Autumn is perhaps the most beautiful of all seasons. As daylight hours decrease and temperatures drop, trees begin winter preparation. Fortunately, most trees prefer to go dormant in style. As a result, we are blessed by a beautiful display of color. However, the leaves begin shedding soon after their brilliant show begins. So how can you get the most out of your trees during the autumn season?
There are four major factors that contribute to the vibrancy and duration of leaf color, all relating to the health of your trees. They are growth, chemical change, weather and stress.
The purpose of a plant’s leaves is to harness the energy of the sun and use it to feed the tree. All summer, the leaves of trees are busy producing sugars and oxygen from carbon dioxide, water and the action of sunlight on chlorophyll, the agent that makes leaves appear green. There are also yellows and oranges present in the leaves thanks to the pigments carotene and xanthophyll. Healthy summer growth contributes to the strength of these autumn colors. In order to promote growth, it is important to check for signs of disease and perform maintenance pruning. Premature colors are an indication that a tree may be suffering from disease, root-related stress, weak branches or insect infestation. Fertilizing your trees will greatly enhance their health and vitality!
As the weather cools and days grow short, a corky membrane begins to grow between branches and leaf stems. This new membrane interferes with the flow of nutrients into the leaf. Leaf color begins to fade as the production of chlorophyll declines. Shortly after this happens, the remaining chlorophyll begins to decompose under the light of the sun. As the green disappears, other more stable pigments, such as carotene, are allowed to surface and the leaves begin to yellow. In some trees, as the concentration of sugar increases, it reacts with proteins in the cell sap to form anthocyanins. These pigments cause leaves to turn red, pink or purple depending on the pH level of the sap. Robust oranges are a mix of anthocyanins, carotenes and xanthophylls.
Temperature, sunlight and dry conditions have a substantial influence on the intensity of your trees’ reactions to the various chemical changes that take place during autumn. Low temperatures eliminate chlorophyll and promote the formation of anthocyanins as long as they stay above freezing. The same is true of bright sunlight. That is why it is not unusual to see a tree with brilliant reds on one side and yellows on the other. Dry weather, which increases the sugar concentration in sap, also increases the amount of anthocyanins. Therefore, the most colorful autumn seasons are produced when dry, sunny days are followed by cool, dry nights.
If a plant is experiencing stress from disease, insect infestation, drought or people pressures, autumn color and duration will be lacking. Be sure to have your trees and shrubs checked for signs of disease or insects. Both of these can interfere with the health of your tree and therefore the vibrancy of their color. During periods of drought, be sure to water trees and shrubs thoroughly. Have a professional check your landscape for people pressures that may be affecting your trees, including damage resulting from construction or lawn mowers, changing the grade of your landscape, root disturbance caused by sprinkler systems, soil compaction surrounding your driveway, etc. Eliminating stress on your tree will result in the healthiest environment possible and contribute to remarkable fall color. By considering all the elements that influence the health of your trees and taking steps to insure their vitality, you can enjoy the radiant color of your autumn landscape this year and for years to come.
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