Fall colors in Oregon have long been considered sub-par when compared to New England and the upper midwest. It has a lot to do with our native trees, and which trees prefer to grow here. Conifers like Douglas Firs line our forests–and obviously these don’t turn color in the fall, but I am grateful for the lush green back drop they provide all winter. Maple trees, the source of much of the fantastic reds in the northeast fall color displays, don’t grow abundantly wild here, with the exception of vine maples. Our native deciduous species in the mid-Willamette valley are dominated by huge oaks, and oak leaves usually turn brown or yellow if you’re lucky.
So if you want New England style fall color, you have to plant for it. If you have a large yard such as mine, I recommend the addition of several maple trees–to get that blazing red we all love in the fall. If your yard is small, I recommend at least one maple tree for fall color. (along with at least one spring flowering tree). My yard has several Acer freemanii ‘Jeffersred’, (above image) and I have been impressed with these. The above image also shows the red in my Virginia creeper vine along the fence. I also have several native vine maples (below image), which are orange this year, and look great adjacent to the yellow fall color from my redbud (Cercis) tree.
Japanese maples have fared less well in my yard. I have a few, but I have lost several to verticillium wilt–which is a disease caused by a natural fungus found in our soil. I unfortunately have had 5 coral bark maples succumb to this disease—a terrible loss since I adored their bright red trunks and branches in the winter. Verticillium wilt first appears with wilted leaves at the ends of branches in the middle of summer, and the early onset of fall color changes in their leaves. Within a year or two, it will kill the tree. There is no treatment or cure, and you can only learn from it—and not plant the same kind of tree again.