Six trees that bring vibrant color to fall landscapes

It is a wonder of Nature that, as plants prepare themselves for the winter ahead, they produce some of the most spectacular, eye-popping color of their life cycle.
If you are like Cheryl and me, you love to see the glorious colors. The change seems gradual at first, then almost overnight, everything between the ground and the sky is a flood of gold, red, crimson and claret.
If you enjoy driving out to the countryside to take in the fall colors, or if you look with envy upon your neighbors' colorful fall displays, this could the perfect time to select some trees and shrubs that you can plant now and enjoy for many autumn seasons in the future.
Today, I have a few colorful suggestions; trees that seem to come into their own each fall, saying, "Hey guys! Look at me! I'm dazzling!"
Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) If you're looking for pistachio nuts, keep looking because you won't find them on this tree, despite its name. However, you will find a delightful tree whose color changes quite gradually, allowing you truly to enjoy the different hues. It's a hardy tree, quite tolerant of drought and soil conditions. We started growing some from seed about 20 years ago and found them easy to grow; but I suggest you look for them in gallon pots.
Cleveland Select Flowering Pear In the spring, the Cleveland Select bursts out with snowy white blooms; in fact more blooms than just about any flowering pear I can think of. Then a few months later, the foliage changes from glossy green to purplish red and orange. This makes a real delight for lovers of colorful trees, and is ideal for yard or street planting.
China Snow Fringe Tree (Chionanthus retusus) "Huh?" I hear you say. Yes, an unusual plant, but worth seeking out, particularly if you like something that will probably be unique in your neighborhood. This particular variety was developed by the renowned horticulturist Don Shadow and is one of the most beautiful of the small flowering trees in spring, summer AND fall. If you're having trouble locating this rare find, drop me an e-mail at and I'll reply with some shopping information.
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

far wrong with a Sugar Maple. The majestic height and conical shape provide the ideal canvas for a vast display of gold and orange every fall. Be aware, though, that maples need some room to grow. This one can reach 75 - 100 feet at maturity, so you need to be thinking parkland or large lawns to provide the right scale.
Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboretum) For really vibrant colors, you can't beat Sourwood. When the drooping white panicles of brilliant white flowers finally begin to fade at the onset of autumn, you are treated to a foliage show that runs the gamut from orange-red to brick red to flaming scarlet. This one can be tricky to transplant successfully, so I recommend buying container-grown plants rather than bare root. You'll get the best results when you plant Sourwood in moist, acid, well-drained soil that has quite a bit of organic content.
Washington Hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) With a name like this, it sounds more like a 19th century author than a tree. However there are no literary connections. Growing to a manageable height of around 25 to 35 feet, the Washington Hawthorn tends to bloom a little later than many other trees, producing clusters of white flowers in late spring and early summer, followed by red berries that remain through the autumn as the foliage changes to an attractive mix of orange and red.
Next time, I'll take a look at some shrubs that brighten up fall landscapes with their brilliant colors.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit

Add pictures here
<% if( /^image/.test(type) ){ %>
<% } %>
Add image file
Upload is a website for homeowners and building and maintenance pros. It is not affiliated with any of the manufacturers or service providers discussed here. All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.