Fall Garden: Shrubs and Trees for Fall

A Garden to Fall For

George and Becky Lohmiller
Autumn Tree

Get those beloved colors of autumn right in your own yard with a beautiful fall garden.

Many gardeners prefer autumn to any other season. The heat and humidity of summer have passed, biting insects are gone, and the leaves of many plants paint the landscape with bold strokes of red, yellow, orange, and purple.

With a little planning, you can create a fall garden that will rival the bright new leaves and flowers of spring gardens.

To choose plants for a fall garden, visit a nursery with paper, pencil, and camera in hand. Take notes and snapshots and ask questions:

  • Does the plant have colorful berries for winter interest?
  • Will it attract birds?
  • How will it look in other seasons?

Trees for Fall

  • When thinking about fall foliage, the northern red oak (Quercus rubra) and sugar maple (Acer saccharum), with their mixed palettes of blazing color, come to mind.
  • If you don’t have room for these large trees that may grow more than 60 feet tall, there are many smaller ones that are just as vibrant. The ‘Autumn Brilliance’ serviceberry (a cultivar of Amelanchier x grandiflora) grows only 20 feet tall and has flaming-red fall foliage. It also features white flowers in early spring and sweet, edible berries.
  • The Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) grows 25 feet tall and sports reddish-purple autumn dress; the 12-foot ‘Sherwood Flame’ Japanese maple (a cultivar of Acer palmatum) presents a dramatic scarlet fall display.

Shrubs for Fall

Shrubs are the bones of a fall garden, creating a colorful underplanting.

  • The red-flowered sumac is a good shrub option (Rhus coriaria).
  • The highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) also makes an attractive hedge, growing up to 12 feet high. In addition to its long-lasting, bright-red autumn leaves, you’ll enjoy its white spring flowers tinged with pink and, of course, its delicious juicy berries.
  • Chokeberry has bright orange-red fall foliage but also looks good in spring with its white blooms and red fruits in summer.
  • Gingkos are a graceful ancient variety of tree that turns beautiful golden-yellow in the fall.
  • The Witch Hazel is the perfect autumn shrub, turning golden-yellow in fall and even bearing yellow spider-y flowers.

Colorful fall foliage isn’t limited to just trees and shrubs. Many vines, ground cover choices, perennials, and ornamental grasses can contribute a variety of unique textures and tones to your planting.

Creating a beautiful fall garden isn’t difficult; all it requires is a bit of planning and a colorful imagination.

Reader Comments

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Pink tree

What is the pink tree pictured in Fall Garden: Shrubs and Trees for Fall? thanks colen

Main Picture Tree

Hi Colen,

The picture is of a Japanese maple tree. Thanks for writing!

In bloom right now still,

In bloom right now still, (Ohio): Major Wheeler honeysuckle, marigolds, some coneflowers, purple bearded iris, some woodland phlox fall blooms, one hosta stem with purple flowers (grew late), one yarrow, asters and goldenrods are mostly black by now. The sassafras tree had some magnificent orange/rust foliage but it's all past by now. Last to turn yet is the non-native pear trees, still green.

Question On Japanese Maples and Planting

We recently purchased and received 4 Japanese maples. If we would like to hold them over and plant them next spring, what would be the best way to do it, or should we get them in the ground this fall? These are not saplings, but young trees in pots. Would they survive well if we take care of them as saplings, or do they need different care?

Planting Japanese Maple Trees

Hi Susan,

Fall is the best time to plant Japanese maple trees, so it’s time to plant! After planting, spread a 3-inch layer of mulch around the base of each of the trees. 

I have a question about our

I have a question about our Japanese Maple. We just bought an Emperor I Japanese Maple this spring, and soon after planting it, many branches didn't bud leaves, and the leaves that did grow are turning green. We planted it in a partial to full sun spot, mixed the soil with compost, and planted the root ball a few inches higher than the ground. What did we do wrong, and can we anticipate that it will do better in the coming years, or is it passed hope? Thanks!

What is the name of the red

What is the name of the red ground cover featured in the picture with the Rocky Glade? If it says, I'm not finding it. Thank you!

I have a Japanese Maple

I have a Japanese Maple sapling, about 1 foot high, that I would like to plant outdoors come spring. What is the best way to make sure it survives a harsh Upstate NY winter? Bring it inside, or let it winter outside?
Will it need lots of sun in winter, or should I avoid the sun, and let it stay in shade during winter months?

You can dig a hole and put

You can dig a hole and put the pot in the ground and add mulch around the tree for extra insulation. Or you can overwinter the potted maple in an unheated garage or shed. Wrap the pot in a towel to protect the roots.

I'm new to this site but it

I'm new to this site but it looks like a good one. I'm the ornamental gardener in the family; my husband is the vegetable gardener.