The best shrubs & trees for autumn colours


I am a student of agricultural sciences and a real country kid. At home, I love tending my small vegetable garden and spending time out in nature. When not outdoors, I love to write. Beyond gardening and writing, however, I am particularly passionate about wildlife.

Favourite fruit: currants and raspberries
Favourite vegetables: salsify, savoy cabbage and potatoes

One of the best things about autumn is the leaves! Find out here which colourful trees and shrubs develop the most beautiful autumn colouring.

orange red Japanese maple leaves
Some shrubs and trees are especially beautifully in autumn [Photo: ksj 520305/]

Many people consider autumn to be the most beautiful time of the year. Above all, the bright colours of the leaves have always captivated young and old alike, and the trees and shrubs provide a breath-taking play of colours. However, not every tree or shrub’s leaves turn a beautiful orange, yellow or red. Here are our top 10 trees and shrubs that turn the most beautiful and intense colours come autumn so that you can enjoy a colourful autumn in your own garden.

If you want to have a beautiful array of colour in your garden in autumn, consider planting some of the following shrubs and trees.

1. Ginkgo

In its native China, the ginkgo tree (Ginkgo biloba) is particularly popular for its beautiful autumn colours. The leaves shine bright yellow in autumn and can be easily seen from afar. Fortunately, no one has to travel to Asia anymore to admire this natural phenomenon. Nowadays, this tree can be found growing all over the world. The ginkgo tree thrives in sunny locations. When deciding whether to add a ginkgo tree to your garden, keep in mind that they can grow up to 40 metres tall and form spreading crowns, which can quickly cause space issues in small gardens. Secondly, female ginkgo trees produce mirabelle-like fruits in September, which have a very unpleasant smell – many gardeners prefer the male variety of the tree, which does not bear fruit.

ginkgo tress with yellow foliage
In autumn, ginkgo trees glow bright yellow [Photo: IfSea/]

2. Barberry

Barberry (Berberis) is a very popular hedge plant. Above all, the fact that they are extremely easy to care for predestines them for this task. Once fully established, barberry does not require watering or fertilisation and basically takes care of itself. There are also several evergreen species that provide privacy protection throughout the winter. The bright and beautiful flowers of barberry add a great finishing touch and make the hedge visually appealing. Barberry also bears small, red fruits that are very tasty but also slightly sour. In autumn, many species have a spectacular leaf colouring. For example, the Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) turns a deep orange to dark red, while the golden Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea’) shines in a beautiful golden yellow. Instead of a boring green hedge, barberry adds a splash of colour to the garden.

purple red barberry foliage
Barberry leaves turn a beautiful colour in autumn [Photo: Bozhena Melnyk/]

Tip: Why do the leaves change colour in autumn? Find out the answer to this question and more in our dedicated article.

3. Witch hazel

The name witch hazel (Hamamelis) conjures up images of magic, and anyone who has ever seen this beautiful shrub will attest to its enchanting beauty. Witch hazel is one of the most beautiful flowering shrubs. Especially in winter, witch hazel is a real eye-catcher. In autumn, while other plants become dormant, witch hazel sprouts bright yellow to crimson, spider-like flowers. These flowers last well into winter, creating a truly surreal sight among frost, snow and ice.

red and yellow witch hazel
Witch hazel is one of the most beautiful flowering shrubs [Photo: Anna Gratys/]

4. Stag’s horn sumac

Stag’s horn sumac (Rhus typhina) berries are very healthy and tasty. In its native North America, the fruits of the vinegar tree have long been used to make the well-known “Sumac Lemonade” – a vitamin C bomb. The red berries also look fabulous when they remain on the otherwise bare branches in winter and contrast with the white snow. But its autumn colouring is another reason why stag’s horn sumac is regaining popularity as an ornamental shrub: its leaves turn orange to bright red. Especially in combination with evergreen hedges or dark purple asters, stag’s horn sumac becomes a visual sensation.

staghorn sumac colourful autumn foliage
Stag’s horn sumac leaves turn orange and bright red in autumn [Photo: Ksenia Lada/]

5. Japanese maple

Possibly the most popular tree for autumn colours is the Japanese maple. It is simply stunning with its beautiful leaves that turn yellow-orange to chimney scarlet in October. In addition, its delicate and colourful foliage, short trunk and spreading crown enhance its impressive figure. Three species are usually grouped together under the name Japanese maple: The smooth Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), the downy Japanese maple (Acer japonicum) and the golden full moon maple (Acer shirasawanum ‘Aureum’). The golden full moon maple stands out in autumn with its particularly bright and intense yellow colouring, which is stunning to look at. The downy Japanese maple transforms into a dancing sea of flames in autumn and grows considerably taller than the full moon or smooth Japanese maple, reaching heights of up to seven metres. That said, the smooth Japanese maple is in no way inferior to its siblings when it comes to leaf colouring. Its attractive leaves come in a range of shapes and colours, depending on the cultivar. With almost 400 different varieties of these three species, every gardener will be able to find the right tree for them.

vibrantly red Japanese maple
The Japanese maple is an autumn colour classic [Photo: Martin Fowler/]

6. Juneberry

The juneberry (Amelanchier), also known as serviceberry, is an excellent tree for the home garden not just in autumn, but all year. The tree radiates in the spring with stunning, star-shaped flowers and in the autumn with a spectacular colouring. There are almost 25 varieties of the juneberry, all of which are easy to care for. Their colours vary from copper-red to bronze and the North American varieties are particularly stunning with their colourful foliage. But the fruits of the juneberry are not to be overlooked. The small blue fruits, called juneberries or Saskatoon berries, resemble blueberries not only in appearance but also in taste and are very healthy.

red and yellow juneberry leaves
The juneberry is a great tree for the garden, and not only in autumn [Photo: Lora Sutyagina/]

7. Virginia creeper

Not only trees and shrubs can turn a brilliant scarlet in autumn. What about a fence or even a whole wall? This is easy to create with the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus). The undemanding climbing plant is not only wonderfully easy to care for, but also grows quickly and conceals drab façades beneath its green foliage. The vine becomes spectacular in autumn. The leaves turn from radiant green to deep red, bringing autumnal beauty to fences and façades alike. The leaves turn particularly vibrant when the vine gets a lot of sun – keep this in mind when deciding where to plant your Parthenocissus. In addition, the greenery on a house façade acts like a natural air conditioner, providing a pleasantly cool climate in summer.

red and yellow five-leaved parthenocissus
When this vine gets a lot of sun, the leaves turn a particularly intense colour [Photo: RedFox Studio/]

8. Chokeberry

The chokeberry (Aronia) is quite the eye-catcher in autumn with its bright red leaves and purple-black berries. It also enchants with beautiful white flowers in the spring, which is why it is often grown as an ornamental plant. The fruits of the chokeberry are not to be overlooked either – full of vitamin C, folic acid and antioxidants, the fruit is not only tasty but also very healthy. The dark fruits are popular in juice, jam, and liqueur, but they can also be eaten dried like sultanas. However, take caution when consuming the fruits raw, as they have a slightly laxative effect. They are also a little sour, which is not to everyone’s taste. But for their breath-taking autumn colouring alone, a chokeberry is a worthy addition in the garden.

black chokeberries and red leaves
In autumn, the chokeberry has bright red leaves and black berries [Photo: Arti_Zav/]

9. Beautyberry

As the name implies, the berries are what make the beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri) so charming. The small, intensely purple berries exude their very own flair. The small, attractive fruits appear on the otherwise inconspicuous shrub only in autumn and last until December. However, bear in mind, the fruits are poisonous for humans despite their appetising appearance. Otherwise, the beautyberry is not difficult to grow; its requires little effort, making it great for beginners.

bright purple beautyberry berries
The intense purple-coloured berries of the beauty fruit only appear in autumn [Photo: phol20/]

10. Sweet gum

Want a vibrant fireworks display in your backyard? Well, that is easy to achieve with the sweet gum tree (Liquidambar). This dazzling tree is native to North America and has leaves similar to those of the maple tree. While it is mostly grown in North America for its sweet-smelling resin, it is also a popular ornamental tree in Europe. And rightly so when it comes to autumn colour, nothing beats the sweet gum tree. Its vibrant colours, ranging from yellow to red to deep violet, can all be found on a single tree, contributing to the sweet gum tree’s distinctive appearance. A single leaf can have multiple hues of colour. The American red gum is appealing not only to the eyes but also to the nose. A delightful smell will greet you if you rub the colourful leaves between your fingers.

sweet gums autumn foliage
The sweet gum tree shows off a wide variety of hues in autumn [Photo: JPL Designs/]