We usually associate fall with the brilliant shades of orange, gold, red, and purple as trees change color all around us. Just one or two of those trees can make all the difference in your yard so we often get asked to recommend the best landscape trees for fall color in the Dayton area.
Our favorites are well-adapted to the southern Ohio climate, many are native to our area, and all reliably put on a spectacular fall show. Any of these five favorites will add big color to your fall landscape.
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Red maple is a popular shade tree found throughout Ohio. It prefers moist soil (which is why it’s also known as swamp maple) and has an upright shape reaching up to 70 feet tall. It’s particularly noted for its brilliant red color in autumn.
If you’re looking for something a little smaller, try the Freeman Maple (Acer x freemanii), a hybrid of the red maple and the fast-growing silver maple (Acer saccharinum). This pyramid-shaped reaches 40-60 feet and has spectacular fall color. Two great choices are the remarkably hardy Autumn Fantasy®, which develops deep burgundy leaves in autumn, and the popular Autumn Blaze® which has consistent scarlet-red fall color and exceptional drought tolerance.
Maidenhair Tree (Ginkgo Biloba)
Unlike many trees whose leaves turn orange or red in fall, gingkos put on a spectacular yellow show.
Considered living fossils because they are the last survivors of tree varieties that grew worldwide 270 million years ago, gingkos are related to conifers but have fan-shaped leaves rather than needles. The leaves resemble those of the maidenhair fern, thus the common name: maidenhair tree.
Trees often have an umbrella shape and can grow 80 feet tall and up to 60 feet wide, though many stay only half that size when grown in urban settings. You’ll want to plant a male ginko tree as the fruit of the female trees give off a strong smell in fall that many find unpleasant.
Baldcypress (Taxodium distichum)
The baldcypress isn’t on most people’s top 10 list for fall color but it puts on a majestic autumn display of orange red color. It’s one of our few deciduous conifers – it has needle-like leaves like an evergreen conifer but it loses those leaves in fall.
Although it’s not native to our area, the baldcypress is frequently planted in Ohio as an ornamental tree. It grows up to 80 feet tall and can spread 30 feet if given space to grow.
Baldcypress likes full to partial sun and isn’t fussy about soil type, although chlorosis can be a problem with high soil pH.
Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Often confused with a maple tree because of the similar-looking leaves, sweetgum’s star-shaped leaves turn a kaleidoscope of colors in fall, including red, orange, and burgundy — giving the landscape a carnival feel at season’s end.
Dayton is at the northern end of sweetgum’s native range but it does well throughout the state. It grows quickly and can reach up to 80 feet tall when grown in the moist, rich soil it prefers (although it will grow just about anywhere if given full to partial sun).
Sweetgum trees also produce a spine-covered, hard fruit (called a sweet gum ball) in fall that many homeowners find annoying when they drop all over the ground. It’s probably best to plant this beautiful tree away from driveways, decks, and walkways.
Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)
Scarlet oak is found extensively in eastern Ohio, less frequently in our area, and very little throughout the rest of the state. It’s a fast-growing tree that prefers well-drained to dry soil and can reach 70 feet at maturity. Plant it in a spacious open spot where it can reach its full potential and won’t need to be moved (like most oaks, it has a taproot that makes it very difficult to successfully transplant).
While the leaves on most oak trees simply turn brown or yellowish in autumn, the leaves of scarlet oak are one of the most colorful contributors to the fall foliage display, turning bright red before falling.
Plant the Right Tree in the Right Place
Any one of these trees will make your autumn landscape a little brighter; two or more will put on a spectacular display. Just make sure to choose trees that will fit into your landscape, give them enough water to get well established, and plant them where they’ll get full sun so they can develop the best fall color.
If you’re unsure about which trees to plant on your property, give us a call. We’re happy to schedule a consultation where we visit your property and make recommendations on the best trees for you.
To help you plant your new fall foliage tree, we put together this article on proper tree planting techniques, as well as an article on how and when to water your tree. But don’t forget that we also offer professional tree planting services! Properly planting a tree isn’t easy, and poor planting is responsible for a lot of the failing and dead trees we see daily.