10 shrubs & trees with the best autumn colours

10 shrubs & trees with the best autumn colours

Colourful leaves are synonymous to autumn. Here you can find out which shrubs and trees develop the most vibrant foliage in autumn.

For many people autumn is their favourite season. Above all else, the brightly hued leaves have always fascinated both young and old. The parks, gardens and forests ditch their typical green and please the senses with the vast array of colours. However, not every plant bears a vivid yellow, orange or red coat in autumn. These ten plants have the best colours at this time of year and flaunt the most intensely coloured foliage, so that you can enjoy this season in its full splendour.

Plants with the best autumn foliage

If you want to transform your garden into an autumnal paradise, some of the following shrubs and trees should definitely be integrated into your garden. 

10. Ginkgo

The ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) is widely cherished in its native China. One of the best qualities of the gingko is its spectacular autumnal wardrobe. It is hard to overlook this gorgeous tree even from afar for it almost glows with its golden yellow foliage. Fortunately, you do not have to travel to Asia anymore to admire this tree. The gingko tree now grows worldwide and enjoys popularity even in Europe. Particularly in sunny locations this tree grows like a charm. However, before you make up your mind to invest into this tree, consider that the gingko grows up to 40 metres tall and develops a large crown of branches. This can obviously lead to serious issues if enough space is not provided. Additionally, female ginkgo trees develop fruits in September that are notorious for their unpleasant odour. For this reason, many gardeners take care to buy male versions of the ginkgo tree.

9. Barberry

Barberries (Berberis) have been growing in popularity amongst gardening enthusiasts in recent years. These plants owe their popularity predominantly to the fact that they are extremely easy to care for. As a rule, the barberry does not need to be watered or fertilised after being planted – it is completely self-dependant. Moreover, there are many varieties of the barberry to choose from. The barberries are evergreen and will keep your garden private even once all the other plants have lost their foliage. Yet, there is more to this plant than its evergreen leaves: the gorgeous blossoms of the barberry also make the barberry the centre of attention. What is more, the barberry also bears small, red fruits with a complex flavour. The fruit are slightly sour and make a delicious addition to autumnal dishes. The numerous varieties of the barberry with their vibrant colours will also spice up your garden in autumn. The Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), for example, becomes bright orange to deep red once autumn strikes, while the foliage of the Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea’ shines in a beautiful golden yellow. So, if you would like to include a plant with a brighter colouring instead of a simple green hedge into your garden, you will not be disappointed with the barberry.

8. Witch hazel

Witch hazel (Hamamelis) is a plant that has been long intertwined with human history. It has been used by the indigenous peoples of the American continent as a medicinal plant to treat skin inflammation, amongst other ailments. Although we cannot vouch for the healing properties of witch hazel, we cannot deny the magical beauty of this shrub. The witch hazel is certainly one of the most beautiful flowering shrubs of all. When the witch hazel wears its seasonal veil in autumn and winter, it stands out a mile. While all the other plants are in deep winter slumber, the witch hazel suddenly sprouts thread-like, bright yellow to carmine red petals. A truly breath-taking sight particularly on a snowy day.

7. Staghorn sumac 

The staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) bears unusual sour berries that are reminiscent of vinegar in their taste. As a matter of fact, both in French and German the staghorn sumac is commonly referred to as “vinegar tree”. In Germany, the berries have also fallen into disrepute and have long been considered poisonous. The truth could not be further from this widespread belief, the sumac berries are, in fact, very healthy and tasty. The staghorn sumac is native to the North America, where its fruits have long been used for the production of the famous “Indian Lemonade”, which is a true vitamin C bomb of a drink. When the berries remain on the otherwise bare branches of the tree in winter, the vibrant red fruit look fabulous as they stand out against the pristine white snow. The autumnal colour of the staghorn sumac is just as brilliant as that of its berries in winter, which is one of the reasons why this tree is gaining popularity as an ornamental plant. During autumn, its leaves turn orange to bright red. Especially in combination with evergreen hedges or dark purple asters, the staghorn sumac displays its full splendour.

6. Japanese maple

The Japanese maple is an autumn classic. With its delicately shaped leaves, which turn yellow-orange to brick red in October, it also looks simply wonderful. In addition, its picturesque growth with the short trunk and the sweeping crown reinforces its impressive effect. As a rule, three species are grouped under the name Japanese Maple: the red emperor maple (Acer palmatum), the Amur maple (Acer japonicum) and the golden maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’). The golden maple has a particularly bright and intense yellow colour in autumn, which is beautiful to look at. In autumn, the red emperor maple turns into a dancing sea of flames and, with a height of up to seven metres, is considerably larger than the golden or Amur maple. The Japanese maples grow leaves in a wide variety of shapes and colours. With almost 400 different varieties, into which the three species of the Japanese maple are divided, almost every gardener will find a perfect fit for their garden.

5. Chuckley pear 

The chuckley pear (Amelanchier), also referred to as serviceberry or sarvisberry (among other nicknames), is a great tree for the home garden regardless of the season. In spring, the tree blooms in gorgeous star-shaped flowers and, in autumn, the leaves of the chuckley pear develop an incredible colouring. There are almost 25 varieties of the chuckley pear and they are all easy to care for. Their colours vary from copper red to bronze and especially the North American species are outstanding in their autumnal hues. The fruits of the chuckley pear are also not to be overlooked, although many gardeners do not realize that they are edible. The small blue fruits share a lot of similarities with blueberries. The fruit of the chuckley pear are just as healthy and tasty as their shrubby counterparts. In some countries, particularly in Germany, the fruits were used for a long time as a substitute for currants, which is why the chuckley pear is often still called “currant tree” in the German vernacular.

4. Parthenocissus 

It is not just trees and shrubs that can glow in the bright autumnal shades. How about a fence or a garden wall? For Parthenocissus, this is no problem at all. The undemanding climbing plant is not only wonderfully easy to care for, it also grows quickly and hides bare facades under its green leaves. In autumn, instead of being bright green (the colour the plant usually sports in spring), the leaves turn deep red. Incidentally, the leaves change colour particularly intensively when the plant is exposed to a lot of sunlight. Another reason to grow the Parthenocissus is the fact that, while draping the garden wall or a fence, it will act as a natural air conditioning system, which will provide a pleasant oasis of cool in summer.

3. Chokeberry 

Bright red leaves and deep black berries – in autumn, the chokeberry (Aronia) is truly phenomenal. The beauty of the chokeberry is not restricted to autumn, though. In spring, it blooms in stunning white flowers, which is why many choose to cultivate it as an ornamental plant. Furthermore, the fruits of the chokeberry, sometimes called aronia berries, are not to be left unnoticed either. Depending on the variety of the chokeberry, the small fruit range in colours from maroon red to deep purple. The berries of this plant are edible, beneficial for health and full of flavour. They are rich in vitamin C, folic acid and antioxidants. The berries can be utilized in various ways. They are typically used to make jam, juice and liquor. Although the berries are delicious fresh, they should be consumed with caution because of their laxative effects. One of the best ways to enjoy these fruits is dried. With all this being said, it is perhaps important to mention that they are quite sour to taste, which is why they might not be for everybody. But in any case, the chokeberry is worth growing even simply for its ravishing autumnal colours.

aronia berries
With its gorgeous black berries and stunning red leaves the chokeberry is a double win [Shutterstock.com/ Alalal]

2. Bodinier’s beautyberry 

It is not the leaves but the berries that give this plant its charm. The Bodinier’s beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri) certainly deserves its name. The stunning purple berries of this plant can’t be confused with any other in the plant kingdom. The small fruits have a pearl shine to them, which makes them stand out even more. The berries appear strictly in autumn, so the bush is rather inconspicuous the rest of the year. The beautiful berries linger on the plant until December and make the bush look as if it was embellished with a Christmas garland. However, do not let the at a first glance appealing berries deceive you. Despite their appetizing appearance, they are poisonous to humans. Other than that, the bush is perfect and requires little to no maintenance whatsoever. This makes the Bodinier’s beauty amazing for beginner gardeners.

1. Star gum tree 

The star gum tree (Liquidambar) will brighten up your garden with intense red fireworks of leaves. This unique tree comes from North America, where it is commonly called sweetgum, and has leaves similar to those of a maple. On its native continent it is grown mainly for its delightful scent, whereas in Europe it is a popular ornamental tree. One look at the plant and it is clear why it is so beloved. When it comes to autumnal colours, the star gum tree is an easy winner. It comes in shades ranging from deep violet to mustard yellow to blood red. Additionally, it is not uncommon for the tree to appear in a gradient display of colours, which makes it a truly one of a kind plant. A single leaf can have several tones of colour, too. All this makes the star gum tree a definite feast for the eyes. It is appealing to other senses, too. If you rub the colourful leaves between your fingers, they release a pleasant fragrance.

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