Trees for Autumn Colour

 In Gardening, Seasonal Gardening, Trees and Shrubs

Trees for Autumn Colour

As trees are changing colour all round us now this blog is focused on Trees for Autumn Colour. I’m going to recommend the best trees for autumn colour to plant in gardens. Before I do that I’m just going to say a little about the conditions that enhance autumn colour.

Trees for autumn colour, fall, maple, garden

Acer palmatum Osakazuki

The early weeks of autumn need to provided perfect conditions for exceptional autumn colour! Bright warm days and cooler nights are just what is needed. It traps the sugars in the leaf and that is what produces the rich golds, oranges and yellows! To produce good autumn colour, trees must also not be stressed by lack of moisture or indeed too much of it! Of course virtually no wind helps too so let’s hope for a return of those weather conditions.

trees for autumn colour, beech, tree, autumn, fall

Beech [Fagus sylvatica]

Some trees are much more likely to light up like fireworks than others are. Their leaves go out with a bang rather than fizzling like a damp squib on the branch!


We can all enjoy the spectacle that is provided by our native trees. The rich copper, browns and golds of both beech and oaks can be relied upon. Fine examples can be seen by a drive through the Cotswolds, Quantock Hills, and Blackdown Hills and of course on Exmoor. But even an otherwise monotonous motorway drive can be made spectacular by the roadside planting of field maple. Field maple changes from a mediocre green to butter yellow but not usually until the first few days of November too. I’m not going to suggest that you plant an oak tree in your garden, but both beech and field maple make excellent hedging plants.


Trees, garden, autumn, colour, fall

Prunus Amanagowa

Most gardens have room for only one tree. However some varieties not only produce good autumn colour but are also very compact in growth habit. I’m thinking in particular of those upright growing trees that have been selected to plant close to a highway where a tree with a broader ‘crown’ would be hit by passing traffic. The Flagpole cherry [Prunus Amanagowa] can usually be relied upon to put on a good show before dropping its leaves. The narrow crab apple [Malus tschonoskii] does it too! But perhaps the best choice is a form of ornamental pear called Pyrus calleryana Chanticleer. This variety has a narrow growth habit and is especially late to show its autumn colour. The bright scarlet leaves of Chanticleer catch the eye well into November.

Trees for autumn colour, fall, garden

Acer rubrum

Most maple trees have spreading crowns and so need quite a bit of space. However the selection of Acer rubrum called October Glory is narrow and up there with the very brightest of all autumn colour performers!

Small trees

There is no shortage of small tree varieties when choosing Trees for Autumn Colour and many of these also have great spring flowers!

Trees for autumn colour, snowy mespilus, amelanchier, garden

Amelanchier canadensis

The Snowy Mespilus [Amelanchier] is outstanding for good autumn colour. The small leaves change to a mix of yellow, orange and red before finally changing to brown and falling to the ground.

Some of the earliest flowering cherries such as the excellent Kursar, Okame and Accolade colour up well in autumn. Many of the larger double flowered Japanese cherries can produce good autumn colour but tend to be rather large trees for today’s smaller gardens. One of the earliest cherries to bloom is also one of the earliest trees to show autumn colour. This one is Prunus sargentii and is a variety that I recommend planting instead of the disease prone almond. Unlike the almond, this species has bright scarlet leaves every autumn.

Mountain ash or rowan trees are good for colour too! Added to their excellent pink and red leaf colour, they have showy fruits. Sorbus Joseph Rock will be the easiest variety to find but it is well worth considering other selections.

Trees for autumn colour, garden. autumn, fall

Euonymus europaeus Red Cascade

A selection of the native spindle tree can be a good choice for a rather small garden. The variety ‘Red Cascade’ can be grown as a bush or trained into a small tree. The leaf colour is both pink and red and this selection is very free fruiting too!

Japanese maples are well known for the great autumn colour that they produce and are relatively slow growing with a light open and airy canopy. This produces dappled shade and opens up all sorts of opportunities for growing shade loving perennials and bulbs. There are hundreds of varieties but if I were forced to choose just one variety it would have to be ‘Osakazuki’.

The Paperbark Maple [Acer griseum] is very slow growing but ultimately grows into a fabulous specimen tree. It usually colours well in autumn but never fails to impress with that cinnamon coloured peeling bark.

Medium sized trees

Of the medium sized trees for autumn colour that we can plant I am going to pick out a couple of real stars!

Trees for autumn colour, fall, garden, gold

Parrotia persica

The Parrotia can be allowed to grow as a broad bush reminiscent of the witch hazel to which it is closely related. However unlike the witch hazel, Parrotia is tolerant of limey soils and if trained when young into a tree shape, it can grow into a spectacular tree for autumn colour.

The Katsura tree [Cercidophyllum japonicum] is another less commonly planted tree but it is one of my favourite. The leaf colour is a mix of the most delicate smoky pinks and lemon yellows! But when the leaves are on the ground the air is filled with the scent of burnt sugar!

Birch trees may not have showy spring flowers but most change to glorious yellows and gold in autumn. They too look good under-planted with bulbs, hardy cyclamen and even heathers.

Larger trees

Tree for autumn colour, fall, red, garden, Liquidambar

Liquidambar styraciflua Worplesdon

For larger gardens there are many more tree choices for good autumn colour.

The Sweet Gum [Liquidambar] is exceptional and with this tree it is well worth seeking out named varieties.‘Worplesdon’ is a superb variety!

Ginkgo, an ancient conifer that loses its leaves, has fantastic autumn leaf colour and invariably an upright growing crown too. Like the Chanticleer pear, this is a late performer with the beautiful butter yellow two lobed leaves hanging on well into next month.

Ginkgo, Maidenhair, tree, trees for autumn colour, garden

Ginkgo biloba

There are many other great trees that you could plant for autumn colour but I must mention Norway maple and its many named selections. These change to bright yellow autumn colour before finally becoming dormant for winter.


All these trees for autumn colour should be planted right now! But if you’re not yet ready to plant, then you have all the winter months to do it. By planting now you will have the great autumn colour to enjoy and your tree will be planted at the very best time to get it established!


I’ve just discovered this enchanting video posted by a friend and wonderfully knowledgeable tree grower in Oregon and I think that you will enjoy it! Thanks Guy Meacham! The Justin Hayward Forever Autumn as a soundtrack is the icing on the cake for me!

If you like Japanese maples- and they have great autumn colour -then you might like to read my blog on them here


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