16 Trees With Red Leaves: Choose Your Favorite Crimson Beauties

Trees, the unsung heroes of our ecosystem, serve a multitude of vital roles. They gift us with life-sustaining oxygen, offer shade on scorching summer days, and create nurturing habitats for diverse wildlife species. Beyond their environmental contributions, trees elevate the aesthetics of our surroundings with their varied shapes, sizes, and spectrum of leaf colors.

Amid the sea of green, certain trees, with their exceptional red foliage, command our attention and appreciation. This comprehensive guide delves into the world of these unique trees, providing an extensive overview of several types renowned for their spectacular red leaves. The verdant hue of most tree leaves is attributed to the presence of chlorophyll, a pigment indispensable for photosynthesis.

However, specific tree species and cultivars deviate from this norm, boasting red leaves instead. This color shift is common during the autumn season as trees prepare for the dormant winter period. The breakdown of green chlorophyll unmasks other pigments, bathing the trees in a fiery red glow.

Some trees, through selective breeding, retain this captivating red throughout the year. Several factors interplay to influence the color of tree leaves, including genetics, exposure to sunlight, temperature fluctuations, and soil conditions. Today, we embark on a journey to explore trees that commonly showcase red leaves, either seasonally or year-round. This guide aims to deepen your understanding of each tree’s hardiness, lighting requirements, size, and preferred soil type.

A Closer Look at Trees with Red Leaves

1. Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

  • Hardiness: Zones 5-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Partial shade to full sun
  • Size: 15-25 feet tall and wide
  • Soil type: Well-drained, slightly acidic soil

Standing at the forefront of popularity among trees with red leaves, Japanese Maples grace us with their deep red foliage. The ‘Bloodgood’, ‘Fireglow’, and ‘Atropurpureum’ cultivars, in particular, present a sight to behold with their intense red leaves. Their relatively compact size, smaller than most maples, makes them a perfect choice for gardens with limited space or for intricate landscaping projects.

Did You Know? The Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum) is often nicknamed “kito” in its homeland, which translates to “baby’s hands,” due to its leaves’ distinctive shape resembling a child’s open hand.

2. Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

  • Hardiness: Zones 3-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun to partial shade
  • Size: 40-70 feet tall, 30-50 feet wide
  • Soil type: Adapts to a wide range of soil conditions

The Red Maple lives up to its name, flaunting red autumn foliage that sets it apart. The tree is not just admired for its spectacular fall color; its rapid growth and adaptability to various soil types add to its charm.

Did You Know? The Red Maple (Acer rubrum) has the widest native range of any tree in eastern North America, able to thrive in varied climates from Florida to Newfoundland, and even as far west as Texas and Minnesota.

3. Autumn Blaze Maple (Acer × freemanii)

  • Hardiness: Zones 3-8
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun
  • Size: 50-60 feet tall, 40 feet wide
  • Soil type: Adapts well to a variety of soil types

A hybrid creation, the Autumn Blaze Maple brings together the fast growth of silver maples and the brilliant red fall color of red maples. When their leaves turn bright red in the fall, these trees create a majestic statement in the landscape.

Did You Know?  The Autumn Blaze Maple (Acer × freemanii) is a hybrid of the Red Maple and Silver Maple, and is cherished for its unique vibrant fiery-red foliage in autumn, which lasts several weeks longer than many other tree species.

4. Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’)

  • Hardiness: Zones 4-7
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun to partial shade
  • Size: 40-80 feet tall, 40-70 feet wide
  • Soil type: Prefers acidic, well-drained soils

The Copper Beech tree, adorned with purple-red leaves throughout the growing season, is renowned for its unique color. This large, majestic tree’s distinctive hue marks it as a prominent feature in expansive landscapes.

Did You Know?  The Copper Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Purpurea’) isn’t just a beauty; its timber, known as ‘Beechmast’, has been historically used for a variety of applications, including making furniture, toys, and even brewing a type of beer in the past!

5. Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria)

  • Hardiness: Zones 4-8
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun
  • Size: 10-15 feet tall and wide
  • Soil type: Well-drained, fertile soil

Named for the cloud-like puffs of flowers it produces in the summer, the Smoke Tree is a beautiful sight. Varieties like ‘Royal Purple’ have leaves that are a rich, dark red, adding a unique splash of color to any garden setting.

Did You Know?  The Smoke Tree (Cotinus coggygria) gets its name from the unique feathery, smoke-like flower clusters that appear in the summer, creating an ethereal haze around the tree that can give the impression of a cloud of smoke.

6. Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus cerasifera)

  • Hardiness: Zones 4-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun
  • Size: 15-25 feet tall, 15-20 feet wide
  • Soil type: Well-drained soil, tolerant of various soil types

The Purple Leaf Plum is celebrated for its dark red to purple leaves. It is among the first trees to bloom in the spring, boasting pretty pink flowers that beautifully complement the leaf color, providing a feast for the eyes.

Did You Know?  The Purple Leaf Plum (Prunus cerasifera) not only provides a delightful spring show with its vivid pink to white blossoms but also contributes to the menu, as it’s one of the earliest trees to bloom in the year and produces small edible fruits!

7. Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis)

  • Hardiness: Zones 6-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun
  • Size: 25-35 feet tall, 25-35 feet wide
  • Soil type: Adaptable to a variety of soil conditions, prefers well-drained soil

The Chinese Pistache, a medium-sized tree, is famous for its vibrant autumn color palette, which includes various shades of red. It’s an excellent choice for adding a dash of fall color to gardens in warmer climates.

Did You Know?  The Chinese Pistache (Pistacia chinensis) is known as the “Ugly Duckling” of the tree world. While it starts as an unattractive and awkward young tree, it gracefully transforms into a beautiful, symmetrical shape as it matures, displaying stunning, vibrant autumn colors.

8. Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua)

  • Hardiness: Zones 5-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun
  • Size: 60-75 feet tall, 40-50 feet wide
  • Soil type: Prefers deep, acidic, moist, well-drained soil

The Sweetgum tree is recognized for its star-shaped leaves that transform into brilliant shades of red in the autumn. Beyond its vibrant fall color, the tree also features intriguing, spiky seed pods that add to its visual appeal.

Did You Know?  The Sweetgum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua) has gum resin, called storax, that was used by the Native Americans and early settlers for medicinal purposes. It also has star-shaped leaves and spikey seed pods that add interest to its autumn color spectacle.

9. Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)

  • Hardiness: Zones 4-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun
  • Size: 50-70 feet tall, 40-50 feet wide
  • Soil type: Adapts to a variety of soil types, prefers acidic soil

The Scarlet Oak earns its name from its vibrant red fall foliage. It’s an excellent shade tree, with a growth habit that allows for underplanting, making it a practical and beautiful addition to any landscape.

Did You Know?  The Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea) is known for its brilliant red fall color, but it’s also a crucial support system for wildlife. It provides acorns as a food source and serves as a habitat for hundreds of species of insects, offering a feeding ground for numerous birds.

10. Dogwood (Cornus florida)

  • Hardiness: Zones 5-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Partial shade to full sun
  • Size: 15-30 feet tall, 15-30 feet wide
  • Soil type: Moist, well-drained, acidic soil

In the fall, the Dogwood tree puts on a show with its stunning red leaves, enhancing the appeal of its exquisite spring flowers. This smaller tree is perfect for residential gardens, bringing beauty and charm to any outdoor space.

Did You Know?  The Dogwood (Cornus florida) is not just known for its beautiful spring blossoms. The tree produces red berries in autumn, which are a favorite of over 36 species of birds, and its bark was traditionally used by Native Americans as a remedy for dogs with mange, hence the name “Dogwood.”

11. Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum)

  • Hardiness: Zones 5-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun to partial shade
  • Size: 25-30 feet tall, 20 feet wide
  • Soil type: Acidic, well-drained soil

The Sourwood tree lights up the autumn landscape with its vibrant red foliage. In the summer, it enhances its aesthetic appeal with white flowers that hang down in clusters, creating a visually pleasing spectacle.

Did You Know? The Sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum) is renowned not only for its attractive red autumn foliage and fragrant summer flowers but also for the distinctive tangy taste of honey produced when bees feast on its blossoms, giving it the name “Sourwood.”

12. Red Leaf Cherry (Prunus x cistena)

  • Hardiness: Zones 3-8
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun
  • Size: 7-10 feet tall, 7-10 feet wide
  • Soil type: Well-drained soil

Also known as the Purple Leaf Sand Cherry, this tree, or large shrub, sports purple-red leaves. In addition, it puts on a show in the spring with its beautiful pink flowers that attract pollinators and complement the leaf color.

Did You Know?  The Red Leaf Cherry (Prunus x cistena), also known as the Purple Leaf Sand Cherry, was initially developed as a hybrid plant in South Dakota to withstand the cold and harsh winds, demonstrating a remarkable resilience that belies its delicate pink spring blooms and vibrant red-purple foliage.

13. Sumac (Rhus typhina)

  • Hardiness: Zones 3-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun
  • Size: 15-25 feet tall, 15-25 feet wide
  • Soil type: Tolerates a variety of soils, including poor, dry soils

The Sumac is renowned for its vibrant red fall foliage. Adding to its appeal are the upright fruit clusters, presenting an interesting feature that complements the autumn leaves.

Did You Know?  Sumac (Rhus typhina) is not just a vibrant visual display in the fall; its bright red clusters of berries, called drupes, can be used to make a refreshing lemonade-like drink, and some varieties of sumac are a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, used as a tangy spice.

14. Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)

  • Hardiness: Zones 4-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun to partial shade
  • Size: 30-50 feet tall, 20-30 feet wide
  • Soil type: Prefers moist, well-drained, acidic soil

The Black Gum tree catches the eye with its brilliant red leaves in the fall. In addition, it produces small, blue-black fruits that attract various bird species, adding an element of wildlife to your garden.

Did You Know?  The Black Gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica) boasts one of the most mesmerizing fall color displays with its dark blue fruit contrasting against fiery red leaves. But it’s also a time traveler, being one of the oldest flowering tree species, dating back at least 105 million years.

15. European Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia)

  • Hardiness: Zones 3-7
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun
  • Size: 20-40 feet tall, 15-25 feet wide
  • Soil type: Adapts well to many soil types, prefers well-drained soil

The European Mountain Ash captivates with leaves that turn a fiery red in autumn. The tree’s colorful, orange-red fruits further add to its fall appeal, making it a standout addition to any landscape.

Did You Know?  The European Mountain Ash (Sorbus aucuparia), also known as the Rowan tree, is steeped in mythology. Celtic folklore revered it as a magical tree, a guardian against evil, while its vibrant clusters of red berries have been used to make a richly flavored jelly and even wine!

16. American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana)

  • Hardiness: Zones 3-9
  • Lighting Requirements: Full sun to partial shade
  • Size: 20-30 feet tall, 20-30 feet wide
  • Soil type: Prefers well-drained, moist soil

The American Hornbeam, also known as Ironwood, transforms into a scarlet spectacle in the fall. This small tree is admired not only for its autumn color but also for its attractive, smooth gray bark and compact shape, making it a versatile addition to any garden.

Did You Know?  The American Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana), colloquially known as the “Ironwood” or “Musclewood,” gets these names from its incredibly strong wood, which resists breakage, and its unique smooth bark, which has a fluted, muscle-like appearance, adding year-round interest.

Caring for Trees with Gorgeous Red Foliage

To keep trees with stunning red foliage looking their vibrant best year after year, proper care and maintenance is absolutely essential. With the right care regimen, you can help maximize the intense red hues that make these trees such showstoppers in the landscape. Here are the key elements to focus on:


Red-leaved trees require regular, thorough watering, especially during periods of drought and summer heat when their colorful foliage is most on display. Establish a deep root foundation during the first year by watering deeply once a week. Provide about 15-20 gallons of water per inch of trunk diameter. As trees mature, supplement rain shortfalls with deep soakings as needed. Consistent moisture is vital for healthy growth and vivid color.


Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer annually in early spring to nourish trees with red leaves. Look for a formula close to 10-10-10 or 12-12-12. Spread fertilizer over the area below the tree’s drip line and water it in well. This feeding will encourage lush red foliage throughout the growing season. Avoid over-fertilizing which can damage tree health.


In late winter, prune trees to remove any dead, damaged, or crossing branches. This promotes structure, shape, and vigor. Make cuts just outside the branch collar. Limit pruning to the minimum needed, as excessive pruning can reduce the intensity of red leaf color.


Maintaining 2-3 inches of organic mulch like shredded bark or wood chips over the root zone conserves moisture, moderates soil temperature, and prevents weed competition. Replenish as needed. Avoid piling mulch against the trunk.

Pest Management

Inspect foliage and branches regularly for signs of pests or diseases. Treat promptly if issues like leaf spot, powdery mildew, scales, or aphids occur. Early intervention preserves leaf health. Consult an arborist if pests persist.

Crafting Stunning Companion Plantings

The captivating red leaves of focal point trees can be further enhanced by selecting complementary plants for the surrounding underplanting and landscape beds. Careful plant pairings create a cohesive display that intensifies the visual impact of the bold red foliage.

Echoing Hues

Choose companion plants sporting hues that pick up on and echo the dominant red tones. Excellent options include:

Purple smokebush – Repeat the red-purple shades in its flowers and leaves.
Burgundy loropetalum – Coordinate with its deep red fringe-like blooms.
Red-twig dogwood – Contrast the red stems with the red leaves.
Bee balm – Complement with its reddish-purple flower plumes.
Coral bells – Harmonize with its burgundy, purple or red foliage.

Contrasting Colors

Alternatively, choose companions with sharply contrasting colors to make the red leaves pop:

Holly bushes – Contrast the glossy green leaves.
Blue spruce – Complement with cool blue needles.
Boxwood hedges – Allow the vibrant green to highlight the reds.
Dusty miller – Let the silver-gray leaves illuminate the red tones.
White daisies – Make the red leaves glow against the bright white flowers.

Texture, Shape and Size

In addition to color, factor in texture, form and scale. For example, bold spiky plants can accentuate delicate red laceleaf varieties. Tall vertical companions like delphinium can complement wider spreading types.

Thoughtfully combining compatible plant features along with color results in an artful, cohesive planting that spotlights the beautiful red leaves.

Final Thoughts

The inclusion of red-leaved trees in your landscape can dramatically elevate its aesthetic appeal. Each with their unique hardiness, lighting requirements, size, and soil preferences, these trees introduce a vibrant splash of color and character to any outdoor space. Whether you’re a seasoned gardener or a beginner, the stunning beauty of these red-leaved trees can have a profound impact on your garden, making it a visual delight.

As you contemplate your next garden addition, keep in mind the diverse selection of trees with red leaves. Explore, appreciate, and enjoy the natural artistry of these trees, and let’s continue painting our world with more shades of red. Remember, trees are living entities that require appropriate care and attention. Always take into consideration the needs of the tree and the specific conditions of your area before deciding which one to plant. Here’s to enjoying and respecting the beauty of nature and the vibrant world of red-leaved trees. Happy gardening!