The key to creating a beautiful garden lies in thinking about adding interest for each season of the year. Trees can be wonderful for adding autumn colour, and there are plenty of options to choose from, whether you have a very small garden, or a very large one. One of the best things about autumn is watching the colours of the leaves as they slowly change, and then eventually fall. To enjoy this spectacular annual event in your very own garden, here are 7 best trees for autumn colour that you could consider choosing here in the UK:
Acer Palmatum for Autumn Colour
The Japanese maple is one of the best known trees for autumn colour. Their small size means that they are a great choice, even in the smallest of gardens. They can even be grown in containers. These trees will do best in a sheltered spot, with some sun, in soil that is well-drained, slightly acidic loam.
These small trees only grow to a maximum height of around 2.5m, and so they are also perfect for adding autumn colour to smaller gardens. They will need some protection from harsh frosts and winter winds, but can generally do quite well in UK gardens, especially towards the south. Disanthus prefers more acidic soils, but will grow perfectly well in a wide range of soil types.
Acer Rubrum for Autumn Colour
The red maple is a larger tree that will make a big statement in a larger garden. The tree can grow to above 12m, providing a lovely autumnal display of vivid, bright red leaves that really live up to its name. This is a tree that can do well in well-drained soil and a range of soil types.
Also known as the katsura tree, this tree is one of the most spectacular options for autumn colour. After starting off with pale pink leaves that turn green over summer, it transforms in the autumn with a staggering display of yellow and bright scarlet leaves. The fiery tones are astounding and the smell too is an interesting one. The leaves emit a fragrance of burnt sugar. This tree is native to China and Japan and while it can grow very tall there, it will grow to only around 15m in the UK.
The sweet gum tree is one of the most popular trees to grow for autumn colour in the UK. It is another colourful tree type, that has leaves that mellow through yellow and gold to a deep crimson red interspersed with burgundy hues. The variety of tones created by the leaves throughout the autumn mean that this is a tree that never fails to delight.
Fagus Sylvatica for Autumn Colour
If you want to include a specimen tree of common beech in your garden, to enjoy its beautiful yellow-gold foliage in autumn, you will need rather a large garden, as these trees will grow extremely tall. But remember, beech could also be maintained as a hedge, to provide a backdrop of autumn colour in even a much smaller space. Beech can thrive in any well-drained soil in full sun, so is a tree that could be considered in most parts of the UK.
The spindle is another native tree with beautiful yellow and red coloured foliage in the autumn, as well as attractive red fruits which split during the autumn months. As long as these trees have sun or partial shade, and well-drained conditions, they can grow happily in any type of soil. Spindle is a relatively compact tree that will not grow taller than around 4m in height. This means that it can be a good choice for mid-sized gardens.
The seven trees mentioned above are, of course, just some of the trees that are excellent for autumn colour. The key in creating an attractive autumn garden lies in adding as much diversity as possible, with plenty of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants. The combination of diverse plants is just as important as choosing a few key colourful specimens – and the wildlife will thank you for the diversity too.
Do you have great autumn colour in your garden? Which are your favourite trees for colourful autumn foliage? Share your comments and suggestions on this topic below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.