Trees with leaves that turn shades of scarlet, burgundy and crimson in fall are a common sight, but some trees also have red leaves in the spring. Known as new growth, these tiny buds and leaflets add a welcome splash of color to the late winter or early spring landscape. Some red-leaved trees keep their color through the growing season, while others have foliage that matures to green. Whichever you choose, consider your planting site's sun and soil conditions before planting a red-leaved tree.
1. To 20 Feet
For red color from spring through fall, plant a "Bloodgood" Japanese maple (Acer palmatum "Bloodgood"). This 20-foot-tall tree thrives in partially to fully shaded sites in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 to 8. Its palmate leaves emerge red in spring and deepen over the growing season. Another 20-foot tree, the tricolor dogwood (Cornus florida "Welchii") has red, pink and green foliage. This deciduous tree is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8 and thrives in shady sites with acidic, moist soil. The tricolor dogwood blooms with pink-white spring flowers, followed by red fruits.
2. To 30 Feet
In spring, the "Royal Purple" smoke tree (Cotinus coggygria "Royal Purple") buds with red-purple leaves that keep their color through the growing season. In summer, red and purple blossoms add even more color. This 25-foot-tall tree is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8, where it grows best in sunny exposures with well-draining soil. The "Newport" purple leaf plum (Prunus cerasifera "Newport") also has red-purple foliage. Reaching heights of 25 feet, this colorful tree also blooms with showy pink flowers in late winter, before the red-purple new growth appears in spring. Hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9, this plum tree grows well in moist soil.
3. To 40 Feet
For red spring leaves with a hint of copper, plant a bronze dracaena (Cordyline australis "Atropurpurea"). This evergreen has red-copper foliage that's offset by its fragrant, white spring flowers. Hardy in USDA zones 10 and 11, the bronze dracaena grows to 35 feet tall and tolerates drought, dry soil and alkaline pH. Also reaching heights of 35 feet, the "Rubylace" locust (Gleditsia triacanthos var. inermis "Rubylace") has red, purple and green leaves that turn yellow in fall. This spreading tree grows well in a variety of soil types, sun exposures and pH levels, but it doesn't tolerate salt spray. "Rubylace" is hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7.
4. More Than 40 Feet
The "Tricolor" European beech (Fagus sylvatica "Tricolor") has red, green and white leaves that darken to bronze in autumn. This deciduous tree grows to 45 feet tall and has a conical shape. It's hardy in USDA zones 5 to 7 and grows best in moist, acidic soil. Fill a large space in the landscape with a Chinese sweetgum (Liquidambar formosana). Reaching heights of 65 feet, this spreading tree has red-purple new growth that darkens to green, then turns red and yellow in fall. The Chinese sweetgum is hardy in USDA zones 7 to 9 and grows best in moist, acidic soil.
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