Dry fall may have impact on leaves’ color changes

Published: Sep. 21, 2023 at 7:34 PM CDT
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LA CROSSE, Wis. (WEAU) - Fall is always a beautiful time of year to go outside and see the fall leaves. The changing of colors is one of the most notable things about the season. However, the dry conditions from the summer may dampen the fall spirit.

“The drought conditions that we’ve had in the last month or so has really stressed a lot of trees and we’ve started to see them turning brown and leaves dropping a little bit earlier than than we have in the past. And this is just a natural response to stress. They’re just going dormant a little bit earlier. But unfortunately that diminishes some of those fall displays that we’re always excited to see,” says assistant biology professor with UW-La Crosse, Adam Schneider.

Schneider says that drought isn’t normally the main factor when it comes to color change, but the dry august has made things hard on the trees.

“Trees will start changing their leaves as a response mainly to day length, more than weather conditions. But the real dry august we’ve been having is unfortunately probably going to mute and dull the colors from some of the best years that we’ve had,” says Schneider.

Some trees are dropping their leaves already, and while dryness may be to blame, there are also other factors that can cause this.

“Some of the earliest trees that will be dropping their leaves are going to be trees that are already stressed for different reasons. Maybe they’re diseased. Maybe they’re in urban areas where they’re susceptible to pollution, or maybe they don’t have a lot of good root structure because there’s roads and sidewalks. And those are some of the earliest ones we’ve already seen dropping leaves,” says Schneider.

According to the Travel Wisconsin fall color report, in a typical year, most of our area will see peak colors in mid-October. This year, the peak is expected to be in the second or third week of October.