Fall is generally when flowers agree to take a backseat to foliage. And for that we can be thankful, because nature provides a rich assortment of bold hues as trees and shrubs prepare for winter. In addition to the spectacular white birch (Betula) trees, above, there are many other fine candidates for your yard. Here are a few.
It’s hard to find a prettier plant than a Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) in fall. These burgundy- or green-leafed trees have a delightful combination of brilliant color and artistic habit. Height ranges from 2-25 feet, depending on cultivar.
Go big or go home. That’s what the sugar maple (Acer saccharum) seems to say each fall. In addition to its ample stature (often more than 60 feet tall), sugar maple impresses with big color. In fact, the bright reddish orange foliage looks like it’s on fire.
This vigorous plant tends to sprout new stems from the roots, growing into small groves that enhance the impact of the bright red fall foliage. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a small multi-branched tree that reaches about 15 feet tall. It is best in a confined area.
Another sumac with bright fall color comes in a slightly more compact package. Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatic) is a mound-forming shrub that grows 3-5 feet tall with showy orange to reddish-purple fall color.
A landscaping favorite because of its tough constitution, summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) rewards the homeowner with white flowers in summer and golden yellow leaves in fall. With its upright habit, this 8-foot-tall shrub is a exclamation point in the landscape.
Which witch hazel do you like? One that blooms in late winter, or one that blooms in fall? Either way, you get a spectacular shrub with bright fall hues of gold, red, and burgundy. This is vernal witch hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), a winter bloomer growing 15 feet tall.
Known for its large panicles of white flowers in summer, oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) also offers attractive foliage in fall. Flowers age attractively, taking on buff tones, so they look good even after peak. The shrub reaches about 6 feet tall.
Once saddled with the unfortunate name “chokeberry,” aronia is an up-and-coming shrub valued for its tart, highly nutritious berries. In the landscape, it also offers intensely colored foliage in fall. It grows 6-10 feet tall.
This ancient species has a habit of dropping all of its leaves at once. Occasionally the leaves fall before turning color, but more often the glow of golden yellow foliage appears first. Ginkgo grows 50-100 feet, depending on whether it’s a cultivar or the true species.
Amur maple (Acer ginnala) is another colorful member of the maple family. Usually developing as a multistem tree, it tops out at about 30 feet and shows excellent drought tolerance. Its attractive fall foliage ranges from golden yellow to reddish burgundy.
Enjoy the attributes of a buckeye tree in a smaller package. Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) is a suckering shrub that reaches about 10 feet tall. In addition to attractive white flower clusters in summer, it shows off bright yellow foliage in fall.
Along with fragrant creamy white flowers in summer, Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) boasts outstanding fall foliage as well. The reddish-purple hues are a great complement to the more common yellows and golds of the fall landscape. It grows 5-10 feet tall.