Colorful leaves are one of the delights of autumn—particularly red leaves. Though yellow or orange leaves are lovely, they don’t stand out like bright-red or deep-crimson foliage. Trees with red leaves may have red foliage for only some or all of the fall, or their leaves may be red during the whole growing season.
The supply of chlorophyll—which gives leaves their characteristic green hue—gets cut off in the fall. This season is also when a red pigment known as anthocyanin tends to emerge. Anthocyanins protect leaves from sunlight as the tree builds its store of nutrients for the winter.
- Trees with Red Fall Foliage
- How to Plant Trees
- When to Plant Trees with Red Leaves
- Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
- Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
- Royal Raindrops Crabapple (Malus JFS-KW5 ‘Royal Raindrops’) – A Flowering Tree with Red Foliage
- Shindeshojo Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’)
- Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
- American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’) – A Tree with Multi-Colored Foliage
- Forest Pansy Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’)
- Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
- American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) – A Red-Leaved Tree with Interesting Bark
- Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
- Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
- Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) – A Fruiting Tree with Red Foliage
- Black Gum Tree (Nyssa sylvatica)
- Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Trees with Red Fall Foliage
There’s just something special about foliage that extends beyond the typical green. Whether you enjoy colored ferns, shrubs with brilliant leaves, or want your yard to explode with red in the fall, you can find quite a few plants that can help.
Try one of the species listed below to enjoy fall red color. Follow planting and care requirements carefully to increase your chances of witnessing stunning autumn color.
How to Plant Trees
Dig a hole that’s two to three times wider than the root ball of your tree but has the same depth. Remove any burlap covering after carefully inserting the root ball into the hole.
Ensure that the tree is vertical and facing your desired direction. Return the removed soil, packing as you go, and stopping partway to add water.
Create a rim from extra soil to retain water. Water your tree immediately, and distribute mulch, leaving space around the trunk.
When to Plant Trees with Red Leaves
With spring planting, you’re likely already doing gardening, there are many plants available, and the tree has all summer to become established. On the other hand, the tree must send out roots and leaves simultaneously, which requires a lot of water.
Fall’s cool soil temperatures are ideal for developing roots. The tree has time to become established before spring’s high nutrient and water demands.
However, there’s likely to be a poorer tree selection in the fall. As well, you’ll need to water well until the ground freezes.
With deciduous trees that shed their leaves after they display fall color, it can be hard to find the least messy trees. However, if you’re prepared with your rake or blower, or don’t mind leaf litter, you shouldn’t have any problem.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
This vibrant maple boasts crimson fall leaves, reddish seed pods in early spring, small red flowers from March to May, and reddish stems during the winter. Not all red maple trees have red leaves in the fall, so buy a nursery plant in the fall to be certain.
Put your maple in full to partial sun and acidic to neutral, low-salt soil. The tree should receive one deep watering per week, either through irrigation or rainfall.
Fertilizer is not typically necessary, but you may add all-purpose fertilizer in the spring. Organic mulch is a good idea.
Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)
This tree bears star-like white flowers in the spring, orange-red fruit in the summer, and scarlet or purple leaves in the fall. Use flowering dogwood as a specimen plant or in a shrub border or woodland garden.
Propagate it with softwood cuttings in the summer. Flowering dogwoods thrive in partial or full sun and fertile, moist, well-drained, acidic to neutral soil with a mulch layer.
After its first year, strew granular fertilizer in February or March and again three months later. Water your plant weekly during the summer and fall, especially during hot, dry periods.
Royal Raindrops Crabapple (Malus JFS-KW5 ‘Royal Raindrops’) – A Flowering Tree with Red Foliage
These crabapples, known for their hardiness, are trees with pink leaves and flowers, in the spring, reddish-purple fruits, and coppery-red fall leaves. Start it between the last spring frost and shortly before the first fall frost.
It prefers full sun and well-draining, acidic soil. Water your crabapple regularly during its first few years, then give it the occasional deep watering, particularly in hot, dry conditions. Distribute mulch.
Starting in the tree’s second year, feed it balanced, all-purpose fertilizer in late winter or early spring. Keep the area around its base clear of grass and suckers.
Shindeshojo Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum ‘Shindeshojo’)
This maple has reddish-brown bark and lobed leaves that start crimson in the spring, turn green in the summer, then return to red-orange in the fall. Propagate it via grafting or softwood cuttings as a specimen or container plant.
Partial sun produces the best leaf color, although the tree also handles full sun. Moist, slightly acidic, fast-draining soil that’s rich in organic matter is ideal.
Spread a mulch layer, and apply fertilizer in the spring. Water your tree deeply and slowly if there’s no rain. Water less in late summer to promote intense fall color.
Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)
What trees turn orange in the fall? This shade tree not only displays small, dangling green flowers in April and May but in the fall, its winged seeds mature and its lobed leaves turn red and orange. In cold climates, plant the sugar maple in early fall.
In warmer regions, winter planting is perfect. Place it in full sun, or otherwise part shade, and deep, well-drained soil. Add compost and mulch at least once a year. Water your maple during dry weather to keep the soil moist but not wet.
American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ‘Rotundiloba’) – A Tree with Multi-Colored Foliage
This tree has furrowed bark and star-shaped leaves that may display several colors simultaneously during the fall, including red, purple, and yellow.
Choose this non-fruiting cultivar to avoid spiky, messy gumballs. Install this tree in the fall or a container-grown plant in the spring, using it as a shade or specimen tree.
The sweetgum thrives in full sun and loamy, slightly acidic soil. Add compost occasionally. Water your tree regularly until it’s well-established, then it tolerates some drought or flooding.
Forest Pansy Redbud (Cercis canadensis ‘Forest Pansy’)
This tree’s heart-shaped, purple-red leaves mature to maroon. In early spring, it boasts purple, pea-like flowers, then prominent seed pods. This redbud suits a garden or backyard.
Sow its seeds in the fall, or take semi-hardwood cuttings in spring or summer in slightly fertile, well-draining soil. Put your redbud in part shade if summers are hot or full sun if they’re mild.
For best results, water your tree regularly, but mature plants survive some drought. Give it fertilizer in early spring.
Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
This tall oak has russet or bright-red fall leaves and yellow-green catkins in April and May. Install the Northern red oak in the spring or fall. Its deep roots make it well-suited for planting near streets and sidewalks.
Place this oak in full sun and acidic, moist, fast-draining soil. Water young trees deeply once a week, especially if there’s no rain. Add manure and compost before planting, and distribute bark mulch. If you like, feed all-purpose fertilizer in the spring.
American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) – A Red-Leaved Tree with Interesting Bark
This tree has a fluted trunk and branches, and red-orange autumn leaves. Plant the hornbeam in the spring, either from seed or a young nursery plant.
Use it as a specimen or understory tree. It prefers partial to full shade but survives in full sun. It does best in fertile, moist, well-drained, acidic to neutral loam but tolerates clay.
Keep the ground damp for the first two to three years, then soak it deeply once a week during dry spells. No fertilizer is necessary, particularly if you’re fertilizing nearby grass, but do spread mulch. You may prune this multi-stemmed tree to one central trunk.
Pin Oak (Quercus palustris)
This tall oak has yellow-green catkins in April and May, and deep-red to bronze fall leaves. Its lower branches hang down, making it unsuitable for a small yard.
The pin oak also does not grow in high areas or on slopes, but it makes an effective shade tree if you have a suitable spot. Insert a container-grown or balled-and-burlapped tree in late fall or early spring or a bare-root tree in early spring only.
It’s also possible to grow these trees for fall foliage from an acorn that has just turned brown. Put your tree in full sun and moist, fertile, acidic soil. Keep the soil medium-moist to wet, and fertilize regularly.
Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)
The sourwood has fissured bark and white, mildly fragrant summertime panicles. Its dry seed capsules ripen in the fall, while its leaves turn bright crimson.
Set up this tree in the opening between other trees, sowing seeds in a cold frame in the fall, or taking semi-ripe summertime cuttings. The site should have well-draining, moist, slightly acidic soil that’s rich in organic matter and full sun or part shade.
Water generously when your tree is young, then only during dry weather. If you happen to apply fertilizer, it should not be ammonium-based. Spread bark mulch and well-rotted leaf mold.
Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) – A Fruiting Tree with Red Foliage
This small tree has yellow-green flowers in July and August, and reddish-purple fall leaves. Female plants produce clusters of dull-red, edible fruits that last into the winter. The winged sumac naturally forms thickets.
Propagate it using division, seeds that have undergone acid scarification, or semi-hardwood cuttings taken in summer or fall. Winged sumac flourishes in full sun and rocky, poor soil.
It has low water needs and generally does not need fertilizer. If you use any, make sure that you do not give any nitrogen fertilizer during the plant’s first year.
Black Gum Tree (Nyssa sylvatica)
This deciduous tree has light-green springtime flowers and oval leaves that turn orange, red, purple, and yellow in the fall. If you plant both a female and a male plant, you’ll likely get dark stone fruits that are, unfortunately, inedible.
Propagate the black gum tree anytime except for the fall using seeds, cuttings, or grafting. Find a site with full to part sun and acidic, fast-draining loam or clay and keep the soil moist. Strew slow-release granular fertilizer in the fall.
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
This tree’s distinctive lobed leaves turn orange-pink, yellow-red, and scarlet-purple in the fall. It also bears fragrant yellow spring flowers and dark-blue fruits if you have both a male and a female plant.
Sow the seeds of these fast growing shade trees in the fall, or plant a nursery sapling. This plant excels as a specimen or shade tree, and it has several stems, but you can prune it to a single trunk.
Place sassafras in part shade and acidic, well-drained soil. It’s relatively drought-tolerant, so water it regularly but do not get the earth soggy. Apply root growth stimulator in the first spring after planting.
As temperatures become cooler and most plants shrivel and go brown, colorful leaves provide a welcome contrast. Trees with bright-red, orange, yellow, or purple foliage make an everyday walk through the park or neighborhood enchanting.
You may even find fall blooming roses and other plants that provide added color in autumn. Enjoy the variety during this colorful season.
Trees with red leaves attract attention even among other trees with fall color. Standout trees with red foliage include ornamental trees like the flowering dogwood or Royal Raindrops crabapple. However, any red-leaved tree is sure to pack a punch.
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