Denny Schrock

in search of fall color

October glory red maple colors later than most varieties of the species. This one in my yard is surrounded by Limelight hydrangea.

The fall color display in central Iowa has been spectacular this year. Just the right combination of warm, sunny days and cool, but above-freezing temperatures at night, along with a little stress from the driest September and October in six decades led to glorious golds, outstanding oranges, and rich reds. Yesterday’s rain and wind brought down quite a few leaves, but some trees will hold their color for a few more days, or even weeks in the case of many oaks and callery pears.

These ginkgo trees outside my office are at peak color. They'll all drop their leaves within a few days.

Before long, the brilliant foliage colors will be gone. Then I’ll have to be content with the memories and photos of the autumnal fireworks show. Fortunately, Timber Press sent me a new tool that will help. It’s the latest book from woody plant guru, Michael Dirr. Long regarded as the nation’s foremost expert on trees and shrubs, Dr. Dirr has published a new book that, like his previous Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, draws on his encyclopedic knowledge and years of personal experience with trees and shrubs. However, the new book, Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs, adds thousands of photos to the mix, too.

The cover of Dirr's Encyclopedia of Trees & Shrubs

It’s odd to say that the new 950-page tome is downsized from the previous book, which is nearly 1,200 pages in length. It certainly doesn’t feel less hefty! With the inclusion of so many photos, Dirr had to leave out some of the nerdy horticultural details found in his previous work. For example, the number of red maples and hybrids discussed in the new book is 17 compared to 58 in the previous book. Similarly ginkgo dropped from 40 to 5 varieties, and dawn redwood decreased from 9 to 6 varieties. However, the book is still replete with Dirr’s personal anecdotes and observations. He has updated the book with more recent introductions and dropped some of the more obscure ones. The pictorial displays more than make up for the abbreviated text. And most gardeners will appreciate not having to sift through obscure varieties that they’re not likely to find at the local nursery anyway.

The size of the book makes it impractical to carry around as a field guide, but it will no doubt be a go-to reference for years to come. With a list price of $79.95, the book won’t be an impulse purchase for most. However, the timing of its release is perfect to place it on your Holiday gift wish list.

The dawn redwood in my yard has taken on russet orange hues this fall.