Best Trees and Shrubs for Fall Color

According to the color watchers in Minnesota, this week marks the peak of fall color in central and southern Minnesota. Most of northern Minnesota is past peak already. Maples, birches and other northern-hardy trees along with many deciduous shrubs are lighting up yards and roadways around the state with their last blast of color before winter sets in.

You can have a fantastic fall color display in your yard simply by choosing a variety of trees and shrubs. Here are some of our favorites:


Autumn Blaze maple lights up a yard in fall. The yellow shrub in the foreground is a golden smokebush — a gorgeous shrub in all seasons.

It would not be fall without the crimson-orange of the red maple (Acer rubrum). Several maple cultivars such as Autumn Blaze (Acer × freemanii ‘Jeffersred’) and October Glory were bred specifically for their bright fall colors. Sugar maples (Acer saccharum) also also grow well here and turn bright orange-yellow-red in the fall, depending on the weather.

Green ash trees provide a bright yellow beacon in the landscape, but with Emerald ash borer getting established in the state, this is not a good choice for new plantings.

Northern pin oak leaves in fall.

Northern pin oak leaves in fall.

Oaks also turn bright in fall and some types hold onto their leaves well into the winter, adding a textural note to the landscape. Northern red oak has a red leaf in fall as does northern pin oak and white oak, which grows well in southern Minnesota.


Burning bush gets its common name from its bright red leaves in fall.

Other trees and shrubs that provide fall color are birch, gingko, shagbark hickory, the new cultivars of American elm, cutleaf sumac, American highbush cranberry, rhododendrons (some leaves turn rich red before falling off), burning bush, smokebush (both the purple and the golden), forsythia — and don’t forget hydrangeas, many of which hold onto their blooms all winter long.

What are your favorite trees and shrubs for fall color?


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