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Fall Foliage–The Best Trees to Plant for Fall Color

A lot of landscaping revolves around plants such as shrubs and flowers. We think it’s time to show trees some love, too. Nothing is more beautiful than fall colors, so why not bring the beauty of fall leaves to your front yard? If you’re looking for the best trees to plant for fall color, we have you covered.

Not only do trees provide much needed shade in the summer, they offer transformative beauty once the weather turns. From maple trees to dogwoods, here are our top 9 picks for the best trees to plant for fall color, and make all that raking well worth it.

Sugar Maple

You may know the sugar maple as the tree that is responsible for everyone’s favorite breakfast topping–syrup. The sugar maple is sought after for its beautiful hardwoods, and more commonly its sap. This sap is the same product that, once transformed, makes its way to your pancakes and waffles in the morning. However, what you might not be aware of is the Sugar Maple’s stunning contribution to fall foliage.

When autumn rolls around, sugar maples put on a show. The leaves turn a bright shock of burnt, orangey red. These are hardy trees that grow across the country, and do best in zones 3-8. In New England and Midwestern states such as New York and Wisconsin, the sugar maple is the official state tree. Plant one in your yard to ensure bright bursts of orange color year after year.

Ginkgo

Among trees, Ginkgos stand out for several reasons. With their distinct, fan shaped leaves, once you’ve seen one, you’re likely to be able to spot them everywhere you go. The Ginkgo tree grows slowly. However, what it lacks in speed, it makes up for in fall color for your yard. Each year, those uniquely shaped leaves turn into waving fans of bright yellow.

Ginkgo trees are originally from southern China. However, this tree’s incredibly hardy nature makes it a natural pick for people across the United States. The Ginkgo tree’s bright yellow fall foliage can be spotted in zones 3-8. Fully grown, these trees can reach nearly 100 feet tall.

Cypress

Most conifers are evergreens. This means that, despite cold weather, they retain their needly, green foliage even when the deciduous trees around them have shed their leaves. However, not all conifer trees are evergreens. And while cleaning up needles can be a pain, and is certainly more difficult than raking broad leaves, there is something to say for a conifer that puts on a show. Introducing the Cypress.

The bald cypress has lacey needles that are a beautiful green throughout spring and summer. Come fall, however, foliage begins to turn. Green transforms into a deep, burnt orange, russet color. Once the needles have fallen, the Bald Cypress features visual interest by way of bark. For a dynamic visual, plant among other evergreen conifers for high contrast.

Bald Cypress trees bring fall color to a wide range of growing zones in the US, and can do well in zones 4–11. They are medium-growers, meaning you will see an increase in size sooner than trees such as the Ginkgo. At full maturity, they reach 40-50 feet in height, and have a 20-25 foot spread.

Japanese Maple

Once again, maples make our list for the best trees to plant for fall color. However, unlike the Sugar Maple, this candidate is more diminutive in stature. Still, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in visual interest. Introducing the Japanese Maple. Identifiable for it’s delicate leaves and branches.

Japanese Maples are known not only for their fall color but their year long color as well, which runs the gamut between vibrant reds, to purples and oranges. Unlike the first three trees on our list of the best trees to plant for fall color, the Japanese Maple is less hardy and needs slightly more refined conditions to thrive. Recommended for zones 5-8, a fully mature Japanese Maple will typically stand around 30 feet tall. However, smaller varieties of the tree are available as well.

Northern Red Oak

Many trees get their names for the way that they look. The Northern Red Oak is no exception. Like other oak trees, the Northern Red has leaves with between 7-11 waxy lobes. Green during the summer, this foliage turns a striking deep red when late autumn arrives. Compared to other trees on our list, Northern Red Oaks are fairly late to drop their leaves. This means you can enjoy the fall color from your trees just a little bit longer.

Northern Red Oak’s are relatively fast growers, especially early in their life. For the first ten years, you can expect these trees to grow around two feet a year, especially when conditions are favorable. Fully mature oak’s will reach between 60-70 feet fall, and grow best in zones 3–8.

Quaking Aspen

If you’re looking for fall color you can plant just about anywhere, look no further than the Quaking Aspen. This outstanding tree provides gorgeous yellow foliage in more areas than almost any other variety of tree in North America. Quaking Aspens can be found over a staggering 47 degrees of latitude, and 110 degrees of longitude. This range means you can find Quaking Aspens in nine separate time zones.

Quaking aspens get their name for the dynamic movement of their leaves. Not only does the foliage provide beautiful autumn color, but it is a delight of sound and movement in the spring and summer.

Chinese (Kousa) Dogwood

This article is about the best trees to plant for fall color. However, this next contender makes an argument for multi-seasonal appeal. The Kousa, or Chinese, Dogwood puts on a show in both the spring and autumn months. Come April, this Dogwood blossoms into a smattering of white flowers. In fall, the Kousa Dogwood turns a beautiful purpley-red.

This tree is smaller than large selections such as the Sugar Maple or Oak .Mature Dogwoods rarely grow over 30 feet, and many are smaller. These trees grow slowly and enjoy full sunlight to thrive. Kousa Dogwoods bring fall color to zones 5–8.

Tuliptree

Another blooming tree, the Tuliptree gets its name for its tulip-shaped blossoms that spring forward in May and June. However, the tree puts on a second show when fall rolls around. In the autumn months, it becomes one of the best trees you can plant for fall color.

Tuliptrees appreciate full sun and grow quickly, nearly two feet a year, to a height of 70 to 90 feet. The tree also boasts aromatic stems, and grows well in zones 4-9.

Sweetgum

Some of the best shade trees are also the best trees to plant for fall color this year. With bright, shiny green leaves, the Sweetgum tree puts on a show when autumn arrives. The foliage turns more than once. First from green to yellow, and then as the season progresses, to dark red. Some may even turn purple.

The sweetgum tree is best known for the seed pods it grows. Some homeowners appreciate these seed pods as a favorite holiday ornament. However, others may see them as nothing more than a nuisance. If you dread a cleanup, varieties of Sweetgum that do not produce this pod exist.

The Sweetgum tree grows best in zones 5–9. It has decent drought tolerance, and is resistant to most diseases. Growing at a medium pace, the Sweetgum tree will lag behind a Nothern Red Oak, but outpace a Ginkgo.

Plant These Trees for Fall Color

There you have it–our top nine trees to plant for beautiful fall color for years to come. While not all of these trees will work in every region, we recommend consulting your zoning map to figure out which will. No matter which of these nine trees you go with, you’re guaranteed to get a beautiful autumn display.

Just don’t forget to compost your leaves and clean out your gutters once the fall foliage has officially fallen.

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