8 maple trees with the best fall color that will fill your yard with vibrant reds and yellows during this season

These elegant trees are the stars of the fall foliage season and will make your garden glow. Many of them fit easily into the smallest yards too

maple tree in small garden
(Image credit: Brandon Goldman/Getty Images)

The vibrant colored foliage of maple trees makes a real visual impact and means they’re one of the best trees for fall color in the yard. There are many different varieties to choose from but the smaller and slower growing Acer palmatum, generally referred to as Japanese maples, tend to be the most popular variety for small urban yards.

Many are slow growing too, so although the ultimate predicted height might initially seem a little off-putting, they will take years to reach this. Maple trees are the very definition of low maintenance, as all they need is a sunny or part shaded position and some well-drained soil to thrive. Pruning Japanese maples isn’t usually necessary either as they have such a beautiful, natural shape.

Designers love these easy-care trees as a landscaping idea too. ‘I’d highly recommend the Japanese maple for adding a touch of luxury,’ says Jing Ju, founder and design director of New-York based JUJU Studio. ‘It can be a real showstopper as a center piece in your yard. It’s a versatile tree that adds elegance and that wow factor we all strive for in landscape design.

‘They're not overly large, making them a great fit for small front yards in particular. They require minimal upkeep compared to their visual impact, which means they are an ideal choice for those who want an expensive look without the fuss.’ It's not usually necessary to prune Japanese maples either as they have such a beautiful, natural shape.

If you are wondering which maple trees have the best color in fall find out how to grow our 8 favorite varieties.

1. Acer griseum

acer griseum leaves

(Image credit: Kevin Schafer/Getty Images)

USDA growing zone: 4-8
Height: up to 25 feet
Also known as: 'Paper Bark' maple

One of the best trees for fall color, the leaves of this small deciduous maple turn scarlet and bronze in fall, while later in the season the papery rolls of peeling bark in orange and red act as a textural focal point in the winter garden. For this reason it’s also known as the ‘Paper Bark’ maple, which you can find at Fast Growing Trees

Although this specimen tree can grow up to 25 feet tall don't let that put you off as it’s slow growing so easy to keep contained.

Plant your tree in well-drained soil in a position with partial shade to full sun, and give it a compost mulch once a year. Pruning isn’t necessary with this low-maintenance variety, but if you need to remove damaged branches, do this in winter when the plant is dormant.

2. Acer palmatum ‘Sango-kaku’

Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku'

(Image credit: Deborah Vernon/Alamy Stock Photo)

USDA growing zone: 5-8
Height: up to 20 feet
Also known as: 'Coral Bark' maple

This small ornamental maple is a good all-rounder for small urban yards, and offers an eye-catching accent. It provides color interest throughout the year, not just in fall. The delicate leaves start off yellow-green in spring, maturing to full green in summer, then turning a lovely burnished shade of gold in fall.

It’s also widely admired for its coral red bark that darkens in winter and seems to become even more vibrant as the temperature gets cooler, introducing a key focal point to the winter garden. This is why it’s also known as the ‘Coral Bark’ maple.

It prefers a sheltered spot in full sun or part shade and performs best in moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil. It likes to be shaded from hot afternoon sun if you live in a warmer climate, and protected from strong wind in a colder climate. It's also a good idea to add a layer of mulch when temperatures drop.

Plant it as a specimen tree in your front yard or because it's a taller variety use several trees together as a privacy screen. It can be the focal point in a Japanese garden too, or planted up in a very large container.

3. Acer japonicum ‘Aconitifolium’ 

acer japonicum aconitifolium

(Image credit: James Cade/Alamy Stock Photo)

USDA growing zone: 5-8 
Height: 15 feet
Also known as: Fernleaf 'Full Moon' maple

How pretty is this foliage? This showstopper is loved for tree landscaping as it has soft fern-like, deeply cut lobed leaves that are bright green in spring then turn brilliant shades of red tinted with purple in fall that will illuminate your garden with intense color. Another plus is the small clusters of purple-red flowers in late spring-early summer.

Best planted in moist, rich soil, this variety of acer can cope with full sun, but in particularly hot climates, such as the south, the leaves may be prone to scorching. It’s also worth knowing that the leaves of this standout tree get better coloration in a partially shaded spot.

4. Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'

Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki'

(Image credit: Emer1940/Getty Images)

USDA growing zone: 5-8
Height: up to 20 feet

In fall, this gorgeous variety is a blaze of scarlet foliage, making it one of the prettiest Japanese maple trees you can choose if you’re looking for red leaves. It’s also one of the best maple varieties for long lasting color. In spring and summer the larger than average, beautifully shaped fresh green leaves have a delicate red edging.

It’s ideal for smaller gardens as it can be grown in a large pot, so long as it is regularly watered. Alternatively it can be planted in a mixed border with moist well-drained soil as a specimen tree if you have more space. It prefers a slightly sheltered position in partial shade.

5. Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’ 

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood'

(Image credit: Blickwinkel/Alamy Stock Photo)

USDA growing zone: 5-8
Height: up to 15 feet

This variety of Japanese maple has spectacular deeply cut palmate purple leaves that turn bright red in fall. It’s one of the best ornamental trees to add drama to a small garden as it grows no taller than 15 feet, and it’s an easy care choice that can handle urban growing conditions.

A small graceful tree, it's one of the most popular Japanese maples, especially as one of the best trees for small gardens, and easy to see why. The rich, plum-colored leaves of spring and summer turn to a vivid red in fall, making it a favorite for landscaping, and it works in both formal and relaxed garden designs. The branches are striking in the winter landscape too.

In spring, expect tiny purple-red flowers, followed by small red fruits, but it really is the dark-toned foliage that's the main attraction. This fast grower needs a sheltered spot away from strong winds if it's going to achieve its full potential.

6. Acer palmatum ‘Crimson Queen’ 

acer palmatum 'Crimson Queen'

(Image credit: Grace Cary/Getty Images)

USDA growing zone: 5-8
Height: 8-10 feet

This is one of the smallest varieties of Japanese maple tree, which means it’s good for filling gaps between shrubs, and also for planting up in a large container. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of creating a magnificent focal point either with its elegantly cascading foliage in tints of bright red. The leaves have a pretty delicate lacy look too.

Although it’s a weeping variety of maple, which are generally more demanding, ‘Crimson Queen’ is a good choice for a low maintenance garden as it requires very little attention. It will do best planted in full sun with well-drained soil and a layer of mulch.

7. Acer palmatum ‘Seiryu’ 

acer palmatum 'Seiryu'

(Image credit: Jan Smith Photography/Alamy Stock Photo)

USDA growing zone: 5-8
Height: 10-15 feet

For airy green finely cut foliage it’s hard to beat this variety, which is sometimes called ‘Emerald Lace’. It has a lovely shape, upright with multi-stemmed branches, and the leaves turn yellow and bronze in fall. It’s another good choice for small yards as it only grows to around 10-15 feet.

‘Seiryu’ prefers moist, well-drained soil in part shade, but copes in full sun too. This cultivar is not a fast-growing tree, so it won’t overwhelm the garden in a hurry. As the multi-stemmed branches grow they add an architectural shape to your landscape. 

8. Acer saccharum ‘Fall Fiesta’

Acer saccharum (sugar maple)

(Image credit: Eric Bruss/Getty Images)

USDA growing zone: 3-8
Height: up to 30 feet
Also known as: the sugar maple  

When it comes to which maple trees have the best color in fall there is one variety that is loved by landscapers and tree experts alike.

‘The ‘Fall Fiesta’ variety of sugar maple is prized for its exceptional fall foliage, featuring brilliant and vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow, making it an outstanding choice for a stunning fall display in landscaping,’ says certified arborist Lou Meyer of Davey Tree in Annapolis, Maryland.

This stunning specimen tree will light up your yard with its hard to miss foliage. It’s a taller variety of maple that’s ideal for privacy screening in urban yards. Plant it in well-drained soil with full sun to partial shade. 

How do I grow a maple in a container?

acer palmatum in container

(Image credit: Johner Images/Getty Images)

If you want to try growing a maple in a container first choose a pot that is at least a foot in diameter to make sure your tree has plenty of room to grow. Choose a sheltered spot for the container that’s out of the wind before you add any soil. 

Put plenty of drainage material such as broken terracotta pieces in the base and use a good quality soil-based compost mixed with plenty of organic matter.

Once you've added your tree it’s also a good idea to dress the surface with gravel to help provide the well drained environment that maples love. Keep the container topped up with fresh compost and never let it dry out. In spring feed your maple tree with a general purpose slow release fertiliser. 

You will find that your maple grows much more slowly in a container, but if you don't mind that, they're a great tree to grow in pots. You will still need to repot every 2-3 years into a slightly larger pot each time.

Lifestyle journalist Sarah Wilson has been writing about flowers, plants, and garden design and trends since 2015. Having already studied introductory garden and landscape design as well as a course in floristry she is currently adding to her list of qualifications with an RHS Level 2 course in the Principles of Plant Growth and Development. In addition to livingetc.com, she's also written for homesandgardens.com, gardeningetc.com, Modern Gardens and Country Homes & Interiors magazines.