Best Trees For Autumn Colour

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Autumn foliage plants are a great investment around the home. They provide shade in summer, put on a fabulous colour display in autumn, then lose their leaves allowing the warming, winter sun to shine through.

Now is the perfect time to go for a walk or a drive, and look at all the beautiful autumn foliage trees in your area. If you see one you like, you can always take a few leaves along to your local nursery for identification. Autumn is 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 some of the best trees to plant for autumn colour:

Maple (Acer japonicum)

This small tree from Japan grows slowly to around 5m (15′) tall. The new growth is pale green with fine, white hairs. As the leaves mature they darken in colour, then turn orange-red and crimson in autumn. A. japonicum does best in the cooler areas of Australia (Melbourne, Hobart and the mountains).

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.

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. They grow 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. Both the golden and claret ash grow best in Melbourne, Hobart and the mountains, as well as cool, elevated sites in Adelaide, Sydney and Perth.

Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)

The ginkgo is a large, slow-growing tree to 25m (70′) or more. 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 25 metres (75′) 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 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.

Cost and availability

The 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

The May edition of the Burke’s Backyard Magazine includes an article on the best trees for autumn colour, as well as a free zipout guide to trees, which will help you choose the best tree for your backyard. The magazine is available at newsagents and supermarkets for $4.95.