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Choosing Plants for Fall Color

Certain leaves change because of the environment and the change in seasons. The green pigment goes away, and leaves the remaining pigments - Red, Orange and Yellow!

Cooler temperatures mean that now is the perfect time for choosing plants for fall color. Now that your spring and summer blooming shrubs are winding down, you can assess the best places for that burst of fall color. By selecting trees and shrubs with various fall colors, you can create interest in your landscape during this season.

Where does fall color come from?

The color and amount of color each plant achieves during the fall season is determined by the day length, temperature, and moisture. As the length of the days decrease, the amount of green pigment (chlorophyll) produced decreases and eventually stops. As the green pigment disappears, all that we see is the other plant pigments that remain: red, yellow, and a mixtures of both to produce a wide array of oranges.

Yellow color is produced by the pigment that produces sugars for chlorophyll. Red fall color is produced by another pigment that is affected by acidity. The more acidic the tree' soil/preference, the more red the fall color will be. As we get closer to winter, the green pigment is released completely from the leaf leaving the red and yellow colors trapped inside the leaf. This gives us a beautiful display of harvest colors that will last until the trees finally lose their leaves. Color and intensity will change from year to year depending on the weather and the amount of moisture trees receive. Therefore, each plant acts as an individual in the fall.

Shrubs for Fall Color

Barberry (Emerald Carousel) 4'-5' x 4'-5'
Rounded plant with arching branches develops outstanding fall color. Ideal shrub accent plant.

Amur Maple (Flame) 7'-8' x 7'-8'
Finely branched compact rounded form of Amur Maple for borders, hedges or foundation planting. Great orange/red fall color.

Amelanchier (Regent Serviceberry) 4'-6' x 4'-8'
A mounded shrub form of our native Juneberry suitable for foundation or border planting. Fluffy white flowers produce delicious sweet dark fruit. Excellent yellow, orange to red fall color even in shade.

Aronia (Glossy Black Chokeberry) 4'-6' x 4'-6'
An excellent landscape shrub; compact and rounded, white flowers followed by persistent black fruit with brilliant fall color. Very hardy!

Euonymous (Burning Bush) 10'-12' x 6'-8'
Large rounded shrub for borders and screens. Brilliant red fall color with corky bark for winter interest. Dwarf form also available (5' x 5'-6').

Hydrangea (Pee Gee) 5'-6' x 5'
Showy Landscape shrub with white panicle shaped flowers which turn pink as the weather cools. Flowers up until first frost.

Rhododendron (P.J.M.) 5' x 5'
Brilliant lavender flowers in spring with a dark mahogany fall color.

Rhus (Sumac)
Gro-Low (2' x 6'); Smooth (10' x 10'); Cutleaf Smooth (8' x 6') - All sumacs display beautiful red fall color.

Spirea (Goldflame) 3'-4' x 3'
Wonderful all season long plant with year round interest. Bright pink flowers, golden summer foliage and crimson fall color.

Viburnums (Cranberry)
Mohican (6' x 6'): purple/bronze fall color
Northern Burgundy (10'-12' x 10'-12'): deep red fall color
Onandoga (6'-8' x 6'-8'): red fall color
Compact American (5'-6' x 5'-6'): scarlet fall color
Viburnums enjoy sun or shade and moist soils ideal for screens or foundation plantings.

Trees for Fall Color

Red Maples (Acer rubrum):
Small red flowers in spring followed by dark green leaves which turn and excellent red in the fall. Varieties - Autumn Radiance Red Maple (H 30-40' x W 40'), Autumn Spire Red Maple (H 50' x W 20-25'), Red Sunset Maple (H 50' x W 30-40'), Northwood Red Maple (H 50' x W 35').

Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum):
Yellow flowers in spring followed by medium sized green leaves. Sugar maples can get a range of fall color, from yellow to red, depending on sun and moisture of the area. Varieties - Green Mountain Sugar Maple (H 50-75' x W 35-40'), Legacy Maple (H 50-60' x W 35'), Flax Mill Majesty Sugar Maple (H 50-75' x W 50-60').

Norway Maples (Acer platanoides):
Dense rounded maple which has yellow flowers in spring and a golden yellow color in the fall. Varieties - Columnar Norway Maple (H 50' x W 15-20'), Crimson King Maple (H 35-40' x W 35'), Deborah Norway Maple (H 40-60' x W 40-60'), Emerald Lustre Maple (H 50-60' x W 50-60'), Princeton Gold Norway Maple (H 45' x W 40'), Royal Red Norway Maple (H 35-40' x W 25'), Variegated Norway Maple (H 50-60' x W 40-50').

Betula (Birch):
River Birch are great for moist areas, has beautiful exfoliating bark, and a bright gold fall color.

Cercis (Redbud):
Bright pink flowers run up and down the stems in early spring. New leaves are purple and mature to green only to turn yellow in the fall.

Cornus (Pagoda Dogwood):
A great ornamental tree with flowers in spring, berries in fall that persist through winter, and a reddish purple fall color.

Gleditsia (Honeylocust):
Lacy foliage which casts light shade and turns a medium yellow in the fall.

Quercus (Oak):
Pin Oak: A pyramidal shaped crown which has a yellow to copper red color. Leaves may persist on the branches through winter rather than fall off completely.

Tilia (Linden):
Bright green heart shaped leaves turn yellow in the fall. Great tree for boulevards and for shade.