By Lisa Watters-Lain, Arizona’s garden gal

This is the season for trees with autumn colors … and not all trees are created equal. Increased garden success is had when plants are showing their colors.

It’s also the ideal window for planting trees and shrubs; the days are cool and the soil warm so plants start with a burst of new root growth.

Trees stand out in any landscape like anchors that bring together the foundation of a good plan. They also increase the value of your landscape more than spas and grills. Still, most properties don’t have many trees—you can count on one hand the number of trees in the average landscape.

Trees are where the landscape value is, so don’t waste money by cutting corners. This is no place to pinch pennies. Buy the best-looking tree you can find. Bigger is better. Nice-looking trees at the garden center turn into big, bold specimens as they mature. An ugly tree only stays ugly its entire life. Cut landscape dollars on shrubs, flowers, and hedges so your budget can afford a few specimen-sized trees to enhance your outdoor space. Below are the show-offs when it comes to fabulous fall foliage.

Red Celebration Maple. A very fast-growing shade tree blazes in reds and orange through Autumn. It produces a tall narrow tree with ascending branches more resistant to wind and storm damage. Widely used as a street tree, driveway lining or anyplace tight spaces demand a tree that will not spread past 20 feet with the brightest of reds in fall.

Flame Maple. This little maple is famous for blazing red foliage that ignites a landscape. It’s well adapted to mountain clay soils, sun, wind, and cold winters. When established, it’s easy on the irrigation and the perfect fire-wise tree. 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 ten-foot shrub, it is on my list of preferred water-wise plants.

Ornamental Pistachio. These are great for gardens exposed to the wind and subjected to micro-bursts or other weather anomalies. This autumn showoff thrives not only in harsh environments but in neglect, too. The attractive umbrella shape turns a brilliant crimson; no other tree produces such a vibrant, broad range of fall reds and oranges. It can serve dozens of uses: as a shade tree, street tree, accent, or front yard specimen. It’s the ideal choice for flanking driveways in pairs. Grow this colorful, low-water-need tree against a solid evergreen background to provide intense contrast to any landscape.

Aristocrat Pear. The last tree to turn Autumn red in December, this stunner also celebrates the other three season of the year. This fall beauty also produces gigantic masses of white flowers in spring before the leaves appear, followed by glowing green leaves through summer. The tree is wind-, disease- and bug-resistant. In winter, the clean outline of the branches is upright to pyramidal when the tree is young, and becomes broadly oval at maturity. The autumn colors are disputed to be brighter than maple and rival the purple of Raywood ash.

Prescott Red Oak. This mountain native tree is so deep-rooted it lived for hundreds of years with little to no pest issues. Its real claim to local fame is the classic red oak leaves that glow through Autumn. It features an outstanding pyramidal form for the perfect shade canopy in lawns, parks, or a backyard patio.

Quaking Aspen. For the past four years, the undisputed best-seller here at Watters Garden Center is Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides, or Trembling Leaf poplar. Growing in the wild at the 6000-foot-plus elevations, it does well as a cultivated specimen. Aspens have the classic pure white bark like birch but, unlike a birch, handle our clay soils well. True to their name, the delicate leaves shiver and quake at the slightest breeze. For a natural look with aspens, plant them in clusters, or buy a clump of aspens in the same container. They are social trees and like to hang out together in groupings. They’re best planted before the Thanksgiving holiday.

Until next issue, I’ll be helping gardeners plant the brightest Autumn-colored trees here at Watters Garden Center.

Lisa Watters-Lain can be found throughout the week at Watters Garden Center, 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd in Prescott, or contacted through or