Alan Titchmarsh shares ‘glorious’ tree to plant for ‘autumn colour’

Alan Titchmarsh shows 'autumn colour' on tree in 2021

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The arrival of autumn may bring the unwelcome bite of frosty mornings and an evening chill, but it also brings an array of breathtaking, fiery hues that are attributed to certain deciduous. As deciduous trees and shrubs change their leaves, a gorgeous palette of crimson, russet, bronze and gold emerges. Gardening expert, Alan Titchmarsh offered advice to gardeners looking to add some “autumn colour” to their garden. 

Alan described October as a “dispiriting” month where people often feel “frustrated”.

However, he said if gardeners want to plant something for their “autumn pleasure” he claimed that liquidambar is the perfect tree.

He said: “October can be a dispiriting month – party conferences, fuel shortages and general seething anger everywhere. Everybody gets so frustrated.

“The bulb planting season is upon us but you’ve got to wait for spring for them to come out and yet, in autumn we get what we like to call ‘autumn colour’ from things like this.

“This is liquidambar. This glorious tree – about two and a half times my height now – was planted between 10 and 12 years ago.

“The leaves in the sunshine are this wonderful rich pale crimson against a blue sky. Absolutely matchless. So think about planting things for your autumn pleasure.

“Liquidambar while others are taking off in the skies to foreign climbs and you’re stuck in your garden. Give this a go. Liquidambar styraciflua.”

Liquidambar, more commonly known as the sweet gum tree, is a beautiful tree with maple-like leaves that turn spectacular shades of purple, crimson, orange and yellow in autumn. 

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It produces small, insignificant green flowers in spring, these may be followed by burr-like fruits. The cone-shaped crown becomes rounded as the tree matures. Older trees have attractive, cork-like bark.

Sweet gum trees are native to North America, where they’re often found growing in swampy regions. A Spanish naturalist “discovered” sweet gum trees in the early 16th century and described their aromatic gum as “liquid amber” – hence the Latin name, Liquidambar styraciflua.

As a sweet gum can eventually reach 25m tall and 8m wide, its best grown in a large garden, although more slender and compact varieties are available. Grow as a standalone tree in a lawn so its vibrant autumn colours can be appreciated.

For the best autumn colour, grow Liquidambar in full sun, in rich, damp soil. Sweet gum does not grow well on alkaline soil but does well on acid soil. 

Grow it in a sheltered spot, as wind can snap the branches. It does not need pruning but dead or crossing branches can be removed in winter.

To plant this type of tree, begin by standing the tree in water to ensure its roots are damp.

Then dig a square hole that’s slightly wider than the pot your tree is in, but no deeper. Lightly fork the base and sides of the hole to ensure the soil isn’t compacted.

Remove the pot from container-grown trees and any wrapping from bare-root ones. Tease out and unwind any circling roots. Stand the tree in the planting hole, then lay a cane across the hole to check that the top of the rootball is level with the soil surface.

Backfill around the rootball with the excavated soil, shaking the tree a little to help the soil settle around the roots. Use your heel to firm gently all around the rootball and ensure there is good contact between the roots and the soil.

Stake the tree to prevent windrock, which can tear the roots and create a gap around the base of the trunk that can fill with water and encourage rot. 

The stake should be about a third of the height of the tree, hammered in at a 45 degree angle. After, attach the trunk to the stake using an adjustable tree tie.

Water the tree thoroughly, then keep it watered during dry spells for at least the first year after planting.

Love Your Weekend with Alan Titchmarsh airs on Sunday at 9:30am on ITV

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