10 AGM trees with good autumn colour
Words: Graham Rice
In a fiery finale to the season, thoughtfully chosen trees can bring a whole new palette to gardens large and small. Many of the finest autumn colouring trees are of a size that suits most gardens; others eventually become quite large, but do so slowly.
If you are choosing a tree for its autumn colour, when you plant your tree, do so in a sheltered spot where it will hold onto its leaves for as long as possible. Also remember that soil type and the season’s rainfall influence both the colour and intensity of the foliage - so this could vary year to year.
Acer palmatum var. dissectum 'Seiryu'
Many cut-leaved forms of Acer palmatum develop into broad shrubs but the upright growth of ‘Seiryu’ ensures its maturity into a small garden tree. The foliage unfurls in bright green with reddish tones, then becomes fresh green all summer. In the autumn, gold takes over with the addition of spectacular fiery red tints. Best in a light, fertile, acid soil with a little afternoon shade. 5-7m.
Our native hornbeam is an adaptable tree, making a fine hedge where the soil is too wet for beech and an impressive specimen tree for larger gardens, especially in its upright form. Its autumn colour can be simple bright buttery yellow, or may feature electric orange overtones. And there are also yellow spring catkins followed by clusters of hop-like fruits. 25m/80ft, eventually.
A real star on acid soils, this upright conical tree features bronze-tinted young growth, the 10cm/4in rounded leaves becoming green then developing dramatic fiery red, orange and yellow tones in the autumn. Or the autumn colouring may sometimes be yellow or misty pink, depending on the soil. The elegant weeping form. f. pendulum, is also an AGM plant. 15m/50ft at most.
Cornus kousa var. chinensis
An elegant Cornus whose white spring flowers eventually turn to reddish pink and are followed later by red, strawberry-like fruits. In autumn its colouring rivals its spring blossom, as the foliage turns to vivid, deep red often with purplish overtones. Best on rich, but well drained soil that is neutral or acid; not for shallow chalk. 7m/22ft.
Crataegus persimilis 'Prunifolia'
A superior variation on the humble hedgerow hawthorn, this is another three-season garden tree, with white early summer flowers by small clusters of bright red berries. Its chief glory, though, is its orange and red autumn colouring. And all on a manageable, though rather thorny, tree which also makes fine host for Clematis ‘Bill McKenzie’, another AGM plant. 8m/25ft.
Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’
Seen either as a shrub or trained as a small tree, this form of our native hedgerow spindle was selected for its combination of bright red autumn foliage, turning purple as it ages, which colours at the same time as its generous crops of red and orange fruits. An adaptable plant, happy in most reasonable soils in sun or light shade. 3m/10ft
Another garden tree of modest size but impressive autumn colouring. As the bronzing of its young leaves fades, it remains quietly elegant for the remainder of the summer. Then, in autumn, it catches fire in brilliant red and orange and sometimes yellow tones to create a dazzling sight. Grow in moist but not waterlogged soil, it establishes more quickly if planted as a small specimen. 10m/30ft.
This widely spreading tree is one of the most impressive autumn spectacles, but its wider-than-high habit will not suit small gardens. With tiny red witch hazel style late winter flowers followed by glossy green summer foliage, in autumn the colouring hots up with a long season of colour in combinations of purple, red, gold and orange. Colours best on acid soil, but grows well on chalk. 8m/25ft.
Four bursts of colour this time, with single pink flowers in March or April nestling amongst reddish bronze young foliage. The flowers are followed by small red cherries then in the autumn the leaves develop yellow, orange, peach and coral, and crimson tones. Perhaps the finest garden tree of all for autumn colour, and with other added seasonal treats. 12m/40ft, eventually.
More multi-seasonal delights from this Chinese mountain ash. Fat red winter buds open to large divided leaves held on red stalks, and in June broad white heads of flowers open to be followed by large clusters of scarlet berries. Finally, those leaves turn vivid red, sometimes with orange overtones. Tough and adaptable, happiest on acid soil but not demanding it. 10m/30ft.