What determines fall color?
The short answer: The best colors are helped by a dry late summer, warm and sunny fall days, and cool fall nights in the lower 40’s.
More detail: Leaves are the plant's food factory, taking water from the roots, carbon dioxide from the air, and sunlight, and turning them into oxygen that we breathe and sugars that the tree uses in part to grow. The green pigments in the leaves (chlorophyll) are used in the process of photosynthesis to accomplish this. Varying types and amounts of chlorophyll in combination with other specific chemicals produce the wide range of colors we see in the leaves. As the tree is preparing for winter in late fall, the amount of sunlight lessens and the temperatures start dropping which in turn cause the chlorophyll to disappear from the leaves. This process allows the small amounts of other chemicals like carotene ('kar-uh-teen) which produces oranges, and xanthophyll ('zan-thuh-fil) which produces the yellows, to now become more prominent in visibility in the leaves. In addition, anthocyanin (an-thuh-'si-uh-nuhn), which is made from trapped glucose in the leaves at this time, produces the red colors we see.
Where do all these maples come from?
Japanese maples have a fair degree of genetic variance when grown from seed. Three hundred year old catalogs from Japan list a number of the same cultivars available today. Most likely these were found as unusual plants growing in the wild, deemed worthy of propagation, and have descended to us as cuttings or grafts from the original plant. In our nursery, where there are over 400 varieties of maples which could cross-pollinate, we are always on the lookout for unusual seedlings. Sometimes an unusual growth on a plant that may have variegation, or smaller leaves, or some other interesting characteristic, is found. These unusual growths may be referred to as witch's brooms or sports and again, may be vegetatively-propagated. There are many more varieties than we care to propagate and we try to choose those that have enough variation to make them interesting and different from another.
How big will my Japanese maple get?
The laceleaf forms, or dissectums, generally are low, spreading plants. Most of the cultivars in this group will only grow 2-3” vertically per year, but will add 6-8” horizontally. So, in ten year's time you might expect a plant to be 12-15” taller and 3-4’ wider with minor pruning for shape. It is possible to train a leader on these plants to get more height; this is what typically is done at the nursery with young plants so that they might be offered in different heights. Once you stop training for height, it will continue growing as above. The upright forms have a wider range of heights and spreads, and account for probably 90% of the cultivars. Generalizations are harder here, but these forms do grow more slowly than your typical shade tree maples. A plant whose mature height is 20’ will probably grow 8-12” per year. Paying attention to their mature sizes when placing your plants helps to avoid excessive pruning.
Where shouldn’t I put my Japanese maple?
Avoid wet areas, such as near down spouts or low spots in the landscape. Avoid spots, especially with the laceleaf forms, where snow might be piled up on the plant or ice may fall on it. Avoid placing them too close to the foundation of a house or under an eave where they might not get enough water, or in a location where they will eventually grow too large.
Why do some of these plants cost so much?
We often have people ask for a plant that will only get, say 6’ tall, but they want it to be 5’ now and are surprised when we show them a $400 plant. The problem is a plant that is now 80% of its mature size is typically quite old, and you pay for age. Sometimes plants cost more because they are difficult to propagate. For example, if you start 25 specimens and only end up with 3, each one of those is going to be more expensive. Sometimes it is due to rarity – a plant that has just been found, or is highly desirable and in limited supply.
What should I use for a foundation planting?
Often foundation planting decisions are based on getting something in that looks more mature right away at the lowest cost. Many plants commonly available to landscapers and homeowners that fit the bill are, unfortunately, inappropriate for the longer term as they will outgrow the space. Unless you don't mind replacing them more often or pruning more often, then consider buying dwarf specimens that will take much longer to grow to size and will have lower maintenance. Specific recommendations are very much site-dependent and take into account your needs and desires, sun, soil, moisture, and other factors.
Can you do a design?
Landscaping is not our business. We do, however, offer design services as our time allows. We have extensive experience with landscape design and have many awards to our credit. Let us know how we can help you.
Can you do landscape installation?
We can recommend a number of companies that can offer their services.
What is a Hardiness Zone?
The short answer - It's how cold it gets in your area.
More detail - The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has defined a set of standards for low temperatures in an area based on a number and letter scale. For example, Zone 5b, which we can find just south of us, can experience low temps of -10F to -15F, while Zone 6a where we are might see low temps of -5F to -10F while Zone 6b up closer to Lake Ontario may range from 0F to -5F for its lowest temperatures. In general, the lower the zone number, the colder the area. Historical data shapes a map that shows these zones all across the USA. The newest data from 1976-2005 has now been compiled into an updated Zone Map with zip code lookup. Click here or on the map to go to the latest interactive 2012 version.
You can also look up your zone by zip code at the Arbor Day Foundation. This site is interesting because the resulting map shows your zone across the US, and also gives options to look up the most popular trees in your zone or common trees that grow well in your zone.
What does this zone number mean to me - Zone data should be used mainly as a guide to what plants may survive in your area. However, your experience is the best guide since you may live in an area where there are cold pockets or have a particularly windy exposure or, on the other hand, you may have a protected warmer area. These types of conditions will affect the type of plants you might be able to grow. Plant placement at your particular site is especially important when attempting to grow a plant that may be marginal for your area.
What should I do to prepare for winter?
It is important to keep in mind that the goal is to protect the investment in time and money you have made in your landscape so you might enjoy it for years to come. Nothing is more discouraging than to have a plant that you absolutely love, die or decline over the winter.
- Make sure that all of your plants, even well-established ones, go into winter in moist soil. Dry soil will rob a plant of the necessary moisture that it needs during cold, dry winter days. Be careful not to overwater in heavy clay soils as too much moisture can also cause problems such as root rot. Inexpensive moisture meters are a good investment and typically cost less than $10.
- Wrap the trunks of younger trees, typically under 3” diameter, with a tree tape to protect against small critter damage and frost cracking. This is not an adhesive tape, but is similar to a heavy crepe paper and usually only costs $3-5 for a roll which should take care of a number of trees. This is especially important for young Japanese Maples as their bark is more susceptible. Frost cracking, or vertical splits in the bark, can occur where the trunk of the tree has a southern or western exposure. On a warmer, sunny winter day, the trunk can expand. When the temperature drops at night, the inner core of the tree will not shrink as rapidly as the outer bark causing the bark to split and leave, at the least, an unsightly wound, or a disease and insect entry point, at the worst.
- If you have deer, rabbit, or other critter problems in your area, consider what measures to take to protect your plants. Wrapping them loosely in burlap or putting up a wind screen of burlap around them will help keep the critters away, and also help keep them from desiccating in the cold, dry winds of our winters. Various sprays to discourage critter-browse are also available, although be careful to read label directions as to amount, timing, and the type of plants they will protect without causing foliage problems. We have had good luck with Plantskydd at the nursery for the past several years on a variety of plants.
- Remove the bulk of the heavy, wet leaves that drop on your plants to help prevent the formation of molds and mildews.
We do offer some of these supplies for sale at the nursery. Feel free to visit or call for your needs or questions.
The Gingko tree, also called the Maidenhair tree, dates back to the Mesozoic era. It was probably one of the first fruit trees, although the fruit of the female gingko has an unpleasant smell. Reportedly, some college fraternities include the collecting of fruit from this tree in their initiation rites. Also of interest, the gingko was one of the only trees to return after the nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Dawn Redwood, or Metasequoia glyptostroboides, is another ancient tree only relatively recently discovered. The following from Wikipedia:
- It was first described as a fossil from the Mesozoic Era by Shigeru Miki in 1941, but in 1944 a small stand of an unidentified tree was discovered in China in Modaoxi (presently, Moudao, Lichuan County, Hubei) by Zhan Wang; due to World War II, these were not studied further until 1946 and only finally described as a new living species, M. glyptostroboides, in 1948 by Wan Chun Cheng and Hu Hsen Hsu. In 1948 the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University sent an expedition to collect seeds and, soon after, seedling trees were distributed to various universities and arboreta worldwide for growth trials.
Rochester, which has a rich horticultural heritage, received a few of these early seedlings and they are now growing in Durand Eastman Park. For more information on this living fossil and other interesting specimens here: http://www.rochestergardening.com/spotlight/a/sl990421x.html
(a bit of botanical humor follows – still an “interesting” fact)
Headline! Himalaya Cobra Lily switches teams mid-season! Small plants of Arisaema consanguineum are usually male until the corm reaches sufficient size for carbohydrate stores to support seed production, and then it becomes female! One of the very few plants capable of this switcheroo, it is tall and slender with mottled snakeskin-patterned stems. The spathe is purple-brown with white stripes and eventually withers to reveal green berries that ripen to a bright scarlet. The single leaf is divided into 12 or so leaflets.