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Take time out to enjoy fall color or plant a tree
October 6, 2009
Contacts: Paul D. Ries, 503-945-7391
Cynthia Orlando, 503-945-7421
Oregon's fall foliage may not be as well-known as New England's, where each year, tourists flock to see the leaves turn. But right now, as the days shorten and nights grow cooler, Oregon's rural and urban forests are starting out on an amazing transformation . Many of us will venture out to hear leaves crunch underfoot and take in the beauty of Oregon's fall colors.

Whether we're hiking along a trail, driving through Oregon's back roads or enjoying a favorite city park, leaves of big leaf maple, red alder and dogwood all catch our eye with their brilliant colors and hues. Vine maple is another native plant that turns to hues of red, orange and yellow, and is common along park and forest trails.

Cool nights, dry days make for best colors
This time of year often prompts both kids and adults alike to ask, "Why do leaves change color, anyway?" 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.
"The leaves of deciduous trees change color each fall due to a combination of environmental factors," says Paul Ries, an urban forester with the Oregon Department of Forestry. "During the 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. Although abundant fall rain and wind can shorten the fall color period, Oregon usually has a long fall color viewing period.

Where are some of the best places to take in the sights of the season?
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 and enjoy the changing seasons.

  • Silverton
    In Silverton, the Oregon Garden is a showcase for thousands of plants in more than 20 specialty gardens, plus water features, wetlands, a conifer garden, and the 400 – year old Signature Oak.

  • Portland
    In the Portland area, try Hoyt Arboretum to experience 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, Hoyt Arboretum is a great place to take kids. The Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, northeast of Portland, is another great place to take in the beauty of the season's colors.

  • Eugene / Springfield / Corvallis
    Oregon State University's campus in Corvallis also features fall beauty around every corner right now.

    In the Eugene-Springfield area, take a hike at Lane County's Mount Pisgah Arboretum - a 209-acre "living tree museum" bordering the coast fork of the Willamette River, located east of I-5 and just south of Eugene.  If you've never been there before, Mt Pisgah's annual "Mushroom Festival" on Sunday, October 25th, may be just the time to visit.

    Eugene's University of Oregon campus offers a chance to enjoy fall color in an attractive, more urban setting.

  • Ashland
    Ashland's 93-acre Lithia Park is a wonderful place to experience fall color splendor. Located within walking distance of downtown Ashland, Lithia Park Woodland Trail is part of a 100-acre National Historic Site. The one-mile walking trail takes you past flora and fauna in a beautiful wooded setting. 
How trees benefit a community's economy
Throughout history, people have recognized that mature trees add beauty, like their fall colors, to our business districts, parks, and neighborhoods. Economically speaking, it's now known that trees are effective in attracting shoppers to areas of commerce, and that people will actually do more shopping in downtown areas where trees are present. What’s more, studies also show that the mere presence of trees increases property values.

What about tree planting?
While the spring is always a good time to plant trees, the fall season is also conducive to tree planting. When planting a new tree, make sure the roots are covered. However, 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 the tree.

Thinking about adding some color to your property? 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 (Parrotia persica) which can grow tall - but slowly - and has purple, yellow, orange, and sometimes even red leaves on the same tree at the same time.  For large spaces and yards, Scarlet oak makes a great addition to the landscape.

Help a neighbor in need
While everyone enjoys fall color, many people do NOT enjoy the fall leaf drop. If there are seniors or others in your neighborhood that cannot rake up their leaves, consider offering to rake them up for them, or organize a leaf raking party to help out others. In these challenging times, it's important to show you care.

For more information about trees, tree care, and fall colors:

Trees and tree care: 
Urban forestry:
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