8-10m (25-30′) tall, and has crimson autumn foliage with some yellow, orange and ruby-red leaves.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

The ginkgo is a large tree, growing to 25m (70′) or more. It has leaves closely resembling the maidenhair fern, which turn a beautiful buttercup yellow before they fall.

Japanese maples (Acer palmatum)

Few trees can rival maples when it comes to a magnificent foliage display in autumn. In Australian gardens Japanese maples are particularly fashionable. They grow well from Sydney to Perth and areas south, in the Mountain zones, and Tasmania. There are hundreds of cultivars available, and there is a huge range of leaf shapes and colours, and varying growth forms.

Liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua)

These large, fast growing deciduous trees can reach 25 metres (75′) high. The autumn foliage is spectacular, with colours ranging from yellow, orange and scarlet to purple. There are new varieties available, including ‘Gumball’, ‘Gold Dust’, ‘Parasol’ and ‘Rotundiloba’.

Smoke Bush (Cotinus coggygria)

A deciduous shrub or small tree to 4m (12′) tall. As well as glorious orange and bronze autumn colour, in early summer the plant has finely branched pinkish-purple inflorescences which look just like clouds of smoke scattered over the foliage. New varieties with permanent purple foliage include ‘Royal Purple’ and ‘Velvet Cloak’. Cotinus grows best in the middle to cooler zones of Australia – Sydney, Perth and areas south.

Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)

This sap of this tree is used to make maple syrup, and the leaf of the sugar maple adorns the Canadian flag. It grows in the cooler areas of Australia and will reach about 15m (45′) tall. Don looked at a tree with burnished gold autumn foliage. However, colour varies from tree to tree, with yellow, orange, scarlet and crimson all common. This particular tree was growing next to a blue spruce (Picea pungens), and the blue and gold foliage side by side created an interesting effect.

Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

Tupelos grow to around 10 metres tall (30′). They look wonderful in autumn because the tracery of dark stems and branches contrasts beautifully with the yellow, orange, red and crimson foliage.

Tree tips

Never burn or waste leaves from deciduous trees – don’t let them leave your property! Instead, put them in the compost bin or in bags and store them until they’ve rotted down. They can then be used on the garden as mulch or incorporated into the soil.

To protect tree trunks from lawnmower and whipper snipper damage, remove the base from a plastic pot and make a cut through the side. Slip the pot round the trunk to act as a temporary protective collar. The pot should not be left on the trunk because it could eventually kill the tree. To identify elm trees, just look at the leaves. The leaf bases on all species of elm are unequal (see diagram).

Further information

‘A Guide to the Beautiful Trees of Bright’, a pamphlet produced by the Rotary Club of Bright is available for $1 from Bright newsagents. It identifies and marks the position of all major trees in Bright and surrounding areas.