Trees and Shrubs: 10 Favorites With Amazing Fall Color

Fall is the time of year when so many of us nature lovers are awestruck by the glorious outpouring of color that magically weaves meandering paths on the leaves of trees, bushes and other selected plant material. Listed below are some of my favorite deciduous trees and woody bushes that peak in autumn.

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1. Acer saccharum (sugar maple): A large maple with three-to-five-lobed leaves that turn a brilliant orange, red and yellow in autumn. Should be used as a specimen planting in a large, open space due to its mature size (70 feet). Plant in fertile, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Hardy from Zones 4-8.

2. Amelanchier arborea (serviceberry): A round-headed tree that can sometimes appear shrubby with ovate, felt-green leaves in summer that turn yellow and then red in autumn. The bonus of this tree is that it has pendulous racemes of fragrant white flowers in spring. Thrives in acidic soil in sun or partial shade. Hardy in Zones 4-9.

3. Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura tree): A pyramidal tree when young that matures into a more rounded and wide-spreading specimen with heart-shaped leaves. Turns brilliant colors in the autumn. Thrives in acidic soil in sun or partial shade. Although a delicate-appearing specimen, it's most effective when used as a specimen tree. Thrives in Zones 4-8.

4. Fagus sylvatica (European beech): One of the great "classical" trees throughout gardening history, it is a spreading tree with oval margined leaves that when young are pale green, then turn a very glossy dark green, and finally yellow to orange-brown in the fall. At maturity, it can reach a height of 80 feet with a 50-foot spread, so plant it in a large, open space where its splendor can be appreciated by all. It is tolerant of a large variety of soils, but needs to be planted in partial shade or full sun. Hardy in Zones 5-7.

5. Zelkova serrata (Japanese zelkova): A magnificent but underused spreading tree with smooth, gray bark that eventually peels, exposing an orange-colored base. The thin, green oval leaves turn a magnificent yellow, orange or red in the fall. Can grow as tall as 100 feet, so give it plenty of space. Does best in deep, fertile, moist soil in partial shade to sunny conditions. Hardy from Zones 5-9.

1. Callicarpa dichotoma (purple beautyberry): A dense, upright shrub that at maturity only grows four feet high by four feet wide. It has oval, slim, bright green leaves with pale pink flowers throughout the summer. The added bonus is that bright purple clusters of berries follow in the fall. Plant in groups of five or more to make a strong design statement in fertile, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Hardy in Zones 6-8.

2. Cotinus coggyria (smoke bush): One of the all-time great shrubs, it has oval, maroon-to-deep-burgundy leaves with a soft, feathery fluorescence in summer, followed by the leaves turning a scarlet red in the fall. It is a breathtaking, versatile shrub that can be used effectively in practically any landscape with fertile, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Hardy in Zones 5-8. Cut back hard in early spring to promote bushy, healthy foliage.

3. Rhus typhina (Staghorn or velvet sumac): An upright shrub with velvety red shoots. The dark green, narrow, lance-shaped leaves turn a brilliant combination of yellow, orange and red in the fall. Yellowish-green flowers that are over six inches long appear on the tips of the bush in the summer, followed by deep magenta fruit in the fall (on female plants). Rhus is almost tropical in appearance when planted in groups of three or more. Great on a hillside. Does best in fertile, full sun. Can be invasive. Hardy in Zones 3-8.

4. Fothergilla gardenii (dwarf fothergilla): A dense, bushy shrub with oval, margined, green leaves that turn bright orange, red and yellow in the autumn. In early spring, before the leaves blossom, this bush is filled with cylindrical spikes of small, white flowers. This cultivar does particularly well in mass plantings in the front of the border. It grows only three feet high by three feet wide. Thrives in moist, well-drained, acidic soil in full sun or partial shade. Hardy in Zones 5-9.

5. Viburnum sargentii (Sargent viburnum): A bushy shrub with maple-like leaves that are bronze when young and frequently become yellow and red in the autumn. In late spring, the bush is covered with tiny, tubular white flowers in groups, followed by round clusters of red fruit. At maturity, it is 10 feet high and 10 feet wide. It can be grown as a specimen or in groups. Does well in moderately fertile, well-drained soil in sun or partial shade. Hardy in Zones 4-7.

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