Thursday, October 17, 2013

It's Fall Color Time in Oregon

Whether you're a photographer, nature lover, or just enjoy life in the great outdoors, right now is a great time to take in the beauty of Oregon's fall colors. Hiking along a trail, driving through Oregon's back roads or enjoying your favorite city park are all good opportunities to appreciate the leaves of ash, red alder, dogwood, vine maple and other trees as they catch our eye with their brilliant colors and hues.

Good places to experience fall color

Fortunately, during these times of resource conservation and high gas prices, you don't need to travel far to enjoy fall color. Great fall color can often be found close to home, both in city parks or arboretums. If you're in the neighborhood, plan a visit to one of these destinations.

The city's 93-acre Lithia Park located near the downtown area is the perfect place to experience fall color splendor. The one-mile Woodland Trail, part of a 100-acre National Historic Site, offers much to see or photograph in a beautiful wooded setting.

Oregon State University's campus features fall beauty around every corner this month. You can even find a phone app on iTunes to help you with tree identification.

The Oregon Garden is a showcase for thousands of plants in more than twenty specialty gardens, plus water features, wetlands, a conifer garden, and the 400 year-old Signature Oak. And, while enjoying the reds and yellows of a maple or dogwood, take a minute to check out the Oregon White Oak Savannah, where fire was recently introduced to enhance habitat and rid the area of invasives.

Hoyt Arboretum has a diverse collection of more than 8,000 trees and plants from around the world. This park-like setting includes some 187 acres with 21 trails covering 12 miles. Located just two miles from downtown Portland, it's a great place to take kids. The breathtaking Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, northeast of Portland, is also an excellent place to take in the beauty of the season's colors.

Eugene / Springfield
Take a walk through the University of Oregon campus where native and non-native trees alike are showing off their fall color. Or, take a hike at Lane County's 209-acre Mount Pisgah Arboretum bordering the coast fork of the Willamette River; it’s located east of I-5 and just south of Eugene.  If you've never been there before, their annual "Mushroom Festival" on Sunday, October 27th, is a great time to visit.

Why leaves change color

"The leaves of deciduous trees change color each fall due to a combination of environmental factors," explains Paul Ries, an urban forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry. "During summer months, a leaf is green because the tree is making chlorophyll through the process of photosynthesis." Ries says that as day length wanes in the fall and temperatures cool, photosynthesis begins to shut down, revealing "the natural color pigments of the leaves" - what we know as fall colors.

A series of dry days with cool nighttime temperatures is ideal to creating beautiful fall color, so each season is a bit unique from the next. And, although abundant fall rain and wind can shorten the fall color period, Oregon usually has a long fall color viewing period.

Thinking about planting a tree this fall?

The autumn months - after leaf drop - is a great time to plant a new tree. Looking to plant something out of the ordinary? For fall color in small places, consider Paperbark maple for its brilliant, shiny scarlet leaves. For small to medium areas, take a look at Persian Parrotia which features purple, yellow, orange, and sometimes even red leaves on the same tree at the same time.  If you have a large yard or garden, Tulip tree or Scarlet oak make a great addition to the landscape.

When planting a new tree, make sure the roots are covered, but don't plant your tree too deeply; instead, set it slightly above the level of the surrounding soil to allow for settling and increased soil drainage. Also, don’t fertilize your tree after planting – wait until early spring to do this.  Do add a few inches of mulch around the base of your new tree.

All those leaves: help a neighbor in need The most environmentally-friendly way to dispose of leaves is by raking them the old-fashioned way. And don't feel compelled to have them hauled off-site, because they'll work great used as mulch around the base of your trees, plants, and planting beds where they'll add nutrients to the soil. You can also add them to your mulch pile for next year.

Lastly, while everybody loves fall color, many people do not enjoy the fall leaf drop. If there are seniors or others in your neighborhood needing a hand, get in touch and see if they can use some help raking leaves.