Did you know that several different types of trees give you gorgeous colors in the fall months? Many autumn trees give you something all year-round. This can be lush and full looks in the spring and summer before shifting to a brilliant display of color. For example, a maple tree is an excellent source of sap for making syrup in the winter, and it gives you full foliage in the summer for shade and red coloring in the fall. If you’re picking out autumn trees, make sure you find ones that give you something of use all year round. They should also be suitable for your specific growing zone to ensure that they thrive and grow larger year after year.
If you’re not sure which autumn trees would work best for your space, you’re in luck. I’ve picked out several different options that you can look at and get a good feel for their optimal growing conditions. Doing so will help them stay healthy, thrive, and put on a stunning display for you when the weather gets that crisp snap to it before the frost sets in. Let’s dive in and see which ones would be a perfect addition to your yard.
1. River Birch
Growing best in zones four to nine, River Birch is a colorful tree when the fall months roll around. However, this autumn tree also comes with interesting peeling bark that is there in every season to add texture to your space. They can easily grow between 40 and 70 feet tall at full maturity, and they tolerate wet conditions much better than other trees. The dark green leaves will slowly turn to a yellow hue in the fall, and the peeling bark comes in white or reddish-brown colors. It needs full sun to partial shade to grow best, and it likes a well-drained but moist soil. If the ground is constantly wet, it’ll grow here too.
2. Shagbark Hickory
There are several different species of autumn trees in the Carya genus, but this particular one has a golden brown coloring in the fall months. It also has bark that will peel and exfoliate in long strips during the winter months to provide more interest. It also produces edible nuts, and the wood makes an excellent fuel source for anyone who has a smoker. It also works well for furniture. This tree can grow between 70 and 90 feet tall and give you plenty of shade in the summer. Grow it in zones four to eight in part shade to full sun. The soil should be well-drained but moist loam, and you’ll get yellow-green leaves in the spring with golden-brown leaves in the fall.
3. Purple-Leaf Sand Cherry
Although this isn’t technically an autumn tree, it’s a very large shrub that you can train to grow and work like a smaller tree. It offers reddish-purple foliage throughout the summer months, and it has white and pink hued flowers in the spring that eventually turn to blue fruit that attracts birds. It turns a bronze color in the fall, and it can live for 10 to 15 years. It grows well outside in zones two to eight, and it needs full sun. For the soil, it should be well-draining but moist and very nutrient-rich. You want to start training it young to look like a tree or it’ll resemble a shrub and speak out wide rather than tall.
4. ‘Sunburst’ Honeylocust
This autumn tree usually gives you bright yellow foliage, and the leaves feature a small hint of green mixed in to make it more eye-catching. During the spring, you’ll get golden-yellow leaf coloring, and it turns to deep green in the summer before going back to yellow in the fall. It’s tolerant of road salt, drought, and pollution to make it excellent for cities. Also, it only grows around 35-feet tall at full maturity, and it’s seedless and thornless. Plant it in zones four to seven in full sun. Give it a soil that drains well but stays relatively moist and that is rich in nutrients, and test it periodically to make sure it isn’t too acidic. Do so and watch it put on a show.
DSC03649 by geneva_wirth / CC BY-NC 2.0
5. Japanese Maple
Japanese Maples are a very recognizable autumn tree that offer colorful leaves during several months out of the year. They can grow between 10 and 25-feet tall, but there are dwarf varieties that are very popular with gardeners who like weeping trees. The leaves have fine lobes that make them eye-catching, and they grow best in zones five to eight. The leaves can be dark green, light green, or burgundy in the summer months before fading to bronze, reddish-purple, or yellow in the fall. Plant them in an area that gets partial shade to full sun, and make sure that the soil is rich and moist, but it should also be slightly acidic.
Japanese maple by Toshiyuki IMAI / CC BY-SA 2.0
6. Black Gum
Black Gum is one autumn tree that gives you spectacular scarlet colors. Better known as the tupelo tree, it can get between 30 and 50 feet high at full maturity. It has a high tolerance for being in wet soil, and this makes it a great addition to your pond design. It can adapt to surviving in standing water, and it produces blackish fruits that birds flock to. The leaves have a glossy appearance and some cultivars give you a weeping growth habit. Plant it in zones three to nine in part shade to full sun. The soil should be wet to medium-moisture, and it’ll produce dark green leaves in the spring and summer months that fade to scarlet.
Cavendish. Wakefield Park garden. Nyssa sylvatica tree in autumn by denisbin / CC BY-ND 2.0
Beech trees are autumn trees that give you a yellow-gold leaf color in the fall, edible nuts, and pretty bark. Beech trees also change colors much later in the season, and they don’t drop their leaves as soon as other species to allow you to enjoy the colors longer. American and European Beech have a gray bark for winter interest, and they can grow between 20 and 80 feet tall. They do best when you plant them in zones three to nine, and you get dark green foliage in the summer that fades to golden yellow. It likes to have partial shade to full sun, and the soil should drain very well, be rich, and stay relatively moist.
Beeches Forest 3 by Riccardo Maria Mantero / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
There are several Dogwood trees like the Japanese Dogwood and the Flowering Dogwood that give you beautiful spring colors due to their flowers, and the Red-Twig Dogwood has bright red stems that look wonderful in winter. This autumn tree has foliage that ranges in color from reddish-purple to orange, and it’ll bear fruit that birds eat. They can range from dwarf shrubs up to 25 feet tall, and they can grow in zones three to eight, depending on the species. The foliage is dark green in the summer before turning the fall color, and it likes part shade to full sun. Keep it in a rich but well-drained soil.
Dogwood by naturalflow / CC BY-SA 2.0
9. American Sweetgum
When you have the correct climate conditions, this autumn tree puts on a show to rival any tree. It displays hues of purple, orange, red, green, yellow, and gold, and it produces gumballs that work well in crafts. You can use it in kissing balls and wreaths. This tree grows between 60 and 80 feet high, and it offers large leaves that are great for shade. They grow best in zones 6 to 10 under full sun exposure. The soil should drain well and hold medium moisture levels, and it won’t do well if the soil is too alkaline. During the summer, you’ll get deep green foliage.
American Sweetgum by Shawn Taylor / CC BY 2.0
Although many people worry about poison sumac, there are several species that don’t contain the urushiol toxin that can cause skin irritation. However, you should avoid this autumn tree if you’re allergic to poison sumac. They’re easy to grow and provide excellent walkway edging as they only grow between 10 and 15 feet tall. It grows best in zones three to nine, and it gives you bright orange or red colors in the fall with red drupes. Plant it in an area that gets full sun to partial shade, and make sure the soil drains well and is dry to medium moisture. It works well for erosion control or as a windbreak in your yard.
Sumac by JP Newell / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
11. Sugar Maple
Sugar Maple is one autumn tree that people drive from all over to see in the fall because they put on fantastic foliage displays. Depending on the type of Maple you have, it can display red, yellow, burgundy, or orange colors, and the tree’s colors can change from year to year. You can use the sap from this tree to make maple syrup during the winter, and the tree will grow between 40 and 80 feet tall. This is a slow-growing tree that does best in zones three to eight when you plant it in partial shade to full sun. It needs soil that drains well with a medium moisture content, and it has large leaves that make excellent shade trees.
Sugar Maple by kaykaybarrie / CC BY 2.0
12. Quaking Aspen
In the American West, the colors of this autumn tree are synonymous with this area. The leaves will tremble in the slightest breeze to give the tree its name, and it has a rich golden-yellow coloring. The soft rustling noise the leaves make in any breeze is also very linked to this tree, adn you get a smooth, attractive white colored bark all year-round. It can grow between 20 and 50 feet high in zones one to six, and it needs full sun. For the soil, it should drain very well and be rich in nutrients, and it should also be semi-moist. The deep green leaves will slowly change when the weather gets cooler.
DSC_5338 by Haratio3K by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This is a prehistoric autumn tree that is very durable and eye-catching. It’s also very versatile, and it does very well as a street tree because it can withstand road salt and pollution without a problem. You’ll get open, lofty branches with fan-shaped leaves that go from deep green in the summer to a pretty golden-yellow in the fall. It also produces smelly fruit that creates a mess as it drops in the early fall months. Grow it in an area with full sun to partial shade, and make sure that the soil is slightly moist and alkaline to keep the tree happy. If you don’t want messy fruit, try a male clone like Autumn Gold.
Gingo by Anna Althouse / CC BY-NC 2.0
14. Scarlet Oak
Most oaks are more subdued autumn trees, but the Scarlet Oak changes this by offering deeply lobed, glowing red foliage. It does very well if you plant it in an average soil that is mildly wet but not saturated. It is a fast-growing species that can grow up to two feet per year. It’s hard to find a plant because it has a taproot that makes it challenging to transplant and have it thrive. However, you can find them in certain garden centers, and you should plant them in the spring. Put this tree in an area that gets full sun, and the soil should drain very well to encourage good growth. As a bonus, it’s deer-resistant when it grows.
Scarlet Oak by Katja Schulz / CC BY 2.0
Originally, this autumn tree had a high value amongst gardeners for the black bark because it’s the main ingredient in bark tea. However, this is a very handsome pick that forms suckering thickets over time, and it makes it a great addition to your landscape design. You can remove the suckers to keep it a single tree, and it offers a lobed leaf that turns a glossy, deep green in the summer before fading to golden and switching to a deep scarlet red in the fall. It’s a taproot plant that will grow quickly in full sun to part shade, and it should have a rich but well-draining soil to keep it happy.
Sassafras by Melissa McMasters / CC BY 2.0
16. Persian Parrotia
This is another autumn tree that will either grow as a large, multi-stemmed shrub or a very small tree with the proper training. It has low branches with a single stem, and you have to pick the correct one in the nursery to get this shape. This tree is closely related to witch hazel, and it has oval leaves. The foliage will turn maroon, yellow, and orange in the fall. As it ages, the bark exfoliates and turns cream, brown, green, and gray. Plant it in full sun to partial shade, and make sure that the soil drains very well but is rich with nutrients. The soil can be slightly acidic too.
Parrotia persica leaves (Persian Ironwood) by Greg Blick / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
17. Bald Cypress
This autumn tree is very fine-textured, and it’s a conifer that has an unusual trait where it drops all of the needles before the winter comes around. However, the leaves shift from a bright green color to a deep orange before they drop. It’s native to the Southern bottomlands, and it looks nice if you group it in groves of three or more. If standing water or very wet areas, the trunks will form buttresses. It also does very well in average soil once it gets established, and you want to water it during dry spells. This tree does well in partial shade to full sun.
Swamp Cypress / Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) by Daniel Arrhakis / CC BY-NC 2.0
18. Franklin Tree
In 1765, John Bartram found this tree on the banks of the Altamaha River. He was America’s first naturalist. This autumn tree will have deep green leaves in the spring and summer months, and it’ll produce white flowers late in the summer. The leaves shift to reddish-orange in the fall, and it is best planted in zones six to eight. It can grow up to 20 feet high, and it needs partial shade to full sun. The soil should be moist, rich, and acidic. It should also drain very well after you water it and not retain a lot of moisture.
Franklinia alatamaha (Franklin Tree) by Plant Image Library / CC BY-SA 2.0
19. Bitternut Hickory
If you want an autumn tree that changes foliage color very early in the season, take a look at the Bitternut Hickory. The leaves go from deep green to brilliant yellow, and it has winter buds that are also bright yellow. The tree works as a host for Regal and Luna moth species, and it does best when you plant it in zones four to nine. Under the right conditions, this tree will grow up to 75 feet tall. It likes partial shade to full sun conditions, and the soil should be very rich and drain well. It doesn’t do well with very acidic soil.
Carya cordiformis (Bitter Nut) by Leonora (Ellie) Enking / CC BY-SA 2.0
20. American Persimmon
Did you know that the female version of this autumn tree will produce edible fruits? The fruits are less tasty and smaller than Asian persimmons though. It grows well in zones four to nine, and this tree can get up to 60 feet tall at full maturity. In the North, the colors will change from deep green to yellow, and they change from deep green to a purple-red color in the South. Keep it in full sunlight, and make sure that the soil is very rich in organic materials and that it drains well. This tree doesn’t grow well in standing water or saturated soil.
American Persimmon by Katja Schulz / CC BY 2.0
21. Apple Serviceberry
This autumn tree is a cross between Amelanchier x grandiflora, and it’s a very delicate and small species that will produce white blooms very early in the spring months. The leaves will eventually emerge and turn a deep green color before switching to red and orange in the fall. They also produce purplish-black fruits that wildlife love to eat, and they grow best planted in zones four to nine. This tree can get up to 25 feet tall, and it likes to be in full sun. The soil should be slightly moist but drain very well, and it likes slightly richer soil that has a neutral acidity.
Apple Serviceberry by Andrea / CC BY-NC 2.0
22. Washington Hawthorn
Growing best in zones four to eight, this medium-sized autumn tree will get up to 30 feet tall. If you want to attract birds to your backyard, this is the tree to go with. The stems on this plant are thorny, and it produces glossy red fruit that hangs on the tree through the winter that both squirrels and birds like. The leaves start out a deep green and turn purple, scarlet, or orange in the fall in zones four to eight. Plant it in an area that gets partial shade to full sun, and make sure that the soil is slightly moist, rich, and that it drains very well after you water it or it rains.
Crataegus phaenopyrum (SE US Native) 2019 photo by F. D. Richards / CC BY-SA 2.0
23. Vine Maple
The Vine Maple is an autumn tree that is native to the Pacific Northwest. It grows in northern California to British Columbia, and it features deep green foliage during the summer months that slowly switches to yellow, scarlet, or orange when the cooler fall temperatures come around. It grows in a crooked, sprawling form under taller trees in the shade or along streams. It grows best in zones six to nine, and it can get up to 35 feet tall. It likes partial shade to full sun, and the soil should be very moist and rich. However, the soil should also drain very well.
Vine Maple by Arwen Twinkle / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
These 23 autumn trees can add interesting texture and colors all year-round, but they really display their colors in the autumn months. They come in several different sizes and shapes, and they’re all relatively easy to care for once they establish themselves. If you’re looking to add a little color to your landscape, I invite you to take a look at my 23 autumn tree picks. You can mix and match to find the ones that will thrive in your growing zone, and they will provide shade in the summer with colors in the fall.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.