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Colorful Autumn and Winter Foliage Plants

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Many trees, shrubs, and perennials are grown especially for their autumn foliage color. Autumn is a time when many deciduous plants and a few evergreens make their presence known. Many people find the colors of autumn the loveliest of the year.

Autumn plant color is part of the natural processes which begin with the shortening of daylight and cooling temperatures as the first frost approaches. The intensity of autumn foliage color can vary from one region to another and from year to year. This is usually due to prevailing weather conditions. The ideal conditions for the most remarkable autumn color is a cool, wet autumn with little wind and no frost; these conditions produce a slow, steady change in foliage color as leaves hand on shrubs and trees for the longest possible time.

The chemistry of autumn foliage color is centered within each leaf where carotene (red and orange) persists have the chlorophyll (green) in a leaf has almost gone. Tannins in some plants accounts for brilliant yellows.

Position trees and shrubs grown for autumn color where they can make the greatest seasonal statement. Set them against a backdrop of evergreens or where the blue autumn sky will help them standout. Exposure to full sun, especially in the second half of the day, will give the best effect. A number of trees and shrubs produce their best color when grown in slightly acid soil.

Here a few trees, shrubs, perennials, vines with outstanding autumn foliage color.

Sugar Maple in autumn
Sugar Maple in autumn

Trees with Colorful Autumn and Winter Foliage

Botanical NameCommon NameZone
Acer spp.Maples5-9
Acer griseumPaperback maple4-8
Acer negundoAsh-leaved maple5-8
Acer palmatum var. dissectumJapanese maple6-8
Acer platanoidesNorway maple3-7
Aesculus paviaRed buckeye5-9
Amelanchier canadensisShadblow3-7
Arbutus x andrachnoidesStrawberry tree8-9
Betula ermaniiErman’s birch5-8
Cercidiphyllum japonicumKatsura tree4-8
Crataegus crus-galliCockspur hawthorn4-7
Cryptomeria japonicaJapanese cedar6-9
Ficus caricaCommon fig6-9
Fraxinus angustifolia ‘Raywood’Raywood Ash6-9
Ginkgo bilobaMaidenhair tree5-9
Hamamelis x intermediaWitch hazel5-9
Koelreuteria paniculataGolden-rain tree6-9
Larix deciduaEuropean larch3-6
Liquidamber styracifluaSweetgum7-9
Liriodendron tulipiferaTulip tree4-9
Malus hupehensisTea crabapple5-8
Malus tschonoskiiCrabapple5-8
Nyssa sylvaticaTupelo5-9
Ostrya carpinifoliaEuropean hornbeam6-9
Oxydendrum arboreumSorrel tree5-9
Parrotia persicaPersian ironwood4-7
Populus albaWhite poplar4-9
Populus sargentiiSargent poplar4-9
Pseudolarix amabalisGolden larch5-9
Pterocarya fraxinifoiaCaucasian wingnut6-9
Pyrus calleryanaCallery pear5-8
Robinia pseudoacaciaBlack loqust4-9
Sorbus alnifoliaKorean mountain ash5-8
Stewartia sinensisStuartia5-8
Taxodium distichumBald cypress5-11
Toona sinensisToona5-8
Goldflame Spirea in autumn
Goldflame Spirea in autumn

Shrubs with Colorful Autumn and Winter Foliage

Botanical NameCommon NameZone
Berberis spp.Barberry6-9
Calluna vulgarisScotch heather5-7
Ceratostigma willmottianumChinese plumbago6-9
Cornus kousaKousa dogwood5-8
Cornus nuttalliiPacific dogwood7-8
Coronilla valentinaCoronilla8-9
Cotinus coggygriaSmoke bush5-9
Daboecia cantabricaIrish heath6-8
Decaisnea fargesiiDecaisnea7-9
Disanthus cercidifoliusDisanthus5-8
Enkianthus campanulatusRedvein enkianthus5-8
Euonymous fortuneiWintercreeper5-9
Fothergilla majorLarge fothergilla5-8
Hamamelis mollisChinese witch hazel5-9
Lagerstroemia indicaCrape myrtle7-9
Lindera obtusilobaJapanese spicebush4-9
Paliurus spina-christiChrist’s thorn7-9
Prunus incisaFuji cherry4-9
Ptelea trifoliataHop tree5-9
Pyracantha coccinea ‘Mohave’Scarlet firethorn6-9
Rhododendron and azaleas deciduous varietiesRhododendrons and azaleas4-7
Rhus typhinaStaghorn sumac3-8
Rubus phoenicolasiusWineberry4-8
Spireae japonica ‘Goldflame’Japanese spirea4-9
Stephanandra tanakaeStephanadra6-8
Symphoricarpos x doorenbosiiSnowberry4-7
Vaccinium corymbosumHighbush blueberry3-7
Viburnum opulusEuropean cranberry3-8
Viburnum plicatumDoublefile viburnum4-8
Viburnum tinusViburnum8-10
Japanese bloodgrass, Imperata rubra cylindrica
Japanese bloodgrass, Imperata rubra cylindrica

Perennials and Climbers with Colorful Autumn and Winter Foliage

Botanical NameCommon NameZone
Ampelopsis spp.Monkshood vine5-8
Azolla filiculoidesFairy moss7-11
Brassia scopariaBrassia orchid10-11
Celastrus orbiculatusBittersweet vine4-8
Chiastophyllum oppositifoliumChiastophyllum6-9
Dregea sinensisDregea vine8-10
Epimedium grandiflorumBishops’s hat5-8
Festuca glaucaBlue fescue4-8
Hakonechloa macraHakonechloa5-9
Helleborus argutifoiusCorsican hellebore6-9
Holboellia coriaceaHolboellia vine10-11
Humulus lupulusHops4-8
Imperata cylindricaJapanese blood grass5-9
Miscanthus sinensisEulalia grass6-9
Ophiopogon planiscapusLilyturf6-11
Parthenocissus henryanaChinese parthenocissus8-9
Parthenocissus tricuspidataBoston ivy4-8
Persicara affinisHimalayan knotweed3-8
Rubus tricolorCreeping bramble7-9
Tiarella wherryiFoam flower4-7
Vitis coignetiaeCrimson glory vine5-9
Vitis viniferaGrape6-9

Also of interest:

Ten Autumn Blooming Perennials for Sun or Part Sun

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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