An iconic autumn with brisk winds and heaps of technicolor leaves isn’t much of a reality in Southern California. That’s because most trees well-known for their spectacular fall displays in places like New England, where maples and oaks thrive, actually require cool temperatures to reach their peak of flashy, colorful beauty. A warmer climate means that the rules for fall foliage are different in Southern California than they are in other places. Luckily, you can still cultivate a garden that knocks your socks off every year as the Northern Hemisphere turns away from the sun.
Drought Impacts Color
Before you get too excited, though, there’s another geographical, climate-based factor to consider. Drought tends to rob trees of the resources they need to keep their leaves alive and kicking long enough to change color in the first place. If you want to experience fall color, you have to practice smart irrigation that’s within the legal and ethical bounds for what’s allowed in your community.
American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua): These impressive trees thrive in warmer southern climes, and they have small, star-shaped leaves that burst into gorgeous hues of red, orange, yellow, and even purple when temperatures start to drop. The American sweetgum grows to a height of 60–75′ and a spread of 40–50′ at maturity
USDA zones: 6 to 9 Water requirement: Moderate, but the tree is flexible enough to accept light to heavy watering Light requirement: Full sun
Common Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia indica): These small deciduous trees produce beautiful flowers in spring and summer and have leaves that turn orange and red in fall, making them a good bet for year-round color. Their smaller size and relative abundance at local nurseries make them a safer bet for immediate color gratification than some of the massive trees on this list.
The common crapemyrtle grows to a height of 15–25′ and a spread of 6–15′ at maturity
USDA zones: 7-10 Water requirement: Moderate, but the tree is flexible enough to accept light to heavy watering Light requirement: Full sun/ Partial Shade
Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) This east to grow tree produces gorgeous fall color which includes oranges, red, sometimes yellow. It is medium-size, deciduous tree, that grows in an even rounded shape. The ease of growing this tree is amazing. The Chinese Pistache can be grown in many situations, including in lawn areas, parkways, in groups and as a specimen tree. The Chinese pistache grows to a height of 25–35′ and a spread of 25–35′ at maturity. USDA zones: 6 to 9 Water requirement: Moderate, but the tree is flexible enough to accept light to heavy watering Light requirement: Full sun
Japanese Zelkova (Zelkova serrata) The Japanese Zelkova is a good street and shade tree that has an appealing vase-shaped form with a rounded crown. Green leaves turn yellow, copper, orange or deep red to purplish-red in fall, putting on a showy display. The peeling bark on older trees exposes orange patches, which can be quite impressive. As it is tolerant to drought and air pollution, this tree is a nice option for a variety of urban locations.The Zelkova grows to a height of 50–80′ and a spread of around 50–75′ at maturity
USDA zones: 5-8 Water requirement: Moderate, but the tree is flexible enough to accept light to heavy watering Light requirement: Full sun