One perk that comes with fall is the changing of leaves. Driving through virtually any part of Minnesota will give you the chance to see brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red on the trees, shrubs and bushes of our landscape. One question that crosses everyone’s mind during this season is, “Why do leaves change color?” There are three pigments involved in a tree’s color: chlorophyll (attributes to the green and is necessary for photosynthesis), carotenoids (yellow, orange, and brown) and anthocyanin (red, purple and crimson). Most of these pigments are only produced in fall when trees react to excess plant sugars and the bright sun. But as the days get shorter, the chlorophyll process is weakened which allows the other two (carotenoids and anthocyanin) to become more prominent.
Now that you have a basic understanding of the science behind it, let’s talk about which plants you can add to your landscape so that you can cover part, or all, of the fall color spectrum. You might even just want to go out for an afternoon drive to spot these trees and shrubs and enjoy the colors of fall.
Ginkgo leaves turn a vibrant yellow before falling from the branches, which can happen as quickly as 1-15 days later. They are fan-shaped and most commonly 2-4 inches in length. You may find this species in the southern and central regions on Minnesota. The Ginkgo, or Maidenhair Tree, grows between 70-115 feet in height and has branches that are sparsely spaced. As the tree ages, its angular crown broadens and has a 25-35 feet spread.
Katsura leaves often turn a shade of apricot orange during the fall and a perfume is produced by the tree that has been described as “spicy.” This species can be found throughout the southern and central regions of Minnesota. The branches are delicate in structure but covered in an abundance of round leaves. The majority of Katsura trees grow to have a width and height of roughly 60 feet.
Maple leaves often turn to shades varying from yellow to orange to red, since there are so many types of Maples. These trees are very common throughout Minnesota. Depending on which Maple we are referring to, they can range in a height of 50-80 feet. One of the common maple classifications is the Red Maple. It is a preferred Maple because it provides color (red) year-round. Even in the winter, after it has lost its leaves, their stems turn red.
Red Twig Dogwood In addition to having bold, red (you guessed it) twigs; these shrubs have red and purple leaves in the fall. They can be found throughout Minnesota, as can their close relative, the “Yellow Twig Dogwood.” This ornamental shrub grows to about 7-9 feet high and has a round shape. Its branches grow upright and its width can reach 10 feet at a very gradual pace.
Redbud When fall arrives, the majority of Redbud trees have yellow leaves which replace light purple flowers. They can be found in the southern and central regions of Minnesota. A fairly common ornamental tree, redbuds grow 20-30 feet high and 25-35 feet wide. The crown is rounded and has widely spread branches.
Smoketree Commonly found in southern Minnesota, these leaves change from blue-green to yellow or red-orange in the fall. When the leaves are crushed, they give off a fragrance resembling a freshly peeled orange. The tree grows to roughly 10-15 feet and can be pruned to be a tree or can live its life as a shrub. Either way, it grows in a rounded shape and draws attention with its hazy, pink appearance in the spring.
Witch Hazel leaves turn yellow and are accompanied by yellow, fragrant flowers that are present between October and December. These trees can be found throughout Minnesota. Witch Hazel typically grows 15-30 feet high and is often described as a large shrub or small tree. They have an unbalanced shape and have a spread of anywhere from 15-25 feet.
Since winter is just around the corner (even if it feels like it’s already here), it’s comforting to know that we have such beautiful scenery to take us into the cold Minnesota temps. It may even inspire you to add one of the mentioned trees or shrubs to your landscape. If you want your lawn to attract attention beyond the autumn months, find out which ornamental trees commonly thrive in Minnesota climates and soils.