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Mon, Oct. 14

Column: Fantasy foliage is ripe for mountain planting

As autumn returns to the high country, trees and shrubs show off one last time before they hibernate in preparation for spring. Today's column highlights the new, the improved and the unusual fall colors that can be brought into our gardens.

Red Rhapsody maple is a short maple, known for red foliage that seems to ignite a landscape. It is well adapted to mountain clay soils, sun, wind and cold winters. Once rooted in a landscape it is easy on irrigation, and perfect for fire-wise landscape needs. Though sometimes mistaken for a Japanese maple, this mountain variety is the far hardier of the two trees. Whether grown as a short multi-trunk tree or a tall shrub, it is on my list of preferred "water-wise" plants.

Armstrong maple sports the brightest orange leaves of all shade trees. It is similar in size to its cousin, the Blaze maple, so give it "room to grow." Mature growth is 40 feet tall by 20 feet wide. It bursts into autumn with rare colors that complement the red of Blaze maples, purple of Raywood Ash, and Aspen Golds.

Ornamental Pistachio trees are for gardens exposed to wind and subjected to micro-bursts or other weather anomalies. This real autumn show-off thrives in harsh environments and with neglect. The attractive umbrella shape turns a brilliant crimson; no other tree produces such a vibrant, broad range of fall color. It can serve dozens of uses: as a shade tree, street tree, accent or front yard specimen. It is the ideal choice for flanking driveways or in pairs to meet overhead at street side. Grow this colorful water-wise tree against a solid evergreen background to provide intense contrast in any landscape.

Lace Leaf Staghorn Sumac is one of the drought-hardy plants that can be grown as either a shrub or a small tree. Its fall foliage, auburn orange through red, is striking, and the more sun this plant receives, the brighter its colors. When mountain winds have blown away the last of its leaves, the plant is left with a very unusual characteristic: It appears to be covered in a fur that is very soft to the touch.

Red Wall Virginia Creeper is a creeper variety new this fall. Good to grow over rocks, up fences, and as a ground cover, this vine likes full sun locations. In fact, whether showing its summer green or fire engine red fall foliage, its color is brightest when exposed to intense sun. It's one of the "best selections" on both my fire-wise and water-wise plant lists.

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Feed for best color: Bring the most color out of your landscape's autumn foliage by feeding with an all- natural plant food. Natural plant foods release slowly for plants to assimilate and are far safer than synthetic foods around children and pets. Simply sprinkled on top of soil and/or rock, this type of food will work its way into garden soil and to hungry roots. My "All Purpose Plant Food" 7-4-4 should be applied by the end of the month, but do it right away to bring the most color out of fall-colored plants.

When to plant: You folks from the Midwest already know the importance of the fall planting season. Gardeners from other parts of the country should adopt this knowledge and not be afraid to plant now. This week's cool down should increase planting success rates even more.

Try to get new plants with fall-colored foliage into the ground before they turn color so their colors can be enjoyed this year. spots in the landscape.

Until next week, I'll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain can be found at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Road in Prescott, or contacted through www.wattersgardencenter.com.

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