The 6 best trees that change color with the seasons – picks to plant now that will bring seasonal wow-factor to your yard

If your garden is lacking in color, these trees picked by landscape designers and plant experts are the best ones that burst into life in spring and fall

a garden with a red maple tree
(Image credit: Stacy Zarin-Goldberg. Design: Richardson & Associates Landscape Architecture)

Personally, I love a colorful garden to fully display the season, both spring and fall. One of the best parts of home gardening is collating colors and textures to reflect your style, and seeing that play out across the year. 'Seeing a variety of colors and textures in our landscapes is one of the most exciting parts of home gardening,' Pete Smith, urban forestry program manager at The Arbor Day Foundation. 'It's great to make observations at different times of the year to select new trees and shrubs that add to the aesthetic beauty of your yard,' he adds. 

It's true, watching as the tone of the landscape changes feels almost therapeutic. From punchy pinks and oranges to muted greens and mustard, color is the best way to feel engaged with nature and seasonal change. We spoke to two gardening experts to find out their top picks for colorful trees, so read on to find out what they are and how to embrace color in your backyard.

1. Japanese Maple

If you are looking for a tree to provide beautiful red leaves for a colorful backyard, look to the Japanese Maple, says Pete from The Arbor Day Foundation. ‘Its winter shoots bud out into reddish foliage in spring, darkening to deeper greens in summer, then exploding with brilliant fall color,’ he explains. 

Its vast color range provides great seasonal variation that looks just as great in spring as in fall.

2. Blackgum

This tree offers a cooling outdoor shade in the summer from its leafy foliage, and in winter it erupts into vibrant red. 'This adaptable species has cultivars with reddish new growth and pink/red fall color,' explains Pete. 

Amongst the dull weather and subdued colors, these fiery red leaves really stand out. If you’re looking to inject some fall color into your garden this tree is guaranteed to lift your spirits

3. Eastern redbud

The Eastern redbud's heart-shaped foliage adds an alternative layer of texture and dimension to an otherwise unassuming-looking medium height, and while its spring blossoms might be a beautifully vivid pink, in fall, it turns a pleasing yellow. It's one of the best trees for front yards for this double hit of curb appeal across the year.  

‘It has a beautiful purple inflorescence that happens in early spring before the leaves come out,’ Jonathan Fargion, a New York-based landscaper, tells me, ‘and they turn into the most wonderful palette of colors in fall.’ 

4. Bald cypress

If your garden lacks a little something in fall this tree provides a metallic-like bronze to golden color.

'This versatile conifer is one of the few that drops needles each year,' Pete explains. 'In spring, light green new growth gives way to dappled shade through summer, followed by bronze-to-golden fall color.' 

5. Scarlet oak

Like the traditional long-life oak trees, this tree provides some of our best summer shade. Its deep green foliage and broad branches provide the perfect spot for some respite from the sun. 

'It’s a great pollinator species (yes, caterpillars need homes, too!), a favorite of your neighborhood squirrels,' Pete explains. 'And, it produces the best fall color of any of the oaks.' 

6. Witch hazel

If you spend your fall longing for the flowers of spring consider investing in a witch hazel tree. 'Not only does this small tree/large shrub produce reliable fall color, it’s one of the few tree species that flowers in the fall,' Pete explains. 

The bright yellow spikey-looking flowers are striking against a backdrop of stark branches, and they provide some much-needed brightness to the darker fall days.

Amy McArdle
News writer

Amy recently completed an MA in Magazine Journalism at City, University of London, with experience writing for Women’s lifestyle publications across arts, culture, and beauty. She has a particular love for the minimalist aesthetic mixed with mid-century furniture, especially combining unique vintage finds with more modern pieces. Her previous work in luxury jewellery has given her a keen eye for beautiful things and clever design, that plays into her love of interiors. As a result, Amy will often be heard justifying homeware purchases as 'an investment', wise words to live by.