Select and plant trees as summer fades and leaves blaze

Fall colors indicate a good time to plant trees

As fall colors blaze, it’s a good time to plant trees.

That’s right. Though spring brings new growth, October and November are optimal months for planting in Oregon. The heat of summer has faded, but the cold of winter is still a month or two away. The soil is still warm enough and moist but not soggy.

Ready to plant? It’s time to select a tree.

Fortunately, you can grow a diversity of trees here. In fact, Oregon supports 30 native coniferous species and 37 native species of broadleaf trees. There are iconic Doug-firs and ponderosa pines. And for fall color, we have bigleaf and vine maples, quaking aspen, black cottonwood and western larch.

But the most common and striking fall colors come from non-native trees, often seen planted beside streets and in yards. The pioneers knew this. In fact, many of Oregon old homesteads featured beautiful hardwood trees brought west in covered wagons.

Two of my favorite introduced shade trees are scarlet oak and red maple. These beautiful trees, native to the Midwest and eastern United States, handle our climate and soils well, are relatively pest-free and provide striking color shows.

But beauty is only one consideration in selecting a tree. Other factors include:

  • Size at maturity: Make sure you know how big a tree will grow. A big tree can provide shade and privacy. But, if not given adequate room, it can foul overhead wires, spoil views or crowd a house.
  • Speed of growth: Trees grow at different rates. Can you wait?
  • Sun and shade: Evergreens provide year-round shade. Deciduous trees blocks summer sun yet let in winter sunlight.
  • Color: Trees such as maples, scarlet oak, sweetgum, or for smaller spaces, dogwood or vine maple, show a fiery palette in the fall.
  • Upkeep: Trees need care and maintenance, particularly during the first three years after planting. Some trees require more love and care than others. Don’t forget raking!
  • Site: Make sure the tree will thrive in your location’s microclimate, considering factors such as light, temperature, wind, rainfall, elevation, soil composition and soil moisture.

Want more information? Here are some great tree-related resources:

  • OFRI’s online tree guide is a concise collection of Oregon’s native trees.
  • The National Arbor Day Foundation offers a searchable database, glossary, tree-care blog and more.
  • The Oregon Department of Forestry, Urban and Community Forestry Assistance Program provides a wide assortment of online publications, printed materials and videos from ODF, Oregon State University Extension, the U.S. Forest Service and other state forestry agencies.

As you enjoy the turning of the seasons, take a look around at our urban and rural forests. Think about the pioneers who brought you some of these amazing fall colors. And remember, it’s all about planting the right tree in the right place.

May the forest be with you.

Mike Cloughesy
Director of Forestry

Photos: Scarlet Oak and Red Maple


9755 SW Barnes Rd., Suite 210        
Portland, OR 97225        
Phone: 971-673-2944        
Fax: 971-673-2946

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