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The Best Trees to Plant for Fall Color in Iowa

birch tree fall colors ted lare design & build

We’re lucky that we get to enjoy some pretty fantastic fall colors in Iowa. If you’d like to bring some of those gorgeous jewel tones into your yard, here are 6 of the best trees you can plant. These trees are beautiful all season long, not just in the fall, and they thrive well in the climate and soil around Des Moines and across the state.

Fall is one of the best times to plant new trees in your landscape, so if you’ve been thinking about planting some trees, stop by the garden center and check out what we’ve got growing right now. There’s another reason fall is perfect for planting trees: if you time it right, you can see the color the leaves will turn, so you can make sure you get one that changes to the color you want.

red maple tree in autumn ted lare design & build

1. Red Maple 

Red maple is sometimes called ‘October Glory’ because it puts on such a stunning fall color display of vibrantly red-hued leaves. This maple grows quite fast, which does mean it’s a softwood maple, but it’s still well-suited to residential landscaping. It’s very adaptable, and grows easily in a wide range of locations and soil types. Young red maples have relatively thin bark, so be careful not to get too close to it with a weed whacker or lawnmower; it’s best to use a tree guard around the young trunk. Red maples can grow up to 60′ tall and about 40′ wide.

2. Sugar Maple 

Sugar maples are another relatively fast-growing maple that puts on a colorful show every fall. The leaves of sugar maple turn to that classic pumpkiny orange that every faux fall decor tries their best to mimic. Sugar maple, and red maples, can be tapped for syrup once the trunk is at least 10 inches in diameter. Sugar maples may grow up to 75′ tall and 40-50′ wide. Maples of all types are some of the best shade trees, in addition to their excellent fall color.

3. Quaking Aspens 

Quaking aspen is one of the best trees if you have an empty spot on your property that you want to fill in quickly. They’re a hardy tree, even growing in regions classified as USDA zone 1. Quaking aspen is also called American aspen or white poplar. Their leaves turn a beautiful gold in the fall, and the slightest breeze will have them rustling, adding sound ambiance to your landscape as well as beauty.

serviceberry shrub ted lare design & build

4. Serviceberry 

Serviceberry trees are one of the best small trees that look good in every season. Serviceberry is pretty flexible and can grow almost anywhere. They produce fragrant white flowers in the spring, followed by edible berries that birds love in the summer. They’re one of the first trees to start turning color in fall, with the best mix of blazing red, orange, and yellow leaves. Serviceberry gets to about 30′ tall and about 20′ wide (and there are even smaller varieties), so they’re an excellent option for smaller yards.

5. Red Oak 

Red oak is a very stately tree with beautiful fall colors. It does turn color later than maples, but the leaves also hang on a long time, lengthening the colorful season. Red oak is an adaptable tree that can tolerate pollution and compacted soil, so it’s one of the best choices for planting if your soil is questionable. Red oak grows fast, often more than 2′ per year, and can get up to 75′ tall and 45′ wide.

gingko tree ted lare design & build

6. Ginkgo

Ginkgo is considered one of the most beautiful deciduous trees in the world. It is often called a living fossil because fossils of ginkgo leaves have been dated at 270 million years old. Ginkgo is one of the best trees for urban planting because it’s tolerant of heat, air pollution, road salt, and tight spaces. It’s a fantastic front yard shade tree. Ginkgo leaves have a distinct and beautiful fan shape, and they turn a vibrant golden yellow in the fall. It makes a dramatic statement, hanging onto all of its yellow leaves and then dropping almost all of them simultaneously. 

Towards the middle to end of September, Iowa will be starting to get very colorful, so put a reminder in your phone to come to visit the Ted Lare tree lot and pick out your favorite saplings.


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