Fall Foliage Trees: The Good, the Bad and the Invasive

We take our consolations in life where we can. I live in a cold climate and dislike the onset of winter, which brings harsh weather, along with shoveling snow, scraping ice off car windshields, etc. As if the dreariness and the drudgery weren’t bad enough, winter robs me of one of my chief passions in life: my outdoor plants. Oh, sure, I can still enjoy my evergreen shrubs and ornamental grass; and other plants inject some visual interest into the winter landscape via interesting branching patterns and whatnot. But none of this makes up for the loss I’ve suffered. I’ll mourn till spring.

That’s why I drain every ounce of satisfaction out of fall foliage season. Whether it’s “leaf peeping” on vacation or selecting superior fall foliage plants for my own yard, fall foliage is a big deal to this Hyperborean: It’s my ultimate consolation as another long winter stares me in the face.

Would you like to improve the fall color in your own yard? The novice needs to learn which trees make good fall foliage trees — and which don’t. It doesn’t hurt to start with the top of the line, which, in this case, is maple trees. But you’ll want to supplement the color from your maples with the color provided by other good fall foliage trees. For example, oak trees are useful for extending the fall foliage season: Long after the maples have dropped their leaves, oaks will still be offering color. It may be less intense than the maples’ color, but it’s there when you need it, during gray November.

Not all trees add good color to the fall yard, though; and some that do should be avoided for other reasons. As delightful as they are at other times of the year, golden chain trees and catalpa trees add nothing to the fall landscape. In fact, the latter becomes an eyesore, as its large leaves blacken and literally litter the surrounding area in a way few trees can. Meanwhile, Norway maple trees put on a fine autumn display (although their leaves are sometimes disfigured by tar spot), but are generally avoided in the U.S. due to their classification as invasive plants.

If you live in a small space, your reaction to the foregoing may be, “That’s all very well, but I don’t have room to grow fall foliage trees. How can someone like me inject fall color into the yard?” The answer is to downsize with fall shrubs — shrubs that display knockout fall foliage of their own, but on a smaller frame. Pound for pound (Or should I say, “leaf for leaf?”), the right shrub can be just as potent in the fall landscape as any tree.

David Beaulieu

David Beaulieu's career as a landscape and garden writer builds on a decade of prior work with landscaping plants in the nursery business, and on a lifelong love of plants of all kinds. David currently writes a blog for about.com about Do It Yourself "Landscape Design"


  1. I love the fall season and have been looking for the right foliage trees to have put in our backyard. I have a reliable landscape supply company (woodwardlandscapecupply.com) that has been advising us. Thanks for the great tips!

  2. Pingback: Arbor Day Tree Care & Landscape Design Blog » Fall Foliage Trees … | Tree Services Austin

  3. Hi, We just brought a new home,and their is a large tree which we think is a small leaf oak. It has green folage growning on it limbs. It is not any vines growning from the ground. Their is some misltoe growing on some of the branches. I feel this folage is going to kill the tree limbs. Do you know if there is any kind of spray that we could get rid of this problem.

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