JoAnne Skelly: Gratitude for red trees

The long warm fall gave us a particular treat this year. The lovely weather let the red color in leaves completely develop, providing us with an amazing vibrant display. Too often cold weather hits in a flash, killing off leaves before their autumn pigments are revealed. I want to thank everyone who has planted a red tree for giving us such a lovely fall spectacle. I love the drive into Carson City from Washoe Valley where I can look out over town and see the trees painting the valley with vivid hues.

This is still a good time to plant trees, with the temperatures low and the ground moist. If you are adding to or beginning a landscape, perhaps you too could plant a tree with red fall color that will add beauty to your yard and the community. There are many options available.

Red maple (Acer rubrum or Acer x freemanii) might be a first choice for brilliant scarlet fall color, although it is not drought-tolerant and may have challenges in our alkaline soils. Once established, a red maple will survive on deep watering every seven to 10 days, in addition to essential winter watering. Colorful varieties include Autumn Blaze (orange-red fall color), Autumn Fantasy (beautiful red fall color) or Redpointe (bright red in fall). These grow from 30 to 50 feet in height. A more drought-tolerant maple that reaches 25 feet and looks similar to a Japanese maple is the amur maple (Acer ginnala or Acer tartaricum ginnala). This hardy tree is one of my favorites and the red varieties include Flame, Red November or Red Rhapsody.

The Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) may not be a widely planted tree, but it deserves more attention since it has an outstanding fall color display. It turns luminous orange to red. It grows slowly to 30 plus feet and tolerates various water regimes, although it may suffer verticillium wilt disease under lawn watering conditions. It survives temperatures down to negative 5 degrees.

The mighty oak (Quercus) is drought, wind, heat and cold tolerant. The white oak (Quercus alba) can reach 75 feet tall and turns deep red-purple in fall. The blue oak (Quercus douglasii) grows to 50 feet with leaves that turn pink, orange and yellow. The red oak (Quercus rubra), also reaches 75 feet and is known for its red fall leaves.

Ask a nurseryman for tree varieties with strong red fall color. They are up-to-date on the latest in the green industry.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment