Fabulous Fall Color: The Best Plants for the Mountain West

Use these often-overlooked plants to infuse your garden with magnificent fall color.


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Growing up back East, I learned that the recipe for brilliant fall foliage color combines warm days, cool nights, and plenty of sunshine -- and that is typical autumn weather in the Mountain West. Only severe drought or an extreme cold snap can put out our region's autumnal fireworks. Come winter, a plethora of snow-sprinkled evergreens makes the often interminable winters a bit more bearable for those of us more inclined to digging than skiing. Here are a few treasures that deserve to be grown more:

  • Bigtooth or Wasatch maple (Acer grandidentatum), a medium-size tree with orange fall color; Zones 4-8
  • Hop tree or wafer ash (Ptelea trifoliata), a small multistem tree with golden fall color; Zones 5-9
  • New Mexican olive (Forestiera neomexicana), a small multistem tree with lemon yellow fall color; Zones 5-9
  • Waxflower (Jamesia americana), a small shrub with orange-red fall color; Zones 5-9
  • Prostrate sand cherry (Prunus besseyi), a flat-growing small shrub with orange-red fall color; Zones 4-8
  • Korean spice viburnum (Viburnum carlesii), a medium-size shrub with scarlet fall color; Zones 5-8
  • Corkbark fir (Abies lasiocarpa var. arizonica), a medium-size blue-gray evergreen tree, like a smaller Colorado spruce but with softer needles; Zones 5-6
  • Compact white fir (Abies concolor 'Candicans'), a small silver evergreen tree; Zones 3-7
  • Western white pine (Pinus strobiformis), a medium-size evergreen tree with soft, pliable needles; Zones 5-8
  • Taylor juniper (Juniperus virginiana 'Taylor'), a narrowly upright dark green evergreen tree; looks like an Italian cypress but bone-hardy; Zones 3-9
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