Best Autumn Trees and Plants

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Autumn leaves

Best Autumn Trees and Plants

Now is the perfect time to go to your nursery and choose an autumn foliage tree for your garden. It’s also a great time to plant a shrub or tree, because anything planted now will have a chance to send its roots out and establish, rest over winter and then power away in spring. Here is Don’s list of the top 10 trees to plant for autumn colour:

Top 10 Autumn Trees

Japanese maple (Acer palmatum)

Japanese maples are very fashionable in Australian gardens. They grow well from Sydney to Perth and areas south, in the mountain zones and Tasmania. There are hundreds of cultivars available, and there is a huge range of leaf shapes and colours, and varying growth forms.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

The ginkgo is a large, slow-growing tree to about 30m (100′) tall. It has 2-lobed leaves resembling the maidenhair fern, which turn a beautiful buttercup yellow before they fall. Ginkgos grow best in Melbourne, Adelaide, Hobart, the mountains and cool elevated sites in Perth and Sydney.

Liquidambar (Liquidambar styraciflua)

These large, fast growing deciduous trees can reach 30 metres (100′) high. The autumn foliage is spectacular, with colours ranging from yellow, orange and scarlet to purple. There are new varieties available, including ‘Gumball’, ‘Gold Dust’, ‘Parasol’ and ‘Rotundiloba’. Liquidambars do well from Sydney to Perth and areas south.

Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

Tupelos grow to around 10 metres tall (30′). They look wonderful in autumn because the tracery of dark stems and branches contrasts beautifully with the yellow, orange, red and crimson foliage. They grow best in Melbourne, Hobart, the mountains, and cool, elevated sites in Adelaide, Perth and Sydney.

Chinese pistachio (Pistacia chinensis)

This beautiful tree has brilliant yellow, orange and scarlet foliage in autumn. Pistachios only grow to about 8m (25’) tall, and so they make excellent garden or street trees.

Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum)

This is one of the best trees for autumn colour in warmer areas. It grows about 8-10m (25-30′) tall, and has crimson autumn foliage with some yellow, orange and ruby-red leaves. (Note: Chinese tallow tree can be weedy in some areas.)

Claret ash (Fraxinus ‘Raywood’)

The claret ash grows to about 20 metres (60′). It has glossy green foliage, which turns claret to deep purple in autumn. Claret ashes do well from Sydney to Perth and areas south, in the mountain zones, and Tasmania.

Golden ash (Fraxinus excelsior ‘Aurea’)

The foliage of the golden ash turns a clear yellow in autumn. The tree grows to around the 15 metre (45′) mark, and has yellow branchlets with conspicuous black buds. The golden ash grows best in Melbourne, Hobart and the mountains, as well as cool, elevated sites in Adelaide, Sydney and Perth.

Flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata)

These trees are mostly planted for their breathtaking spring blossom display, but in cool to cold climates their foliage turns vivid yellow, orange and scarlet in autumn. There are many beautiful cultivars of Prunus serrulata including weeping or pendulous forms, which are usually grafted onto tall stems.

Scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea)

A fine autumn colouring tree for the cooler zones of Australia. The scarlet oak grows to around 24m (70’) tall. It has bright green, bristle-tipped leaves, which turn brilliant scarlet in autumn.

But there’s more!

As well as the trees listed above, there are many other beautiful autumn foliage trees to choose from. If you live in a cold area, you might like to plant a grove of aspens (Populus tremula). Their leaves quiver and rustle in the breeze, and turn a clear yellow in autumn. The smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria) grows about 3-4m (10-15’) tall. It features feathery, smoky grey inflorescences and a brilliant display of yellow, orange and scarlet foliage in autumn. The cultivar ‘Grace’ has burgundy leaves throughout the year. Cotinus grows best in the middle to cooler zones of Australia – Sydney, Perth and areas south.

Autumn colour is not just about foliage – lots of plants flower in autumn. They include plectranthus (Plectranthus ciliatus), ericas and chrysanthemums. And for a fabulous display of autumn fruit, try planting a strawberry dogwood (Cornus capitata). This small tree grows to about 10m (30’) and has large, decorative scarlet fruit in autumn.

Cost and availability

The top 10 autumn trees mentioned in our segment are available at nurseries and garden centres. Expect to pay $15-$20 for 200mm (8″) pots, $50-$80 for 300mm (12″) pots or 25Ltr bags, and from $100 for 400mm (16″) pots or 45Ltr bags.

Further reading

To help you choose the right tree for your garden, the May edition of the Burke’s Backyard Magazine includes a bonus guide to trees. The magazine is available at newsagents and supermarkets for $5.50.