Trees for autumn colour - Japanese maple, Acer griseum

Trees for autumn colour

We reveal our pick of the best 15 trees for autumn colour, including small trees and native trees.

Deciduous trees offer a final touch of drama to the garden, with their leaves turning shades of golden yellow, orange and red, before falling. So-called ‘autumn colours‘ (yellow carotenes and red and pink anthocyanins) are present in their leaves all year round. We just don’t see them because they’re hidden by green chlorophyll. However, when day length starts to decrease in late summer, production of chlorophyll slows down and eventually stops. The green colour fades from the leaves, revealing glorious yellows, reds and pinks beneath.

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What’s more, shortening day length also triggers the growth of corky cells across the base of leaf stalks, in preparation for leaf fall. This traps sugars in the leaf, which are converted to anthocyanins, giving the leaf additional red colouring.

Most deciduous trees offer some autumn colour as the season changes, but some species and cultivars put on a particularly spectacular display. Browse our list of the best trees for autumn colour, below.


1

Stag’s horn sumach

Trees for autumn colour - Rhus typhina stag's horn sumach
Trees for autumn colour – Stag’s horn sumach, Rhus typhina 

Native to North America, Rhus typhina is a striking tree with branches that resemble stags’ horns. Candle-like green flowers appear in spring, followed by red fruits that resemble velvety pine cones. In autumn the pinnate green leaves fade to red, orange and golden yellow, which complement the dark red fruits beautifully. Can be grown as a shrub or small tree.

Height x spread: 7m x 7m


2

Beech, Fagus sylvatica

Trees for autumn colour - beech hedge, Fagus sylvatica
Trees for autumn colour – beech hedge, Fagus sylvatica

Beech trees have beautiful orangey leaves all year round, but these darken to a warm russet in autumn. Grow as a standard tree or clip into a hedge – hedges keep their leaves throughout winter.

H x S: 12m x 8m


3

Sweet gum, Liquidambar styraciflua

Trees for autumn colour - Liquidambar styraciflua 'Lane Roberts'
Trees for autumn colour – Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Lane Roberts’

Liquidambar is native to eastern United States and Mexico, and is regarded as one of the best small trees for autumn colour. Relatively inconspicuous for the rest of the year, it’s maple-like leaves turn spectacular shades of orange and red in autumn, before falling. There are several cultivars to choose from – ‘Worplesdon’ is considered the most hardy.

H x S: 12m x 8m


4

Kousa, Cornus kousa

Trees for autumn colour - Cornus Kousa 'Doubloon'
Trees for autumn colour – Cornus kousa ‘Doubloon’

Cornus kousa provides a long season of interest, with large white flower-like bracts in summer, followed by strawberry-like clusters of deep pink fruit n autumn. What’s more, its leaves turn spectacular shades of dark pink from late summer.

H x S: 7m x 5m


5

Japanese maple, Acer palmatum

Trees for autumn colour - Japanese maple, Acer palmatum
Trees for autumn colour – Japanese maple, Acer palmatum

Japanese maples are renowned for their autumn colour, with their leaves turning  glorious shades of yellow, orange and red before falling. Typically compact and slow-growing, they come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Many are suitable for growing in containers.

H x S: 8m x 10m


6

Paperbark maple, Acer griseum

Trees for autumn colour - Japanese maple, Acer griseum
Trees for autumn colour – Japanese maple, Acer griseum

Acer griseum is a compact tree with wonderful, peeling bark. Its fresh green leaves turn glorious shades of yellow, orange and red in autumn.

H x S: 10m x 10m


7

Chinese tupelo, Nyssa sinensis

Trees for autumn colour - Chinese tupelo, Nyssa sinensis
Trees for autumn colour – Chinese tupelo, Nyssa sinensis

Native to China and Vietnam, Nyssa sinensis is a small tree or shrub, with long oval leaves that turn brilliant red, orange and yellow in autumn.

H x S: 12m x 8m


8

Maidenhair tree, Ginkgo biloba

Trees for autumn colour - Ginkgo biloba
Trees for autumn colour – Ginkgo biloba Getty Images.

Ginkgo biloba is an ancient tree native to China. Its unusual leaves turn a beautiful golden yellow when a warm autumn follows a warm summer. While it’s better suited to growing in a larger garden, it’s a great option for urban areas as it can withstand pollution well.

H x S: 15m x 5m


9

European spindle, Euonymus europaeus

Trees for autumn colour - European spindle, Euonymus europaeus
Trees for autumn colour – European spindle, Euonymus europaeus

Our native spindle has glorious autumn colour, with its dark green leaves turning a warm russet at the same time as its fruit ripens to pink and orange. Grow it as a small tree or shrub.

H x S: 4m x 4m


10

Sorbus ‘Joseph’s Rock’

Trees for autumn colour - Sorbus
Trees for autumn colour – Sorbus ‘Joseph’s Rock’. Getty Images.

‘Joseph’s Rock’ is a small rowan tree with yellow berries, which contrast beautifully with the red and orange of its autumn leaves. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

H x S: 12m x 8m


11

Japanese rowan, Sorbus commixta

Trees for autumn colour - Japanese rowan - Sorbus commixta
Trees for autumn colour – Japanese rowan, Sorbus commixta. Getty Images.

Widely regarded as one of the best rowans for autumn colour, Sorbus commixta has pinnate green leaves, which fade to deep red and orange, in conjunction with large clusters of red berries. Slow growing, it’s perfect for small gardens.

H x S: 12m x 8m


12

Mountain ash, Sorbus aucuparia

Trees for autumn colour - Rowan, Sorbus acuparia
Trees for autumn colour – Rowan, Sorbus acuparia. Getty Images.

Our native rowan, Sorbus aucuparia, has dark green, pinnate leaves which turn yellow and orange in autumn, complementing large clusters of red berries.

H x S: 15m x 8m


13

Weeping katsura, Cercidiphyllum japonicum

Trees for autumn colour - Weeping katsura, Cercidiphyllum japonicum
Trees for autumn colour – Weeping katsura, Cercidiphyllum japonicum. Getty Images.

Weeping katsura is a graceful, weeping tree native to Japan, with heart-shaped green leaves that turn beautiful shades of yellow, orange and purple in autumn. On warm autumn days they also give off a burnt sugar smell. It grows slowly so is perfect for small gardens.

H x S: 8m x 8m


14

Black tupelo, Nyssa sylvatica

Trees for autumn colour - Nyssa sylvatica
Trees for autumn colour – Nyssa sylvatica. Getty Images.

Nyssa sylvatica is a slow growing medium sized tree native to North America. It has beech-like, oval leaves that change from green to a purple-red in autumn, which are set off beautifully by its dark grey bark.

H x S: 12m x 8m


15

Snowy mespilus, Amelanchier lamarckii

Trees for autumn colour - Amelanchier lamarckii
Trees for autumn colour – Amelanchier lamarckii

Amelanchier lamarckii is a small, bushy tree or large shrub renowned for its showy April blossom and gorgeous autumn colour. It’s perfect for small gardens. The Royal Horticultural Society has given it its Award of Garden Merit (AGM).

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H x S: 12m x 8m