Gladys The Famous, aka Gladys the Curmudgeon, said November is the month for elections, because it is the best month to pick a turkey. Then along comes another pessimist, I don’t know who, that said, “Well, it is November, and today someone will die. . . . .”
Allow me to paraphrase, “It is November, and it is a good month to plant a tree, which might die.”
Be all that as it may, the latter one of the comments on November makes the most sense, even if some of the trees you plant do die. Some of them, perhaps, will live.
We’re leveling off now in our autumn color in our woodlands and home grounds. This occurrence, which, incidentally is the most outstanding in our beloved United States of America than anywhere else on Earth, results in the same reaction every year. People who observe the fireworks in our trees in autumn, rush out to the nearest nursery or garden center, nostrils flared with excitement, and gobble up one, or several, young trees to plant so they will get the same effect on their grounds. After being trapped more than once into the same regimen, I urge caution.
Arresting autumn color is only one feature of any woody tree or shrub. A valuable feature, indeed, but caution is urged because some trees with the gaudiest color offer up a litany of faults as well. Better to be cautious before planting than after, sometimes a long time after; witness the snotty sycamore I just got rid of after 30-something miserable years.
Maples are some of the more noted trees for fall color, morphing from green to yellow, orange, red and degrees in between. Note the thousands of people who travel to New England for their fall displays, of which most are sugar maples.
Now, maples are not bad trees, per se, but their roots will spread inordinately far and wide after many years, causing such irritations as buckled pavement and difficulty in mowing under them. The farther from driveways and paved walks you plant them, the better.
The maples that are most plentiful in our area are red maples. These make medium to large trees in time, and color red to orange in fall, both in the wild and tamed. They are of easy culture too.
Callery pears color well, with the variety ‘Bradford’ best known. I, and other writers of far more note, have condemned them for years, noting their tendency to split at narrow branch intersections. It’s all too true and I do not in any way, shape or fashion recommend them, their excellent fall color notwithstanding.
On the other hand, there are trees with excellent fall color with little or few mitigating ills.
Take the gingko tree, for instance. The color in fall is butter yellow for several days, and then the leaves all fall off almost overnight, which simplifies leaf cleanup. There are several gigantic specimens in the city. Just be sure, and this is important, that when you shop for a gingko you get a male tree. Female trees bear persimmon-like fruits with a horrible odor when squashed, as per being stepped on. The best description of the smell I can conjure up is a cross between baby vomit and dog poop. You don’t want that. The bad thing, too, is that the trees don’t bear fruit until they are several years old, and thus the stink is thwarted until it is too late. Gingkos grow to enormous proportions, up to 100 feet.
The list could go on (and perhaps it will next week) but just one more for today. Parrotia persica is a species, as the italics indicate, not a hybrid, and it is from Persia, now Iran, as the specific epithet would indicate. This is a dandy medium size tree, to 30 feet after almost that many years. It is said to bear small red flowers in spring, and it does, but the word “small” is the key. They are almost invisible at any distance.
However, the fall color is outstanding, a brilliant orange that turns after most things have shed, making it stand out in the brown and gray early winter landscape.
The bark exfoliates into beautiful patterns the year round, which more than makes up for the tiny flowers. A tree to cherish for a lifetime. Ours is some 30 feet or more tall now, and I have not found any problem with the tree.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.