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England: Plan ahead, pay attention to surroundings before planting a tree
The hues of a Japanese maple make a nice contrast next to an arborvitae. - photo by Russell England

Question: I want to plant a tree small enough to fit under a power line. Can you recommend one that has good fall color?Answer: You are wise to consider the height a mature tree will achieve before you plant one under a power line. It is so easy to find examples of what would be large, stately trees had they not been butchered to protect powerlines from falling branches.

Proximity to driveways, sidewalks, septic tanks and buildings are other factors that are often overlooked when selecting the proper tree for a particular location.

When thinking of small trees for fall color, Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) immediately come to mind. There are many varieties of these to choose from, so you will want to seek help from a reputable nursery before making your choice.

There are various species and cultivars of dogwoods to consider for fall color, including our native flowering dogwood (Cornus Florida), redtwig dogwood (C. sericea), stellar dogwood (C. rutgersensis) and rough-leaf dogwood (C. drummondii).

Both dogwoods and Japanese maples are slow-growing, and dogwoods give the added benefit of colorful spring blossoms. I have a pink flowering dogwood that is about six years old that has been especially colorful this fall and has retained its leaves well.

Less well-known trees for fall color include the Okame Cherry (Prunus incisa x capanulata Okame), Washington hawthorne (crataegus phaenopyrum) and shining sumac (Rhus copallina).

Be aware that R. copallina produces suckers and self-seeds freely into large colonies, making it a poor choice for a small garden.

Shop and ask questions before you buy for fall color, which can be variable even among trees of the same variety. Location can make a big difference with color affected by specific site characteristics.

Genetics is another fairly obvious factor affecting fall color. A tree grown from seed will be less likely to meet expectations than one grown from a cutting from a known performer.

I have a maple that I planted because it was advertised as having great fall color, but it drops its leaves before good color develops. I don’t know if this is due to site conditions or to genetics, but I plan to replace it soon.

Q: Other than trial and error, is there any way to figure out how to locate houseplants to meet their lighting requirements?A: In the strictest sense, there is no such thing as a "houseplant." This is just a term that we use for plants that have been taken from their natural environment and placed inside our homes.

Now that may sound silly, but the point is that since a house is not any plant’s "natural environment," we have to do our best to duplicate the conditions that our houseplant would expect if it were in its natural habitat

There are many factors to consider in order to make a houseplant feel at home. Light is certainly a major factor, but others include humidity, soil, fertility, temperature, pests and container size.

Houseplants are generally classified by their light requirements as needing either low, medium or high intensity light. If you are unsure which category fits your plant, consult the store where you bought it or ask a knowledgeable friend.

You can easily test the light level anywhere in your house by holding your hand about 12 inches above a sheet of white paper. A well-defined shadow indicates a high light condition, a fuzzy shadow means medium light and no shadow at all indicates low light conditions.

Russ England is a Master Gardener trained and certified in horticulture and related areas through by the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service.

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