Autumn is the most spiritual time of year as the earth is caught between the life of summer’s past and the winter’s rest ahead. Almost magically, the trees reach up and grab the sunset sky, steal the color and, for a while, heaven becomes part of our earth. Without these great conductors of magic, autumn would be nothing more than a date on our calendar.
Last autumn I attended a design retreat in quaint Grafton, Vermont. While driving a rental car I was overtaken by the unbelievable trees of the area – so overtaken, in fact, that I drifted off the road and hit a pothole and blew out a tire. Upon my return home to southern Idaho, I realized that we have some of the most beautiful vistas imaginable; however, we are lacking in the deciduous trees. True, we are not Vermont. But we can still have those majestic autumn colors in southern Idaho. Here are our top 4 choices for trees that will make your yard an autumn delight.

Dragon’s Eye Japanese Red Pine
Pinus densiflora ‘Oculus-draconis’
Zone 3-7
This tree is a cultivar of the Japanese Red Pine, identified by two yellow bands marking the otherwise green needles. This banding is said to give the illusion of a dragon’s eye when you look at it closely. The yellow banding becomes prominent on new needles by late summer and provides a unique appearance to this pine. Dragon’s Eye Pine is a slow grower, reaching approximately 8 feet. The trunk is often twisted, giving it an irregular and unique habit. It loves to bask in full sun, well-drained or clay soil and will tolerate high winds. It has been said that Japanese Red Pine often graced the entrance of Samurai warriors’ homes.

Photo Courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt

Aristocrat Flowering Pear
Pyrus calleryana ‘Aristocrat’
Zone 4-8
A vigorous, upright tree with a dominant central trunk, this tree is excellent for lining streets or drives and can also be a specimen for smaller spaces. Aristocrat is attractive in all four seasons. It produces masses of white flowers in early spring, followed by bright, glossy green, disease-resistant foliage. Leaves turn a deep to reddish-purple in mid to late fall, providing spectacular autumn color. The clean winter outline is upright to pyramidal, 40 feet tall by 28 feet wide.

Photo Courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt

Autumn Blaze Maple
Acer x freemanii
Zone 3-7
If you want a large, fast-growing tree with spectacular fall color, Autumn Blaze Maple is an excellent choice. This dependable selection is a hybrid of red and sliver maple that combines the best features of both: It has the vigor and adaptability of the silver maple along with the beauty and strength of the red maple. Autumn Blaze is very adaptable to a wide range of climate and soil conditions. It tolerates clay and will withstand wet soil conditions and drought. Like a silver maple, Autumn Blaze grows quickly. The growth rate of this cultivar is about four times faster than that of a red maple. Under optimal conditions it can grow 3 feet or more per year. Eventually it will grow to 50 feet tall and 40 feet wide.

Photo Courtesy of J. Frank Schmidt

Regal Prince Oak
Quercus r. x b. ‘Long’
Zone 4-8
This introduction is an improvement over the other columnar oaks that are available. Regal Prince will reach an estimated height of 45 feet and a width of 18 feet in 20 years. The branch structure is much stronger and consistently fuller than other columnar cultivars of oak. The foliage has a nice two-tone contrast with a glossy bright green on top and a soft light green on the underside. In late summer, the long acorns turn lime green for about two weeks and are ornamental for this period of time. In fall, both the leaves and acorns turn yellow.

The time of transition is upon us; this is your reward for making your little piece of earth a living art. “Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.” – Stanley Horowitz


Water newly planted trees as needed. Check the soil moisture by probing into the root zone to a depth of 4-6 inches. If the soil is becoming dry, give the tree a good watering to maintain sub soil moisture before the ground freezes. Water established trees during prolonged periods of drought. Use frog eye sprinkler or soaker hose to water deeply. This is generally needed every five to six weeks, depending upon weather conditions.
Pines, spruces and furs continue to lose water by transpiration during the fall and winter, but when the ground is frozen they cannot replenish the water if it isn’t already there.
In fall and early winter, don’t forget to water newly planted trees during extended dry spells to help maintain moisture to the roots.

This is the time of year when many evergreens shed their older needles. If you see this happening with needle shed occurring from the inside of the tree towards the outside, it is a natural phenomenon. Do not try to fix this by giving the tree more water and do not add fertilizer. No fertilizer is needed at this time of season on existing plant material. You do not want to promote growth heading into winter. When planting new trees, apply a root enhancer to the soil before back filling.

While you can still identify them easily, continue to prune out dead and diseased branches and twigs from you trees.

You still have the opportunity to plant new deciduous trees before the end of October. However, waiting too late is a gamble and may result in transplant shock and tree losses. Trees planted earlier in the fall will have a better chance of getting acclimated before the ground freezes. Remember to make the planting hole two to three times wider than the root ball to allow for strong and healthy root establishment. Dig the hole only as deep as the root ball.

By Ryan and Jamee Muchow