Sassafras albidum sapling. Photo Maayke De Ridder

12 top trees for autumn colour

The owners of Kwekerij Arborealis nursery in the Netherlands specialise in trees. Here they recommend 12 of their favourite trees suitable for both British and European gardens, for a show-stopping display of autumn colour.

Where better to find the best trees for autumn colour than specialist tree and shrub nursery Kwekerij Arborealis. Based in the Netherlands, this European nursery is full of trees, suitable for British gardens too, and owners Sietske Metz and Micha Wieland have an impressive collection of rare and unusual types available. The pair are collectors and are experts in choosing the perfect tree. Below they have given tips for choosing the right tree for your garden and advice on the best time to plant a new tree, plus how to stake your tree so it is secure and protected.

Kwekerij Arborealis nursery in the Netherlands
Kwekerij Arborealis nursery in the Netherlands. Photo Maayke de Ridder

At this time of year, gardeners are looking for trees with impressive autumn colour. A tree that will brighten the garden as we get ever closer to the darker days of winter. So we also asked Sietske and Micha to list their top favourite trees for a show stopping autumn display.

How to choose the perfect tree

  • Think how long you’re planning to stay in your current property and how patient you are.
  • Ask your neighbours about their experience of growing trees in their gardens. You might also be able to complement each other’s planting. Eg  not all trees are self-fertile, so if you plant the female, they could plant the male.
  • If you’re buying a young tree, check it’s not pot bound and look at its shape. Make sure the top is nice and straight, and that there are enough side branches.
  • If you’re buying a grafted tree, ask which type of roos stock was used – this may affect the suitability of your soil type.
  • Plant when the soil is moist and frost-free, and water regularly during dry spells in the first growing season (from when the tree starts to leaf up until the leaves fall in autumn). Don’t make it ‘lazy’ by over watering.
  • Stake the tree immediately after planting. If you need to prune, do so just before bud burst in late spring, to avoid infection.
  • As a rule of thumb a tree’s root system is as wide as its crown. Be aware that shallow-rooting trees may get in the way of other planting ideas, and don’t forget to factor in sewage and other pipes when deciding where to place the tree.
  • It’s always best to buy trees and shrubs from a specialist supplier to get the best advice on choosing, placing and caring for the most appropriate tree for your garden. It’s also worth visiting nurseries and arboretums at different times of the year to find the right tree.

12 trees for autumn colour


Stewartia pseudocamellia Koreana Group

Stewartia pseudocamellia Koreana Group

Beautiful flaking, camouflage-style bark in shades of grey, brown and burnt ochre. Autumn colour ranges from darkest claret to bright orange. Prefers peaty conditions and light shade.
Height (H) after ten years  3-5m. Ultimate height (UH) 12m. Ultimate spread (US) 6m. Hardiness rating (HR) RHS H5, USDA 8a.


Mespilus germanica ‘Westerveld’

Mespilus germanica ‘Westerveld’

Prefers a sunny position and fertile soil. Green foliage in spring and summer and a coppery orange-yellow in autumn, Don’t gorge on fruit as the seeds are toxic when eaten in large quantities.
H 4-5m. UH 5-6m. US 4-6m. HR RHS H4, USDA 5a.


Cornus officinalis

Cornus officinalis

Yellow flowers in spring and beautiful (medicinal) red fruits in September – October with vivid reddish brown leaves. Prefers dappled shade.
H 5m. UH 5m. US 5m. HR RHS H4, USDA 8b/9a.


Heptacodium miconioides

Heptacodium miconioides

Fragrant, creamy-white flowers in late summer followed by pink and purple sepals, and bright-yellow leaves. Perfect for city and courtyard gardens, with full sun or dappled shade.
H 4m. UH 4-8m. US 2.5-4m. HR RHS H5, USDA 7b-8a.


Styrax japonicus ‘Fargesii’

Styrax japonicus ‘Fargesii’

Bushy Japanese snowbell with finely pointed leaves that turn yellow and orange in autumn. Can be pruned and kept narrow.
H 5m. UH 8-12m. US 4-8m. HR RHS H7, USDA 6a.


Acer cissifolium

Acer cissifolium

Perfect for a solitary position in not too small a garden. Young shoots are grey, with reddish-brown specks that disappear with time. Matte dark green leaves turn an orangey red in autumn.
H 6m. UH 8m. US 10m. HR RHS H4, USDA 8b-9a.


Acer negundo ‘Winter Lightning’

Acer negundo ‘Winter Lightning’

Acers aren’t very obliging when it comes to pruning, but this box elder is the exception. Its feathery, light green leaves turn a soft brownish yellow in autumn. Prefers full sun in well-drained soil.
H 6m. UH 15m. US 12m. HR RHS H7, USDA 6a.


Nyssa sinensis

Nyssa sinensis

Foliage is bronze in spring, dark green in summer and a vibrant red and yellow in autumn. A more compact version of Nyssa sylvatica, this grows well in moist, humus-rich soils. Needs sheltering from cold, dry winds.
H 4m. US 8-12m. US More than 8m. HR RHS H6, USDA 7a.


Cornus kousa ‘Teutonia’

Cornus kousa ‘Teutonia’

Slow growing when young, this dogwood will speed up after a few years then slow down again. Beautiful and ornamental with white, flowers speckled with pink, dark red autumn colour and pink fruits. Will succeed in any soil of good or moderate fertility, but dislikes shallow, chalky soils. Suits small gardens.
H 2.5m. UH 5m. US 3m. HR RHS H7, USDA 6a.


Acer griseum

Acer griseum

This paperbark maple sheds its shiny orange-brown skin in the thinnest of layers. The leaves produce a firework display of autumn colours, from scarlet pink to crimson red. Will do well in any soil, unless well-drained. Mind planting distance to walls, given its spreading silhouette.
H 6m. UH 12m. US 8m. HR RHS H5, USDA 7b-8a.


Prunus serrula ‘Branklyn’

Prunus serrula ‘Branklyn’

This slender, upright and round-headed tree has a gorgeous trunk, with shiny coppery brown bark that sheds in paper thin strips. White flowering, with narrow willow-like leaves that turn yellow in autumn. Flowers and leaves pale in comparison to that beautiful glossy bark. Needs full sun.
H 5m. UH 8-12m. US More than 8m. HR RHS H7, USDA 6a.


Pterostyrax corymbosa

Pterostyrax corymbosa

The epaulette tree is a moderate to fast grower, with a bumpy brown bark on its – generally multiple – stems. Around May to June it is covered in snowy drifts of fragrant white flowers, which will produce loads of hairy stone fruits in autumn among golden yellow leaves. Requires a good loamy soil and a sunny position. Perfect as a specimen.
H 5m. UH 12m. US 12m. HR RHS H7, USDA 6a.

Kwekerij Arborealis

Address Kwekerij Arborealis, Dirk de Ruiterpad 2, Wilhelminaoord, the Netherlands.
Tel +31 521 38 36 96
Mail order available


Photographs Maayke de Ridder