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Deciduous Trees for Australian Gardens: Our Top Picks

Deciduous trees provide spectacular colours in autumn as their leaves change to different shades of red, orange, and bronze.

Deciduous trees make a great addition to your garden because they provide ample shade in summer but let the winter sun into the garden after dropping their leaves.

They also provide spectacular colours in autumn as their leaves change to different shades of red, orange, and bronze.

Here are our picks for the best deciduous trees for Australian gardens.

Native Australian deciduous trees

Most of Australia’s native deciduous trees are far too large for many suburban gardens.

In fact, there are only a very small number of native Australian trees that are deciduous.

Australian Red Cedar (Toona cilata)

Australian Red Cedar Toona cilata | Plant varieties
Australian Red Cedar / Photo by John Robert McPherson / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

This magnificent rainforest tree grows mainly on the east coast from northern New South Wales into southern Queensland.

Also referred to as Toona australis, it can grow to a height of around 40 to 60 metres.

It can be distinguished by its pinnate leaves, soft white or pink flowers, and papery winged seeds.

Pros

  • Large shade tree
  • Nice flowers
  • Colourful autumn foliage

Cons

  • A very large tree that can be too big for many suburban gardens
  • Only suitable for more sub-tropical climates

White Cedar (Melia azedarach)

Melia azedarach | Plant varieties
White Cedar / Photo by Salix / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

Growing in the same regions as the red cedar, this tree can also be found further north in areas around the northern Australian coastline.

It can reach a height of 30 metres in its natural environment but will generally only get to around 12 metres in height. 

Pros

  • Lovely large shade tree
  • Colourful autumn foliage

Cons

  • Can be invasive as it seeds prolifically
  • Only suitable for sub-tropical climates

Deciduous or Fagus Beech (Nothofagus gunnii)

Nothofagus gunnii | Plant varieties
Nothofagus gunnii / Photo by Rotuli / Flickr

This is the only temperate deciduous native tree in Australia. It grows naturally in Tasmania.

This remarkable tree’s history can be dated back around 80 million years.

In autumn, the bright green leaves turn glorious shades of brilliant red through to beautiful gold.

The tree can reach a height of around 8 metres and prefers to grow in higher altitude areas that experience cool summers.

Pros:

  • Remarkable autumn foliage
  • Only grows to around 8 metres in height

Cons:

  • Only suitable for areas with cooler summers
  • Prefers to grow at higher altitudes of around 800 metres above sea level

Non-native deciduous trees

If you’re keen to grow a deciduous tree in your garden, here’s a selection of non-native trees that may be more suitable.

Claret Ash (Fraxinus angustifolia)

Fraxinus angustifolia | Plant varieties
Claret Ash / Photo by Arielinson / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 4.0

This drought and frost-tolerant tree is popular with Australian gardeners. It can reach a height of around 16 metres.

It has a fairly open canopy and the leaves turn a magnificent deep red in autumn. 

Pros:

  • Hardy tree
  • Beautiful autumn foliage

Cons:

  • Large tree that can reach a height of 16 metres

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum)

Acer palmatum | Plant varieties
Japanese Maple / Photo by Raimundo Pastor / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

It’s hard to miss the glorious autumn foliage of the Japanese maple.

This is a low-maintenance tree that will grow well in small spaces. It can even be grown in large pots.

The star-shaped leaves form a lovely canopy in summer before they turn shades of red, yellow, purple, and orange in autumn.

It can reach an ultimate height of 25 metres.

Pros:

  • Low-maintenance
  • Suitable for growing in large pots
  • Stunning autumn foliage

Cons:

  • It can reach a height of 25 metres

Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea)

Scarlet Oak Quercus coccinea | Plant varieties
Scarlet Oak / Photo by Cephas / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA 3.0

For a magnificent autumn display and gorgeous summer shade, you can’t go past the oak tree.

The scarlet oak, in particular, will delight you with a mass of bright red foliage in autumn.

It can get to a height of around 24 metres but this can take many years. 

Pros:

  • Lovely summer shade tree
  • Gorgeous bright red autumn foliage
  • Fallen oak leaves make the most amazing humus if left to break down or added to your compost.

Cons:

  • Can get to a height of 24 metres

Deciduous trees FAQ

What is good to plant under deciduous trees?

Early flowering perennials such as tulips, daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths are great for planting under deciduous trees. Other popular plants to grow under deciduous trees include cyclamen, hebes, and ferns.

What happens to deciduous trees in winter?

In winter, deciduous trees enter a period of dormancy. This allows them to withstand the cold conditions.

When should you prune deciduous trees?

Winter is the best time to prune deciduous trees because they’re dormant. You can also give these trees a prune in early spring.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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