Your Guide to Autumn Foliage


There is probably a no better time than now to leave the worries of politics and pandemics behind you by taking a refreshing walk through your neighbourhood to enjoy the beauty of autumn foliage. Since the colours of this season are as unique as we are – often varying from branch to branch or tree to tree – there is bound to be at least one hue to catch your eye and calm your spirit. But for those of you who might want some fall foliage for your own garden, here are a few of my personal favourites.

Oakleaf Hydrangea (H. quercifolia) Hydrangeas are all the rage right now but this species has a lot going for it in autumn, as the oak-shaped leaves shift to tones of brass to burgundy. Add to this the fact that it bears white to pink cone-shaped blooms (‘Gatsby Pink’), tolerates open shade and requires little to no pruning and you have a real winner.


Hydrangea quercifolia

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis spp.) The fall and winter-blooming Witch Hazels have always been a favourite of mine but many gardeners are unaware of their fabulous autumn foliage displays. Both Chinese Witch Hazel (H. mollis) and Hamamelis virginiana have clear yellow autumn displays, while the hybrid x intermedia such as ‘Jelena’ and ‘Diane’ often bear multiple hues of red, orange, yellow and green.

Hamamelis x 'Jelena'

Variegated Eastern Dogwood (Cornus florida ‘Rainbow’) A slow-growing cultivar with white spring blooms and broad gold leaf margins that is ideal for smaller landscapes as it usually matures at 12-15’ tall. In autumn the foliage takes on a vibrant pink hue that often shifts into reds, making for a spectacular late season display.

Cornus florida 'Rainbow'

Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) This slow-growing tree is often difficult to find but is well worth seeking out with its midsummer white blooms that much resemble Pieris and are highly favoured by pollinators. The silvery seed heads persist into fall when the simple leaves shift to a bright crimson, making for a stunning contrast.

Oxydendrum arboreum

Golden Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Golden Spirit’) The gold-leaved Smokebush are often overlooked in favour of the more popular burgundy cultivars such as ‘Winecraft Black’ or ‘Royal Purple’. However, when it comes to autumn foliage these darker varieties (which only shift to red in colour) pale in comparison to ‘Golden Spirit’ which transforms itself into an entirely different bush with eye-catching leaves of coral, wine red and orange.

Cotinus 'Golden Spirit'

Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) Blueberries are one of the best edible ornamentals to incorporate into any mixed border and many cultivars have spectacular autumn foliage. Some of your best choices include ‘Chandler’ (fiery crimson), ‘Bluecrop’ (brilliant red), ‘Duke’ (yellow & orange), ‘Reka’ (burgundy-red) and ‘Razz’ (reddish-orange).

Vaccinium 'Bluecrop'

Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) The fall display of this lovely deciduous tree often varies with hues of yellow, orange, reddish-pink and burgundy – often displayed in layers. As an added bonus, Katsura emanates a mouth-watering caramel fragrance in autumn that reminds one of those old-fashioned candied apples that we used to get on Halloween.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus) I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this autumn standard with consistent rose-red to burgundy fall foliage. Some gardeners assume that ‘Compactus’ stays small but just like ‘Chicago Fire’ or ‘Fire Ball’, all will grow at least 6’ tall and wide without pruning, while the hard to find ‘Little Moses’ matures at only 3’ high and wide.

Euonymus alatus 'Compactus'

White Ash (Fraxinus americana ‘Autumn Purple’) – This cultivar of a popular shade tree really lives up to its name with green compound foliage that shifts to a deep reddish or mahogany purple with the cold weather. It is a male clone (no fruits) with a pyramidal juvenile form that eventually develops a rounded crown with good density.

Fraxinus 'Autumn Purple'

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina ‘Tiger Eyes’) A less aggressive form of Staghorn Sumac with chartreuse cutleaf foliage that takes on yellow to bright orange tones in the fall. This RHS Award of Garden Merit winner also bears velvety red cones on the female plants and tolerates drought once established.

Rhus 'Tiger Eyes'

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) These massive trees are better suited to parks or farms than they are residential lots, but as the symbol of our flag and source of maple syrup, it is the quintessential Canadian tree. While the fall foliage ranges from bright yellow, clear orange or a deep red – occasionally all three colours can be found on one tree.

Acer saccharum

Sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Little Henry’) A well-behaved deciduous shrub which should find a home in more of our gardens, as it only grows 3’ tall and wide even without pruning. Early summer brings a profusion of fragrant white blooms followed by a long-lasting fall display of red, orange or even bronze autumn foliage.

Itea 'Little Henry'

Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima) Another ornamental edible worthy of any landscape with delicious nuts, resistance to Chestnut blight and an elegant arching form. This native of China and Korea has interesting serrated leaves that shift to a clear golden-yellow in the fall.

Castanea mollissima

Witch Alder (Fothergilla ‘Mount Airy’) A mid-sized (6’ tall) shrub with abundant white honey-scented bottlebrush blooms borne in April and May. The bluish-green foliage transcends to a tapestry of yellow, orange, red and burgundy with the onset of cooler autumn weather.

Fothergilla 'Mount Airy'

Columnar Red Maple (Acer rubrum ‘Bowhall’) This fastigiate tree (maturing at 50’ tall and 15’ wide) is a common sight along our streets or in the mall parking lot strips. It is reasonably fast-growing and tolerates moist soils, with medium green foliage that shifts to a golden-orange in the fall.

Acer rubrum 'Bowhall'

Remember that autumn is a great time to get a head start on planting hardy shrubs and trees, so maybe come visit us at Amsterdam Garden Centre to see what we can offer you in seasonal colour.

By Mike Lascelle

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