Need some inspiration?
Look no farther than a park, arboretum, or even a city street to find trees and shrubs suitable for your area. Maples are a favorite in many areas because of their extraordinary fall foliage. Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), shown, is one of the best for orange and yellow hues. And red maple (Acer rubrum) lives up to its name with bright red fall foliage. Better yet, it is available in a wide range of hardiness zones.
Keep these points in mind when choosing a tree or shrub for your yard:
Size. Large trees are magical -- but not always practical. If you have a smaller lot, consider shrubs and trees with a mature size less than 25 feet. You’ll still get plenty of fall color without the need for corrective pruning.
Location. Fall color is most vivid when plants have plenty of sunshine available, so look for a spot with at least six hours of sun each day.
Staging. The best fall color spectacles include more than one plant. A good backdrop -- whether it’s a dark evergreen or a deciduous tree that turns a different color -- can add eye-catching contrast.
Why plant in the fall?
Fall isn’t just a good time to sow grass seed, it’s also an optimum time to plant trees and shrubs. Cooler weather means plants are less stressed by heat. And more plentiful rainfall can help roots as they continue to grow and store up energy reserves for the next growing season.
Fall landscaping tips
Follow these guidelines to create a tapestry of seasonal color and texture.
Work in layers. Mountaintops are seen from a distance -- home landscapes have a much closer vantage point. That means you’ll want more than just tall trees. Notice how the variegated dogwood, fountaingrass, Japanese cedar, and barberry complement the katsura trees and add to the tapestry effect.
Think multiseason. Many trees and shrubs shine in more than one season. Viburnum offers flowers in late spring and early summer followed by bird-attracting fruit. Other multiseason candidates: oakleaf hydrangea, serviceberry, fothergilla, ninebark, and dogwood.
Mix it up. Like maples in fall? Extend their grand exit by including sugar maple, which peaks several weeks before Japanese maple. You can also add lasting interest by interspersing bulbs, groundcovers, flowers, grasses, and ferns. Just be sure to consult plant tags to see which plants want sun and which ones will take more shade.
What to plant
Add these stars of autumn to your yard for an array of hues sure to delight the eye
Zones 3–7; 80–100 feet tall; fast-growing, pollution-tolerant.
Zones 5–9; 80–100 feet tall; ancient pedigree dating to dinosaurs.
Zones 4–9; 30 feet tall; bright pink, purple, or white flowers in spring.
Zones 3–8; 10–12 feet tall; narrow-leaf shrub with columnar habit.
Zones 5–8; 5–25 feet tall; range of habits and leaf shapes; likes partial shade.
Zones 4–8; 3–6 feet tall; white bottlebrush-like flowers in the spring.
Zones 3–7; 20–25 feet tall; spring flowers followed by edible summer fruit.
Zones 4–9; 10–15 feet tall; hardy shrub that withstands neglect.
Zones 5–8; up to 20 feet tall; bright spring flowers and bird-attracting summer fruit.