Impact of Drought Conditions on Fall Foliage

Fall leafs changing color


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — BEDFORD HILLS, NY--(Marketwired - Oct 8, 2014) - Many believe the arrival of cool weather causes leaves to change color each autumn. In fact, the longer period of darkness that occurs as the days shorten starts the process. This explains why, in any given location, fall colors generally appear at about the same time each year regardless of temperature fluctuations.

However, temperature as well as sunlight and moisture can still have a great impact on the dazzling fall pageantry. The most brilliant display of fall colors is generally found after a warm, wet growing season, followed by a dry autumn that is filled with sunny days and cool, frostless nights. Numerous areas of the country that have experienced drought conditions during late summer or early fall may find seasonal color lacking. Insufficient moisture can delay the onset of autumn color or cause leaves to fall early from trees, before they reach their full color potential.

The reason leaves change color and drop is well understood. Although deciduous tree roots, branches and twigs can withstand winter temperatures, most of their leaves contain cells filled with water sap, which would freeze and die. In order for the tree to survive, plant tissue that can't endure the winter must be sealed off and shed. This is precisely what occurs when reduced light triggers rapidly growing cells to form a thick abscission layer at the base of each leaf that essentially acts as a wall between the twig and leaf stalk.

Corky cells in this layer prevent the flow of fluids in and out of the leaf. The combination of reduced light, lack of nutrients and no water halts photosynthesis and disrupts the production of chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color. Absent chlorophyll, other leaf pigments begin to appear, such as xanthophylls and carotenoids which produce vivid yellow and orange hues. In addition, anthocyanins can be manufactured from sugars trapped in the leaf, producing striking red and purple pigments. When the abscission layer is complete, it ultimately causes the leaf to drop from the tree.

Although it is difficult to directly impact fall color on your landscape, healthy trees tend to have the most vibrancy in all growing seasons. Tree owners can enhance their trees' vitality in all seasons with deep root fertilization and regular pruning.

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