Five Must-Have Trees for Fall Foliage

Maple tree with full fall foliage.

Maple tree with beautiful fall foliage color.

Fall is a time when all those ordinary green trees make statements that stop us dead in our tracks, and I find myself asking, “What is that, and where can I get one?” There are hundreds of varieties of trees with fall color, but when planning your landscape, you can never go wrong by starting with the basics.

Here are five unbeatable choices for landscape trees, which can be grown in most of the U.S., to provide a colorful canopy in your yard. The planting zones each type of tree grows in may vary depending on the variety chosen.


Aspen tree fall foliageA staple of the Rockies, aspens light up the landscape with the most gorgeous shades of yellow. Aspens earn their “quaking” nickname by shimmering in the slightest breeze to create golden clouds of brilliant color. These trees form colonies connected to one vast root system. Grow in planting zones 1-7.


Beech tree fall foliageTo get a taste of what heaven must be like, take a stroll down a forest trail with the sun shining through a canopy of beech trees – the path, the sky, the very air is lit with a golden-bronze glow as the dazzling foliage flutters down to pave your way. While you’re at it, enjoy a yummy beechnut snack. Grow in planting zones 3-9.


Birch tree fall foliageA birch tree in fall is a dazzling composition of colors and textures. The bright yellow foliage flutters against the distinctive peeling bark and keeps my camera clicking! Try paperbark birch for elegant white bark, and river birch for dramatic peeling scales in shades of brown. Grow in planting zones 2-8.


Maple tree fall foliageMaples are unbeatable choices for fall color. Popular choices include Japanese maple (bronze, purple, and red), paperbark maple (bright red), sugar maple (orange), and silver maple (yellow). Sugar maples produce the coveted sap that is used to make maple syrup. Grow in planting zones 3-9.


Red oak tree fall foliageOak trees weigh in with deeper shades of russet, red, and yellow-brown. Oaks tend to be the last holdouts in the fall, giving you color and interest later in the season. The thick, heavy leaves make a majestic statement (and a carpet) in your yard. Known for their sturdy wood and elegant shape, oaks have long been used as anchoring trees and windbreaks in large landscapes.

Red oaks usually provide the best fall color, with pin oaks in second place. White oaks can be colorful, but often turn brown depending on weather conditions. Some oaks, such as live oaks in the deep South, retain their leaves until spring and display no fall color. Grow in planting zones 3-9.

Maple tree leaves in fall

Maple tree leaves showing their true fall colors


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7 Comments on “Five Must-Have Trees for Fall Foliage”

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  • Christine Says:
    October 1st, 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Forest Pansy Redbud

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    October 4th, 2013 at 8:02 am

    Hi Marilyn,
    Thanks for your kind words about Today’s Homeowner!

  • marilyn teichman Says:
    October 4th, 2013 at 4:47 am

    PS: I just love your show and have gotten some great home improvement ideas.

  • marilyn teichman Says:
    October 4th, 2013 at 4:45 am

    I just love my nandinas. They have beautiful leaves that change color with the seasons, and berries for the birds. They also retain the leaves in winter to give protection to wildlife!

  • Official Comment:

    Ben Erickson Says:
    October 2nd, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Hi Tonia,
    I added the planting zones for the trees to the article above. The five trees listed above grow in most of the lower 48 states in the U.S. but the local climate and seasonal weather conditions in can make a big difference in how colorful they are. Check out our article on fall foliage to find out more

  • Tonia Says:
    October 2nd, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Is there a list of these colorful trees by zone? I live in zone 8, Louisiana, and we dont see these colors in fall.

  • Chris Francis Says:
    November 15th, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Some areas get great fall color, while other areas get almost none. Also, some years make better fall color than others. In South Alabama, we get some fall color from the Japanese maples and red maples mentioned above, but certain cultivars prove better than others. Some trees that you can add to the list are as follows:

    – Sweetgum – yellow to purple fall color, okay; but may not be worth the sticky ball fruit

    – Blackgum – red fall color, nice; can grow very large

    – Crape Myrtle – red fall color, some very nice; multiple cultivars

    – Gingko – striking gold fall color, beautiful; leaves turn a bright yellow, then gold, then suddenly all fall off leaving the ground littered in gold leaves

    See Beau Brodbeck’s article as well:

    Other than these mentioned, there are some sparse colors scattered about, but we seem to get much of our fall color from the unwanted, highly invasive Popcorn tree (yellows, reds, oranges, and many others); I don’t recommend planting or even keeping them, but they do make a nice show in the fall. I hope this helps.

    * ISA Certified Arborist
    * Alabama State Licensed:
    – Tree Surgeon
    – Landscape Designer
    – Landscape Contractor
    – Pest Control Supervisor

    Chris Francis Landscapes

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Five Must-Have Trees for Fall Foliage