Landscape & Hardscape Ideas

Build another kind of fire in the backyard: a blazing swath of fall leaves.

October is well underway and parts of the country are seeing the colorful goodness of the season. Indeed, fall leaves are a tourist draw for many of the northeastern states. You can have your own bright show every year if you choose the right species of tree. Here are 4 for the northeastern corridor as suggested by the Arbor Day Association.

Sugar Maple

Sugar Maple trees sprout the leaf shape you recognize as the icon it is. This species of tree is the traditional source of maple syrup and those kid-approved “helicopter” seeds (samaras) that twist has they float down from the tree. Sugar Maples are relatively slow growers (about a foot to two feet per year) but once they reach their maximum height of 80-115 feet, they are lovely ornamental shade trees. Sugar Maple leaves go through a succession of colors in the fall, going from yellow to burnt orange to red. The leaves often don’t all change at the same time, giving each Sugar Maple a range of colors from green to red.




Red Maples

Red Maples cover the landscape in the northeastern states. A faster grower than the Sugar Maple (at 13 inches to over 24 inches a year), Red Maples peak at a far lower height of 60-90 feet. They are ornamental trees that throw less shade than Sugar Maples, but still manage to block out a lot of sun under their relatively skinnier canopies. The Red Maple’s fall colors go from yellow to a vibrant red. It’s said that the name of Rhode Island means “Red Island” in Dutch, and was so named for the territory’s flaming Red Maple leaves in Autumn.


Sassafras trees are a delight in the fall, emitting yellow, deep orange, scarlet and purple hues. Sassafras tree leaves come in three shapes, one being a plain oval, one bi-lobed     and one a tri-lobed shape that looks a bit like a chicken claw in a mitten, with a three-prong rounded shape of the “fingers” and an oblong “palm.” Sassafras trees add an enticing aromatic scent to the air. Sassafras trees can be grown in a thicket or on their own. They can stay relatively short at 30 feet but have been known to grow to 115 feet tall. (The tallest one is listed currently at 100 feet high.)




Star-shaped leaves and spiky fruits – what could be more fun than a Sweetgum tree? How about its awesome fall yellows, oranges, reds and purples? This oft-maligned tree has been eradicated from some suburbs and can cause quite a controversy over its spiky sweetgum balls. If you live in a densely-populated area, skipping this species may be the wise choice. If you have some extra acreage where the tree can be left to its own devices, then the Sweetgum tree is a great shade tree with its glossy green leaves in the summertime. It can get to 60-70 feet tall and grows as fast as Red Maples. Another benefit to Sweetgum trees is the fauna they attract. Many species of birds like finches, doves, sparrows and wild turkeys come around, as well as squirrels (of course) and that eternal kid- favorite, chipmunks.

When planting any tree in your landscape, be sure to research the root structure, soil environment and other conditional needs of each tree before you commit. (Love a tree in your neighborhood but don’t know what it is? Check out this handy Fall Leaf Identifier to help you in your search.) Once you are set on which type of tree you want, choose a spot by the patio, at the end of a garden wall or near a side walkway to build a shady spot for a bench and table. Think in lazy-day backyard vignettes. Plan on building those spaces with your trees.

Follow the nursery’s instructions for planting and caring for your tree. What you’ll get for the your labor is your very own tourist attraction. Each of these trees will brighten your future so much, you won’t want to wear shades.

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