Shade Trees for Fall Color

Row of trees growing on a tree farm turning orange during the fall.

As we get requests to create planting designs for clients, I would say that adding color through the seasons is high on many people’s priority list. When thinking about adding color, most are focused on the flowering color that various trees and shrubs can provide. While that is the most common way to add color to the landscape, we cannot forget about foliage and the colors leaves can provide throughout the year.

The color shade trees provide in Fall make it one of the most beautiful times of the year. There are trees that show varying shades of red, orange, and yellow and even a few with purple leaves. This article will highlight just a few of the options available in those colors. Several of the trees mentioned can show shades of multiple colors in addition to the color they are listed under. Keep in mind, these are just shade tree options. Ornamental trees and shrubs can provide excellent seasonal foliage color as well.

shade tree for fall color redRed:

Red Maples tend to be the most used tree to incorporate red Fall colors. These trees grow large and provide good shade and visual coverage in addition to the foliage color. A couple of great varieties to choose from would be ‘Red Pointe’ and  ‘Sun Valley’ Red Maples.

‘Frontier’ Elms are another great shade tree that has a darker red Fall color. These Elms are smaller than other Elms, which make them good to use in urban landscapes where planting area may be limited.

shade tree for fall color yellowYellow:

When yellow is the desired color for Fall, a Ginkgo is one of the best options to choose from. Their fan-like leaves are one of a kind and provide plenty of shade throughout most of the year and have outstanding gold foliage in Autumn.

Opposite of the ‘Frontier’ Elm, ‘Princeton’ and ‘Triumph’ Elms are larger varieties that turn shades of yellow later in the year.

River Birch also provide great yellow Fall color in addition the exfoliating bark that they display all year. River birch are also able to be planted in wet areas if that’s something you have to consider.

shade tree for fall color orangeOrange:

‘Fall Fiesta’ Sugar Maples provide some of the best orange Fall color in our opinion. They do have shades of red and yellow, but the orange stands out the most. Be sure to carefully consider when planting these trees though.  Sugar Maples tend to do better in areas that are not heavily irrigated or compacted.

shade tree for fall color purplePurple:

There are not many shade trees that stand out with purple as the dominant Fall color. Black Gum and Sweet Gum trees are a couple types that display multiple colors, but also have some purple come through in Autumn. These can help give a variety of colors in one tree. If you’re hesitant when we mention Sweet Gum, we understand. However, there are many varieties that have been bred to be seedless.

Landscape designers will always consider shade trees and incorporate them into your design. And if you’re looking to DIY, hopefully this gives you some inspiration. Remember, now is a great time to plant trees!




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Rost, Inc. began in 1985 with a vision of creating stunning and unique landscapes for central Missouri. Founders Tim and Toby Rost began landscaping while attending the University of Missouri.