Harmony in the Garden Blog

Hey – we get fall color, too!



When you think of fall color California probably isn’t the first (or second or even 20th) state that comes to mind.  Sure, those of you who live in the Northern states have your world renowned fall color, but out here in California we, too, have some pretty amazing color  – honest! I’m not talking about further up in Northern California, where temperatures dip into the single digits, helping leaves take on the brilliant hues of fall.  I’m talking about the Bay Area’s mild climate, where our average winter temperatures are in the 30’s!

Every time I hear a Northern transplant lamenting how ‘dull’ the color is in California, I always bristle just a bit.  I mean come ON!!  This image is taken right outside of my front door, where it opens up onto a beautiful Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica ‘Basham’s Party Pink’). It’s something I look forward to every year as the colors are just perfect for Halloween and Thanksgiving!

Take a look at some of the other trees below and then tell me California’s fall colors are ‘dull’……


red pistache

The Chinese Pistache tree (Pistacia chinensis) is pretty common around here, but so many people seem to forget about it until fall, when they drive around and ask ‘What the heck is THAT!’  This is the time of year when I get lots of emails and phone calls from people who see these trees and tell me they want one for their own garden.   The thing to remember with Pistache trees, is you never know if you’re going to get a yellow one or a red one…so if you have a preference, my advice is to buy one when it’s in Fall color to be sure you get the color you desire.


I love our Birch trees, which look beautiful in every season.  I’m particularly fond of them in the fall when they blanket the ground with zillions of tiny, golden leaves..



Okay, okay-so this Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus ceracifera ‘Thundercloud’) has this beautiful color year round.  But I’m including it in this post because can you imagine how awesome it would look planted near one of the above Pistache or Birch trees?  Holy Cow…what a combo!

Magnolia with Berberis

This Magnolia tree (Magnolia soulangiana ‘Burgundy’) is underplanted with gorgeous Berberis thunbergiana ‘Crimson Pigmy’.  While Magnolia trees are well  known for their spectacular show of spring-time flowers, it also has a double whammy with it’s bright, chartreuse color show before it drops it’s leaves.  Pared with the Berberis – another gorgeous color combination.

Chinese Tallow

Here’s another tree with beautiful dark red fall foliage – it’s a Chinese Tallow tree (Triadicasebifera).  This tree does really well in our area, and it’s one of the last to lose its leaves so we can enjoy its fall color a lot longer than many of the other trees.

I couldn’t write about fall color in California without including some photos of the many varieties of Japanese Maples.   Here are just a few in my neighborhood:

Acer 1Acer 2

The weeping burgundy maple is an Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’, while the upright chartreuse maple is Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’.

Acer palmatum 'Sango Kaku' (Coral Bark Maple)redcoralmaple2

Here’s a close-up of Acer palmatum ‘Sango Kaku’ (also called Coral Bark Maple).  It’s leaves are quite often ringed with red, then turn a brilliant shade of yellow before they drop.  Another benefit of this amazing Acer?  Cold winter temperatures change the bark to a brilliant red – giving you even more color for your fall and winter garden.


Okay, one more maple…Just look at this leaf.  It’s an Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ (Japanese Fearnleaf Fullmoon Maple – how’s THAT for a mouthful!).  Not only is it unusual in color, but it’s leaves are quite large (3-5″), and in the spring it’s covered with the sweetest little flowers.



This tree is pretty fantastic – it’s a Liriodendron tulipifera (sometimes called an American Tulip Tree).  Its leaves are just gorgeous when back-lit by the sun, so much dark green and yellow sparkling away…



Most people are familiar with the dark maroon, heart shaped leaves of Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’, but many don’t realize in the fall the leaves turn beautiful shades of gold and orange.

So next time you’re tempted to say ‘Oh California is O.K., but they don’t have any fall color…’ – think again!  And these are just the trees around here which turn color!  We haven’t even begun to talk about our shrubs….

For more beautiful blogs with photographs showing Fall color around the country, make sure you check out The Fall Color Project at Growing The Home Garden’s website.

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  • Well, I learned something new, that Chinese pistache comes in two separate fall colors. Most of the ones here are that beautiful orangey red, and I get lots of calls and emails about them too. We have similar beautiful fall color here too. If I could suggest any tree (shade here) it would be the Coral bark Japanese maple. Oh, my gosh, what a wonderful, beautiful tree! I also love ‘Full Moon’ and is it ‘August Moon’? They have three season color, but with it’s splendid bark, the coral bark has four. Thanks for showing us your fall color. Beautiful.~~Dee

  • Our crape myrtles are just now starting to turn colors, but our birch tree has blanketed the ground with its tiny yellow leaves. The japanese maples all seem to be WAY behind schedule and are still bright and colorful as if it were spring. I did notice the red twig dogwoods starting to lose their leaves and exposing their bright red twigs though- I might actually have enough this year to make a decent wreath.

  • Beautiful! What a great post. Of course, we should also remember that the two native maples are right now displaying beautiful fall color. I went on a hike yesterday, and the bright yellow was spectacular against the evergreen oaks or bay trees. Wish I’d brought my camera…

  • hi Rebecca,

    do you know where in the bay area that have lots of these trees (fall colors) where the leaves are covering the ground? I want to introduce them to my daughter and get some fall photo for her


    • Hi Adelina – These photos were taken in my neighborhood and/or in some of my clients’ gardens. If you’re looking for public spaces, there’s a really nice natural park in Santa Cruz, called Castle Rock Park which I’ve heard has lots of Fall color. You might also try the Gamble Gardens, located in Palo Alto (they always have something that’s beautiful, no matter the time of year)….then you could walk the streets of downtown P.A. where there are many photo opportunities – the trees there are huge and gorgeous, with lots of great shots. Also, call Hidden Villa in Los Altos to ask about their Fall Color….your daughter would LOVE it there, but I’m not sure about the color as I haven’t been there in a long time. It’s a great, great place to check out….I hope that helps!

  • Yesterday, I was on a drive out to the western ‘burbs of Chicago and the fall coloring was spectacular!

    You’re right, California doesn’t come to mind when I think of fall color, but darn if those pics aren’t impressive.

    Thanks for sharing them.

    • Well..considering you’re in the heart of all that insane foliage, I’m flattered that you at least liked our humble state’s photos. Thanks! Now maybe we’ve risen to #15 on the list of States with great color?? Or is that wishful thinking…..I’ll keep trying…

  • Here in California we receive mild winter weather and mild autumn coloration. I’ll take that over a frigid snowy winter and a short burst of intense fall foliage any day of the year.
    ( I’m originally from New England and I’m soooo over the winter ).

    The fall colors are making their showing here north of the Golden Gate bridge where certain areas are just as spectacular as some areas in New England ( remember Lucas Valley Road Rebecca ? well it is ablaze in color right now as is the old estate avenues in Ross, Tiburon and Kentfield. )

    • Yes, I remember Lucas Valley Road very much! It was the most amazing road to get lost on – so much green, it was actually making us a bit ‘heady’! I can only imagine what it looks like ablaze in color…..would LOVE to see pictures of that!!

  • You are so right. Especially here in the Northeast, we tend to be fall faliage snobs! Thanks for proving us wrong.
    Love the ‘Sango Kaku’!


    • Well, you Northeasterners (or is it Nor’Easters…) certainly have something to brag about! I’m not saying we can hold a candle to you guys…but we DO have have a wee bit of foliage that tends to get overshadowed by you guys. 😉

  • Gorgeous photos. Thanks for promoting our fall loveliness. I think the East Coast peeps are just jealous, because not only do we get color, but we can go outside and view it while wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip flops. Plus, it lasts longer.

    • Like today! It’s already 68 degrees here! How we get the Fall foliage with this warm weather is beyond me! But I’m glad we do…

    • I’m thinking you need to write a post about the colors of Texas! Strength in numbers, right?? We’ve been overlooked long enough!! 😉

  • I have always liked the coral bark maple and envy yours. The fall colors look great. The birches are awesome too, great trees! Thanks for joining in the Fall Color Project! I’ll have a post up this morning.

  • Ok Rebecca, you’ve sold me. I honestly never thought of Cali. as a location with fall color. Very cool.


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