The beautiful death of leaves

I love autumn – it’s such a relief after summer’s heat and humidity, and with the added beauty of leaf colour. After living in Canberra, I developed a craving for autumn colour that I was relieved to see I could still satisfy when I moved to the sub-tropics.

This year, the crepe myrtles weren’t particularly spectacular, but still gave us a start with a pleasant yellow glow. The persimmon was next, turning glorious orange-red, while a liquidambar has turned into a pillar of gold. I’m still waiting for the full effect from the Japanese maple, but I know it will be good once it gets going.

Of course, many people have much less space for trees than we do. If you are gardening on a small block with room for only one tree, I recommend the persimmon – it won’t get too big, you will get fruit from it, and the autumn colour is glorious. Always plant this or other deciduous trees to the north of outdoor living spaces to get the best results – shade in summer and sun in winter.

May is a great time to visit nurseries when seeking deciduous trees. The leaf colour when young is the same as it will be when the tree is grown, so you can chose with confidence. Seedling trees can vary widely, so if you want a particular colour of autumn foliage, either chose now or buy a named, grafted specimen. Be prepared for some sticker shock – they aren’t cheap!

Don’t forget that there are plenty of deciduous perennials, too. Our persimmon has a patch of gold beneath where the Cape York lilies are dying back beautifully. Wait until the foliage of deciduous perennials has completely dried off before you prune so that you can be sure the plant has reabsorbed all the nutrients.

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