Signs of Fall in the Desert?

Fall in the Desert

I have heard people lament that they miss the obvious changes that the seasons bring in cooler climates, once they move to the desert.  A fall without yellow and red foliage doesn’t feel the same. 

Autumn color in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

 Autumn color in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina

Visions of large, green trees whose leaves are beginning to turn into beautiful colors occupy their thoughts….

Fall foliage begins to make it's appearance in Williamsburg, VA.

 Fall foliage begins to make it’s appearance in Williamsburg, VA.

I like fall color as much as the next person, but as a native of Southern California, I have never experienced a whole lot of autumn colored foliage.  So for me, the coming of fall is indicated by drier and cooler weather, which I wholeheartedly welcome.

Some of you may not have noticed, but I have been gone for about 2 weeks on a vacation along the east coast.  My mother (Pastor Farmer), my husband, the kids and I flew from Phoenix to Atlanta, GA, where we rented a minivan and drove through western North Carolina, through Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC, Pennsylvania and ended up in New York.

We had a phenomenal time, which I will post about later.  One thing I will mention is the beautiful autumn color that we were fortunate to see on our travels.

Montreat, North Carolina

 Montreat, North Carolina

We enjoyed gathering some leaves for fall decorations back home.  I was able to get some from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, some in Pennsylvania, a couple of leaves from trees at the White House (the Secret Service didn’t get me in trouble for that), and a few leaves from Central Park in New York City.

Now many new people who move to the desert southwest love our mild winters, but oftentimes lament the lack of fall color in the trees in our area.  Well, for those of you who are homesick for some fall color in your desert garden, do not despair…

There is a wonderful tree that produces beautiful orange-red color in the winter.  The Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) tree stands out in the winter landscape because of it’s gorgeous color.

Autumn Colored Foliage

Autumn Colored Foliage

Aren’t they beautiful?

Throughout most of the year, this Chinese native serve as beautiful shade trees.  They reach sizes of approximately 30 ft. high and will shed their leaves in the winter.

Chinese Pistache tree

This front garden is a great example of a beautiful Chinese Pistache tree.

 It is NOT a good example of how to prune your shrubs 😉

They are hardy to temperatures in the teens in the winter months.  Male trees are said to be more attractive then the female trees.

Autumn Colored Foliage

So, if you are a new resident of the desert, or maybe a longtime resident and would like to add a little autumn color to your landscape, here is a tree to try.

Autumn Colored Foliage

Who wouldn’t love color like this in the fall?

**I am currently getting over jet lag and going through my photos from our vacation.  I can’t wait to share some of them with you 🙂

Is It Fall Yet?

Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."
16 replies
  1. Rosie@leavesnbloom
    Rosie@leavesnbloom says:

    I'm sure you had a great trip away Noelle in that little minivan. The scenery must have been wonderful to see.

    At least you have one tree that can provide you with a reminder of fall in your area. It's colours are so vibrant along with those colourful berries.

    I've one question for you – how long do the berries last?

  2. Gail
    Gail says:

    That's a beautiful tree against a wonderful blue sky! It sounds like you had a great fall trip~Can't wait to hear about the sights you've seen! gail

  3. Rosey
    Rosey says:

    Hi Noelle,
    The Autumn in the East in outstanding! We used to live in Michigan and took a road trip to Williamsburg, VA during fall. I will never forget it. It sounds like you had a good get-away. Can't wait to see your pics.

  4. Joanne@ Desertmountainbear
    Joanne@ Desertmountainbear says:

    I do think we have a beautiful fall here. It just takes a bit longer to come. I live in North Central Phoenix and to drive along these roads around Christmas is not quite as colorful as the east, but still very pretty.

  5. Nicole
    Nicole says:

    Sounds like a great trip and what beautiful pics. Esp like the red berries. I only get to see fall colors once every few years on travel but on those occasions I quite enjoyed.

  6. Desert Dweller
    Desert Dweller says:

    Nice contrast, and here in Abq not much difference in what reliably gives us fall color, but is lower water-use – Chinese Pistache, Chinquapin Oak, TX Red Oak. Even have 1 Ocotillo that insists on turning its leaves golden each fall!

  7. Ami
    Ami says:

    Love that Chinese pistache tree and its gorgeous autumn color! I am among those who miss the autumn color changes since the place I came does have distinct season changes. Wonder if I can find one Chinese pistache tree here, and if it also will do well in South florida climate. Looking forward to your future posts for more autumn colors!

  8. Floridagirl
    Floridagirl says:

    You Southwesterners do exactly what so many Floridians do. We have a few acquaintances that have just made the journey up this week to see the fall colors. They do it every year. Your Chinese pistache is a beautiful choice for fall color in your region. I was up at a mall last week and noticed what looked like Drake elms turned a lovely shade of yellow. My Drake stays green right up until the leaves drop in January, so all I can think is that this must be a different cultivar of Chinese elm. Anyway, it was so pretty. I really didn't think we could get fall color like that down here.

    Can't wait to hear about your travels. That part of the world is so lovely and has so much history.

  9. Curbstone Valley Farm
    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    How fun that you got to see some peak fall foliage on the east coast this year! I do miss fall colors, I grew up with them, but on the other hand, I also like that most of our trees are evergreen. When we lived in the Central Valley of California it seemed that most of the new houses had at least one Chinese Pistache tree. They really do put on a fabulous show, and very tolerant of hot dry summers.

  10. Catherine@AGardenerinProgress
    Catherine@AGardenerinProgress says:

    What a fun sounding trip! Ever since I started reading blogs from North Carolina I've added that as a state I'd love to visit. I can't wait to see more of your trip.
    What a gorgeous tree the Pistache is. I thought of you today when I was leaving a restaurant and saw some "interestingly" pruned shrubs.

  11. Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ
    Nancy in Sun Lakes AZ says:

    I was born and raised in central New York and also lived in New England for many years. Needless to say, I miss the fall colors. However, I find that here, in addition to Chinese Pistache, there are trees that turn a beautiful yellow around Christmas time (I don't know the name). I think, if you look, there is beauty everywhere.

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