by Lisa Watters-Lain, Arizona’s Garden Gal, Watters Garden Center

Not all trees are created equal when it comes to autumn colors, but this is their season. Autumn is also the ideal planting window for trees and tall shrubs. Increased garden success is had when plants are showing their colors. The days are cool and the soil is warm, so plants start with a burst of new root growth.

Most properties don’t have many trees. You can count on one hand the number of trees in the average landscape. Trees stand out in any landscape, like anchors that bring together the foundation of a good plan. Also, don’t forget that trees increase the value of your landscape more than spas and grills.

Don’t waste money by cutting corners. Trees are where the landscape value is and this is no place to pinch pennies. Buy the best-looking tree you can find – bigger is better. Nice looking trees at the garden center turn into big, bold specimens as they mature. An ugly tree only stays ugly its entire life. Cut landscape dollars on shrubs, flowers and hedges so your budget can afford a few specimen-sized trees to enhance your outdoor ambiance. Here are the showoffs of fabulous fall foliage.

Red Celebration Maple – A very fast-growing shade tree blazed in reds and oranges through autumn, it produces a tall, narrow tree with ascending branches more resistant to wind and storm damage. Widely used as a street tree, driveway lining or any place tight spaces demand a tree that will not spread past 20 feet. It offers the brightest of reds in fall.

Flame Maple – This little maple is famous for blazing red foliage that ignites a landscape. It’s well-adapted to mountain clay soils, sun, wind and cold winters. Once rooted in your yard, it’s easy on irrigation and perfect for fire-wise landscape needs. Though sometimes mistaken for a Japanese maple, this mountain variety is the far hardier of the two trees. Whether grown as a short multi-trunk tree or a 10-foot shrub, it is on my list of preferred “water-wise” plants.

Ornamental Pistachio – These are for gardens exposed to the wind and subjected to microbursts or other weather anomalies. This autumn show-off thrives not only in harsh environments, but even with neglect. The attractive umbrella shape turns a brilliant crimson; no other tree produces such a vibrant, broad range of of fall reds and oranges. It can serve dozens of uses: as a shade tree, street tree, accent or first yard- specimen. This is the ideal choice for flanking driveways or grouped in pairs to meet overhead at street sides. Grow this colorful low-water need tree against a solid evergreen background to provide intense contrast to any landscape.

Aristocrat Pear – This is the last tree to turn autumn red in December, but also celebrates the other three seasons of the year. Producing gigantic masses of white flowers in spring before the leaves appear, this tree then provides glowing green leaves through summer that are disease and bug- resistant. In winter, the tree has a clean outline. It is upright and pyramidal when young, and becomes broadly oval at maturity. It also resists wind damage. The autumn colors are often thought to be brighter than maple and rival the purple of Raywood ash.

Regal Petticoat Maple – This newly developed tree is striking as a shade tree. Large maple leaves are glossy green with a dark velvet purple underside. In autumn the leaves are equally striking, with aspen gold on top and a bright magenta pink on the bottom and accents of red, orange and salmon throughout the tree. Thriving in our high pH soils, it also matures above 35 feet with age. Petticoat has proven itself even in commercial landscapes, and it is also very hardy against wind damage.

Quaking Aspen – for the past four years the undisputed best-seller here at Watters Garden Center is Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides or trembling leaf poplar. Growing in the wild at the over 6,000-foot elevations, it does well as a cultivated specimen. Aspens have the classic pure white bark like a birch, but unlike a birch, handle our clay soils even better. True to their name, the dainty leaves shiver and quake with the slightest breeze. For a natural look with aspens, plant them in clusters or buy a clump of aspens in the same container. They are social trees and like to hang out together in groupings. They are best planted before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Until next issue, I’ll see you among the fancy fall foliage here at Watters Garden Center.

Lisa Watters-Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or through her website at or