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?Tiger Eyes
'Tiger Eyes' cutleaf staghorn sumac in fall

In the North, autumn is a season to celebrate. It is a time to witness nature's transformation into a mesmerizing color scheme, a virtual feast for the eyes before the yards and gardens retire for yet another winter. It's also an excellent time to enhance the fall landscape, taking advantage of the numerous plant varieties that offer brilliant seasonal pigments.

There are many trees and shrubs which contribute immensely to the fall colorscape that are worth considering for any home landscape in the North. Here are just a few notables that will turn some heads.


For early fall color, let the legendary and durable ash start the show. Autumn Blaze ash (Fraxinus americana 'Autumn Blaze') was discovered in Roseau, Minnesota. This white ash is zone 3 hardy and grows to a mature height of 50-60 feet. Its branches span 25-30 feet and the oval form displays a rich purple foliage in fall. White ash prefers full sun and well drained soil.

An excellent contrast to the purple of Autumn Blaze is Fallgold ash (Fraxinus nigra 'Fallgold'), a selection from Manitoba. The bright golden fall performance of this tree cannot be surpassed. This upright grower will reach about 50 feet and spread 20-25 feet at maturity.

Red Maple

'Northfire' red maple

There is no substitute for fiery red maples (Acer rubrum). When it comes to the hottest of fall colors, these trees are definitely the stars of the show. One of the most notable of these rising stars is Scarlet Jewel red maple (Acer rubrum 'Bailcraig'). This zone 3 hardy maple is resistant to frost cracking and turns a rich crimson two weeks earlier than other red maples. This tree will grow to 70 feet in height at maturity. It is a brand new introduction from Bailey Nurseries that will be available this spring (2006), and is really worth checking out.

Another unique red maple is the University of Minnesota introduction Autumn Spire (Acer rubrum 'Autumn Spire'). In addition to its stunning red color, Autumn Spire lives up to its name as slender 50 foot column. Another variety with superb fall color is Northfire Maple (Acer rubrum 'Olson'). This is a 60 foot tree with an oval shape. The consistent branching habit of this landscape gem shows off the flaming red leaves to perfection.

When planting red maples, it is important to provide the optimum conditions to bring out their crimson hues. Red maples prefer partial shade and soil that is on the acidic side. Red maples are also susceptible to frost cracks. To prevent cracking, wrap young trees in the fall with protective plastic tree wraps.

One more maple of interest is Autumn Blaze maple (Acer x freemanii 'Jeffersred'). Autumn Blaze is a cross between the silver and red maple, which forms a hybrid group known as the "Freeman" maples. This 50-60 foot plant is a rapid grower like silver maple but is much sturdier. The red maple parentage gives Autumn Blaze an awesome orange/red foliage color in fall.

Sugar Maple

Fall Fiesta
'Fall Fiesta' sugar maple

Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) bring one of the most refined splashes of color to the autumn canvas with their deep golds, harvest oranges and rich red tones. An improvement to the regular species sugar maple is Fall Fiesta sugar maple (Acer saccharum 'Bailsta'), which was introduced by Bailey Nurseries in 1998. This tree has superior fall color, featuring a stunning combination of orange, yellows and reds. The reds and oranges are much more vibrant than you would find with the species. The full branching extends 50 feet, and when mature the height can reach 50-75 feet. Fall Fiesta is even resistant to frost cracking.


Of course fall color would not be complete without our national tree, the venerable oak. The scarlet oak (Quercus coccinea) is native to the eastern and central United States. This pyramidal specimen tree grows to 75-90 feet with a spread of 50-60 feet. Just as its name implies, the fall foliage of this beauty is a picturesque scarlet, with the added bonus that it retains its leaves throughout the winter.

Another fall-spectacular oak that is native to the United States is the northern pin oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis). This refined tree grows to be 60 feet high and 45 feet wide. It has an attractive brick red fall color. Unlike its popular cousin the pin oak (Quercus palustris), northern pin oak is adaptable to heavy, wet, and alkaline soils and is fully one zone hardier (to zone 3).


Autumn Brilliance
'Autumn Brilliance' serviceberry

For fall interest in a smaller accent tree, Autumn Brilliance serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Autumn Brilliance') is an excellent choice. Autumn Brilliance grows to a height of 20-25 feet. Its branches will spread 15 feet, and it can be grown as a single stem or in a multi-stemmed clump. In the fall, the foliage turns a dazzling red/orange. In addition to autumn interest, the plant also bears ornamental white flowers in early spring followed by dark purple fruit.

Mountain Ash

Foliage is not the only ornamental characteristic that makes for a spectacular show in the fall. In addition to its red foliage, showy mountain ash (Sorbus decora) displays enormous clusters of deep orange fruit. These clusters are definitely eye catching and are great for attracting birds in August and September. Showy mountain ash is a great accent plant in areas with limited space. This North American native grows to a height of 20-25 feet and a spread of 20 feet, and is one of the hardiest of all the mountain ashes.

Colorful Shrubs

Trees are not the only option for fall color in the landscape; shrubs can also bring highlights of color to an autumn scene. And needing no further introduction, no plant makes a fall statement like the aptly named burning bush (Euonymus alatus). This ten foot high and wide species produces a blazing florescent red color that lasts well into the fall season. Burning bush can also be trained to grow as a tree that will reach a height of 15-20 feet. For a more petite version of burning bush consider dwarf burning bush (Euonymus alatus 'Compactus'). This miniature variety of burning bush only grows from five to six feet.

Cutleaf staghorn sumac
Cutleaf staghorn sumac

Sumacs also give an amazing display of fall color. Cutleaf staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina 'Laciniata') features finely divided leaves that turn a glowing red. A 2005 Bailey Nursery introduction, Tiger Eyes cutleaf staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger') also has spectacular autumn interest, turning to shades of yellow, orange, and scarlet. Unlike the regular cutleaf staghorn sumac, however, this development breakthrough features bright gold foliage throughout the summer.

Another great shrub to consider is Rainbow Pillar serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis 'Glennform'). This upright, columnar plant is a fine choice for the landscape. It reaches a mature height of 20-25 feet and a spread of 10-15 feet. In fall the foliage bears a glowing orange to red color.

Shrubs With Fruit

In addition to colorful foliage, many shrubs also provide a stunning fall display courtesy of their ornamental fruit. Viburnums are a diversified example of such a group of shrubs. Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum) yields highly interesting dark blue fruit from late August to early October, until the birds get to them. Northern Burgundy arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum 'Morton'), which grows to a height of 10-12 feet, has burgundy fall foliage in addition to the colourful fruit.

American cranberry bush, a native to the northern United States and southern Canada, bears bright red, long lasting fruit and matching fall foliage. Wentworth cranberry bush (Viburnum trilobum 'Wentworth') has the largest fruit of this species. It attains a height of 10-12 feet and is an excellent addition to any landscape.

When planting in the spring, remember to select varieties that will enrich the landscape year round, including fall. A good selection of these colorful plants will enhance the harvest season.

Vickie Pondell Hines is a certified Nursery and Landscape Professional and has a B.S. in Horticulture. She works with Bare Root Inventory at Bailey Nurseries (, one of the United States' largest wholesale nurseries, serving customers throughout the U.S., several Canadian provinces and beyond. Based in Newport, Minnesota, their products are distributed by more than 4,500 nursery retailers, landscapers and garden center operations and can be found as far away as Beijing, China.

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