Bringing Fall Color to California: Enjoy the Changing of the Seasons

Most of the tree species that exhibit bold fall colors are native to the eastern portions of the US, with the best examples occurring in the northeast. In fact, people travel from miles around each year to check out the fall color in places like Vermont and New Hampshire.

Relatively few of the trees native to Southern California have jaw-dropping fall color, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy watching the leaves change in the fall; you just need to plant a few of the right trees.

1. Maidenhair

If you like gold-colored leaves in the fall, there are few trees that can match the beauty of the maidenhair tree (Ginkgobiloba). One of the oldest tree species in the world, maidenhair trees are relicts from a time when dinosaurs walked the earth. Maidenhairs are big trees (some exceed 100 feet in height), so they aren’t appropriate for tiny lots. Be sure to select male cultivars when picking out your maidenhair trees, as the females produce copious quantities of foul-smelling seeds, which will stink up your entire yard.

2. Chinese pistache

The Chinese pistache (Pistacia chinensis) produces some of the best fall color of any tree that will grow well in Southern California. It is a moderately drought-tolerant, hardy species that is resistant to most local insects and diseases. Chinese pistaches reach about 50 feet in height, and they have a similar spread, thanks to their beautiful round canopies. Female pistache trees will produce small, purple to pink berries, which often attract birds and other wildlife. These trees will grow throughout most of our region, but because they tolerate pollution fairly well, they are one of the best choices for those living in the congested portions of Los Angeles and the surrounding area.

3. Sweetgums

If you just want eye-popping color, it is hard to go wrong with sweetgum trees (Liquidambar styraciflua). Sweetgums can produce gold, red and purple colors – sometimes in a single leaf. Sweetgums are big trees with incredibly invasive root systems, so you must be sure to select a planting location large enough to accommodate them. Naturally occurring sweetgum trees produce copious quantities of woody fruit, called gum balls, which can be quite a nuisance. Fortunately, many cultivars, such as the (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’), have been developed that do not produce fruit. However, the ‘Palo Alto’ cultivar produces better fall color and is ideally suited for the Southern California climate.

4.Japanese Maple

Maples are rightly celebrated for their impressive fall color, and the tiny Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is no exception. Suitable for even the smallest properties, Japanese maples are famous for their slow growth rate and attractive branching structure. In our region, Japanese maples should usually be planted in partially shaded areas, so they won’t overheat in the California sunshine. Japanese maples aren’t very salt tolerant, so they are better choices for inland locations, such as Glendale and Pasadena.

5. Japanese Persimmon

The Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki) is a medium-sized tree that offers several different types of visual interest in the fall and winter. First, the green leaves will begin to turn yellow or orange. Shortly after this, they will begin to fall off, revealing the glorious orange fruit and the handsome, plate-like bark. Persimmons require well-drained, loamy soil, and they are moderately drought tolerant once established. In addition to the delicious fruit and attractive fall color they provide, persimmons also have very dense canopies that provide great shade.


If you’d like some help adding a little fall color to your property, contact your friends at Evergreen Arborist Consultants. We’ll visit your property and help you figure out the best species to plant, and provide some tips for maximizing their color each year.