Hello fellow readers,
The ideal conditions for stunning fall color are a moist growing season (check – we had that) followed by a dry fall (yup – we’ve had that too) with sunny, warm days and cool nights (nope – didn’t happen). After a wet summer, most predicted we’d be in for a glorious fall foliage season. Instead, the hot September and warm nights in the Northeast put a glitch on the glory.
Here’s the brief on how leaf color change works. During the growing season, leaves produce chlorophyll which uses the sun’s energy to combine carbon dioxide and water to make food for the trees – a process called photosynthesis. While there are multiple forms of chlorophyll, most reflect green light, hence why most leaves are green. As summer comes to an end, shortened daylight and cooler air signals the trees to hunker down for winter. Trees cut off their leaves connection to water and minerals and they begin to die as chlorophyll production gradually ends. The remaining chlorophyll produces an abundance of sugar which is not used up by the tree. As the sunlight breaks down the chlorophyll, the carotenoid pigments (yellow, orange, or red) that previously were masked by green are revealed. Some tree species leaves turn brown in the fall and never show bright colors no matter the weather conditions.
This year’s hot September allowed leaves to keep producing chlorophyll. Therefore, leaves remained green longer than usual. Typically, chlorophyll production slowly declines before it stops, initiating the normal sequence of fall tree colors that begins with yellow, followed by orange, and ending in red. It’s during the mid-fall season when all the tree colors overlap that we enjoy the peak color performance. Not this year. There will likely be no time for the trees that normally turn red and barely enough time for those that turn orange before their leaves drop. Yellow and brown will be the leading colors in this year’s fall performance. Many leaves may drop green.
While leaves dropping before they change color won’t harm trees, leaf peepers will be disappointed. Squirrels won’t be though as the wet growing season made for an abundance of nuts this year. Pumpkins are extra plump too. A perfect fall for great pumpkins and jolly jack-o’-lanterns despite our lackluster colors. Garden Dilemmas? Askmarystone@gmail.com
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