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IN THE GARDEN PICK A TREE WITH FALL COLORS.

Byline: JOSHUA SISKIN

One of the most attractive trees for fall color is the Chinese pistachio (Pistacia chinensis), and our landscapes would be well served by planting more of it. Its leaves change to every shade of yellow, gold, burgundy and red before dropping off as winter takes hold. Upon reaching maturity, the Chinese pistachio develops a perfectly domed canopy, a shapely aesthetic asset in any season.

Curiously, it is the evergreen Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), a close relative of the Chinese pistachio, that has become one of the most popular Valley trees. The lush, sea-green foliage of the Brazilian pepper is overshadowed by its highly disorganized growth habit, a tendency to explode with vertically growing shoots or water sprouts in the aftermath of pruning, and just about the worst suckering tendency of any ornamental tree.

Another tree worthy of consideration for its kaleidoscopic fall foliage is the Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum). A few years ago, this species was planted as a street tree in Sherman Oaks along Ventura Boulevard east of Woodman Avenue, much to the delight of passers-by this time of year. Not only does the tallow tree keep to a manageable size, but it is replete with heart-shaped leaves that shimmer with all the colors of the rainbow each autumn. Bear in mind that this relative of the poinsettia contains sap that is somewhat allergenic, and so its pruning is best performed in long sleeves and gloves. This should be done frequently when it is young to offset its tendency to lean in one direction.

The liquidambar is on everyone's list of fall color trees, but with at least one serious reservation: Its roots are a threat to water lines, sidewalks and surrounding asphalt and concrete surfaces. Even where pipes and pavement are not a concern, the landscape or garden itself is compromised since only sparse ground cover, if that, can grow in proximity to a mature liquidambar tree.

Where shrubs are concerned, three closely related groups - barberries, mahonias and nandinas - take center stage in the fall color arena. The Japanese barberry (Berberbis thunbergii) is available in many varieties, ranging from 6-foot-tall background or hedging types such as ``Sparkle'' and ``Rose Glow'' to 2-foot ``Crimson Pygmy'' dwarfs.

Mahonia, commonly known as Oregon grape, has shiny and spiny leaves, yellow flowers and edible, if insipid, purple fruit that attracts wildlife. Several varieties are available, from gangly, arching bushes to ground covers. Most people are familiar with nandina, or heavenly bamboo, even if they don't know its name. It has soft, delicate, finely divided foliage and no drawbacks except for sensitivity to alkaline soil and hot sun. Many colorful varieties exist, but I am partial to ``Gulf Stream,'' which has a dense growth habit and stays between 3 and 4 feet tall.

TIP THE WEEK: This is the time of year when plants begin to go dormant. As they settle down to sleep, it is appropriate to tuck a nice warm blanket of mulch around them. Start by soaking the ground well and applying a 2- or 3-inch layer of mulch. This can be made from straw, shredded newspaper, stable cleanings or leaves composted with steer manure. If you do so, you will not have to water your planters more than once a week, if that, for several months, depending on the weather and the types of shrubs and perennials involved. Nearly all woody shrubs, natives and bulbous perennials can go from now until mid-February, when the Valley spring begins, without supplemental irrigation, as long as we have average precipitation during the winter.

In order to economize on watering, it is essential to separate sprinklers in planters from those in lawns. If a single watering circuit includes both planter and lawn areas, you will either water too much for the planters or too little for the lawns. Incidentally, a lawn that is properly aerated and fertilized should not need to be watered more than twice a week during the fall season. If your Marathon or tall fescue lawn starts to turn yellow as the weather cools, fertilize with urea to keep it green.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 12, 2005
Words:685
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