Kate Hardy

The best trees for autumn colour

Kate Hardy
Parrotia persica is just spectacular!

Parrotia persica is just spectacular!

We all know autumn is the season when nature rewards us with magnificent colours - here's how to harness it in your own garden

Many deciduous trees are giving their last hurrah at the moment, a dramatic swansong before they say goodbye and go dormant for a few months. And what a spectacular sight it is when they colour up into what seems like every shade of the rainbow!

Cold nights, dry weather and sunny days bring out the best colour in our trees, so here’s hoping for the perfect conditions into late autumn, so the kaleidoscope continues.

But which trees can we plant this autumn and winter, so we can plan for a real show over the next few years? 

If you’ve got room, large trees give the ultimate wow factor. Growing up to 8m or more if given room is the magnificent Parrotia persica, whose wavy, round green leaves turn a breathtaking cerise. It also flowers discreetly in winter and doesn’t need pruning. 

Add a fiery beacon to a large garden in the shape of Liquidambar styraciflua. Its palmate leaves span the spectrum, with a vivid show of greens, yellows, reds, purples and pinks. 

Amelanchier lamarckii, up to 10m or so, is a great choice for year-round colour – large white spring blooms, bronze summer leaves and edible fruit, followed by stunning, large purple-red leaves in autumn.

For small gardens, there are compact trees and shrubs that are just as beautiful but on a smaller scale. Technically a shrub, but no less spectacular for it, is Euonymus ‘Compactus’. It’s a dwarf spindle (from www.bluebellnursery.com) that grows only up to 1m wide, going a bright blob of purple-red to contrast with your green shrubs. Pick a slightly larger euonymus variety, though, for added pink-orange autumn fruit. Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ gets to about 5m, and is a classic for this time of year, with heart-shaped purple leaves that brighten to orange-red. And last but not least, the fluffy-flowered tree Cotinus ‘Grace’ drops its flowers in autumn before turning an almost translucent pink-red. Beautiful! And all these trees simply need a trim of crossing stems to create a light canopy in spring and a mulch to feed them. 

You’ll never get bored of the colour these trees bring – as the weather worsens and the days shorten, they truly make autumn a time to celebrate!

Top 3 trees for pots

Acer palmatum ‘Little Princess’ .jpg

1  Acer palmatum ‘Little Princess’ 

This mini acer has red-edged leaves in summer, which go yellow and orange before falling in autumn.

2  Albizia julibrissin 

The silk tree is compact, fast-growing and deciduous, but with feathery foliage and its fluffball pink flowers in late summer, it’s a winner.

3  Thuja ‘Rheingold’

A rusty red, fluffy conifer that stands out among green foliage – compact and conical, and perfect if you only have room for a pot.  


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