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Tuesday 30 September 2014

Yellow ash a beacon of light in the autumn sun

Gerry Daly

Published 13/10/2013 | 05:00

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ASH is a familiar native tree of field ditches, hedgerows and woodlands. Soon, its leaves will start to change colour from green to yellow before they fall.

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Ash is among the last of native trees to leaf up in late spring and one of the first to drop its leaves in autumn.

A tree of many uses, ash is good timber for furniture, tool handles and hurleys, and it makes excellent firewood, burning well even when green. It is not really suitable as a tree for gardens because it can make such a big tree eventually. It can reach to over 20m quite commonly and more in ideal conditions.

Also, the female trees shed masses of seeds, and seedlings pop up all over.

The ordinary ash colours well in a good sunny autumn and it should be very good in a few weeks' time. If anything, the good weather has delayed autumn colouring to date. The best autumn colour of leaves occurs when there are warm days and cool nights, but not frosty, because frost causes leaves to fall early.

In a poor year for autumn colour, the leaves of ash fall without colouring, lying green and blackened on the ground. This happens after a dull summer, when the tree does not build up stores of sugars.

The yellow ash, Fraxinus excelsior 'Jaspidea', is a vigorous grower but stays relatively small and can be planted in gardens of reasonable size. It has bright yellow bark on the new twigs and a duller yellow on the older branches, and it makes a finer show of yellow autumn leaf colour.

During October and into November, the green colour is slowly washed out of the leaves and only the pure yellow pigments remain.

The tree stands like a beacon of yellow on a sunny autumn day. Unlike the ordinary ash, of which it is a selection, the yellow ash nearly always makes a good show, even after a dull summer and it should be wonderful this year.

A lesser-known species of ash, the manna ash, Fraxinus ornus, also makes a fine show of autumn colour, but in dark red-purple instead of yellow. The leaves are smaller and finer than the ordinary ash, changing from green-purple to red-purple with some yellow leaves at the centre of the tree where sunlight did not reach in summer.

This is a smaller tree, good for gardens, and like its cousin, it likes good, deep, well-drained, fertile soil.

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