10 Maple Trees for Best Fall Color

Maple tree with orange foliage

The Spruce / Letícia Almeida 

Landscaping enthusiasts have many options for achieving colorful yards in autumn. Yet, no trees in eastern North America are as closely associated with fall foliage as maple trees. In certain parts of the country, the brilliant yellow, orange, and red hues of fall maples in native forests are legendary, and you can bring this fall display into your home landscape by carefully selecting species and cultivars suited to your needs.

Remember, though, that fall foliage color for any tree is based on many factors, including fall precipitation and temperatures. Even relatively consistent cultivars are at the mercy of the weather. The intensity of color can be lessened due to extreme summer heat and drought. Optimal fall foliage is dependent upon sunny days and crisp nights at the beginning of autumn. In years with unusual sun or temperature patterns, the color palette may be altered. Never fear: A single year of muted hues doesn't mean the spectacular display won't return.

Here are 10 great maple trees to consider for brilliant fall color.

  • 01 of 10

    Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

    Red maple tree with orange foliage

    The Spruce / Autumn Wood

    The fall foliage of the red maple (Acer rubrum) sometimes contradicts its common name, since conditions may cause the color to range from a dirty yellow to orange—not always red. However, when growing in well-drained and slightly acidic soil, it often provides a lovely red color that transitions from yellow-orange. A particularly good cultivar is 'Franksred,' usually sold under the trade name Red Sunset, which grows to a manageable 50 feet and produces fairly reliable red color.

    • Native Area: Eastern and central North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–9
    • Height: 40–70 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 02 of 10

    Autumn Blaze Maple (Acer x freemanii 'Jeffersred' Autumn Blaze)

    Red leaves of the 'Autumn Blaze' maple tree

    Brian North / Getty Images

    Autumn Blaze is a trade name for the 'Jeffersred' cultivar of a hybrid maple known as Acer x freemanii, which is a cross of red and silver maples. It's a medium-sized tree with a dense, broad-oval crown. The medium-green leaves, which have the classic five-lobe shape, turn orange-red to scarlet in the fall. This neat tree produces a minimal amount of seeds.

    • Native Area: Nursery hybrid; parent species are native to eastern North America and southern Canada
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 40–55 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 03 of 10

    Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum)

    Sugar maple with orange fall leaves

    Scott Perry / Getty Images

    Famous as the source of maple syrup, sugar maples can reach 80 feet or higher, with a spread of up to 60 feet. Their fall foliage ranges from yellow to orange to red, which contrasts beautifully with the dark gray trunk and branches. Acer saccharum, which has served as the genetic parent for several hybrids, makes a good landscape tree, but it can be sensitive to road salts and other urban pollutants. A particularly popular cultivar is 'Bailsta,' usually sold under the trade name Fall Fiesta. This faster-growing version has very good tolerance for urban conditions and a penchant for deeper orange-red colors.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–8
    • Height: 40–80 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 04 of 10

    Black Maple (Acer saccharum subsp. nigrum)

    Black maple trees with orange leaves
    Mike Grandmaison / Getty Images

    An attractive subspecies of sugar maple is commonly known as the black maple (Acer saccharum subsp. nigrum); some authorities list it as its own species, A. nigrum. It's very similar to the sugar maple, but it has nearly black bark that forms a stunning contrast to its yellow, orange, or deep-red fall leaves. The summer foliage is also a somewhat darker green than that of the sugar maple.

    • Native Area: Eastern North America
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Height: 60–75 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
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  • 05 of 10

    Norway Maple (Acer platanoides)

    Norway maple tree with green, yellow, and orange foliage

     

    David & Micha Sheldon / Getty Images

    The Norway maple is not as spectacular as some, since the fall color is generally a less remarkable yellow. However, it can be a good choice in difficult urban conditions because it adapts well to many soil types and environmental pollutants. Norway maples are such tenacious trees that they can be invasive in some areas of North America. Many states and counties have actually declared it legally invasive—which means it's a no-go for planting. In conditions where red maples or sugar maples will successfully grow, either of those maples probably the better choice.

    • Native Area: Northeastern Europe to Caucasus
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–7
    • Height: 40–50 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 06 of 10

    Amur Maple (Acer tataricum subsp. ginnala 'Flame')

    Amur maple tree leaves in a deep scarlet

    500px / Getty Images

    The Amur maple (Acer tataricum subsp. ginnala 'Flame') is a nicely compact tree or large shrub, sometimes sold as Acer ginnala. Although they can tolerate light shade, they achieve their best fall color if they get full sun. The effort will pay off handsomely: Their fall foliage color is a brilliant red or occasionally yellow. This tree grows very well in urban conditions, but, like the Norway maple, is considered invasive in some regions.

    • Native Area: Western Asia to southeastern Europe
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2–8
    • Height: 15–20 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 07 of 10

    Striped Maple, Snakebark Maple (Acer pensylvanicum)

    Striped or snakebark maples with its striped bark
    ginton / Getty Images

    Striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum) is also known as snakebark maple or moosewood maple because moose eat it, as do deer, rabbits, porcupines, and beavers. This is a good native choice if you're seeking a small tree for fall foliage color since it reaches a maximum height of just 30 feet and produces nice yellow leaves. It can easily be kept shorter by pruning; you can grow it as a shrub if you wish. The primary common name, striped maple, refers to the white stripes that run vertically up the green bark of the trunk when it's young. This is an understory tree in the wild and needs to be planted in a shady spot. For soil, a sandy loam is best, since it requires good drainage.

    • Native Area: Northeastern United States and southeastern Canada
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3–7
    • Height: 15–25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Partial
  • 08 of 10

    Hedge Maple (Acer campestre)

    Hedge maple with yellow leaves
    SADLERC1 / Getty Images

    This maple has a highly specialized use in landscaping: The hedge maple (Acer campestre), as its common name suggests, is used in tall hedges. They're valued less for their yellow fall foliage than for their growth habit and the fact that they're tolerant of compacted soil and pollution. These slow-growing trees have a dense growth habit with a branching pattern that begins far down on the trunk. Put all these facts together, and it's easy to see how hedge maples, with a little pruning, can be an ideal choice for a tall privacy hedge along a roadside. However, they can reach a height of 35 feet if left unchecked.

    • Native Area: Europe, western Asia
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–8
    • Height: 25–35 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
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  • 09 of 10

    Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

    Japanese maple with red leaves

    The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

    The elegant and diminutive Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is a three-season winner in its preferred climates: Some cultivars have beautiful chartreuse or deep red leaves during the spring and summer that give way to yellow, red-purple, and bronze leaves in the fall. Some varieties make excellent multistemmed shrubs, while others are wonderful small specimen trees.

    • Native Area: Japan, Korea
    • USDA Growing Zones: 5–8 (a few cultivars may survive zone 4)
    • Height: 10–25 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial
  • 10 of 10

    Paperbark Maple (Acer griseum)

    Paperbark maple with its peeling bark

    Whiteway / Getty Images

    Also from Asia originally and bearing red fall foliage is the paperbark maple (Acer griseum). Its common name alludes to the fact that its peeling bark is considered ornamental, as with the bark on some types of birch trees (Betula spp.). This maple tree's fall color is usually a very attractive red, although, in some years or conditions, it may instead display reddish-green or orange foliage.

    • Native Area: Central and eastern China
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4–8
    • Height: 20–30 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full, Partial