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Fall foliage 2012-What will the leaves be like this year?

Posted by David Epstein  September 11, 2012 08:50 AM

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A crisp clear September morning and a bright blue sky will certainly evoke memories of a similar meteorological day eleven years ago. The weather will continue to be flawless much of the week with a warming trend. Today, I will blog about the foliage and the beauty of the colors that are soon to show up all across New England and much of the country. Many folks have already booked their trips to the Berkshires or northern New England and may be wondering if the colors will vibrant or muted this season. foliage map.gif The good news, the leaves always change and there will be some wonderful pictures to be had from late September through much of October across the area. There are many factors that help created a spectacular year versus a muted year of color. This year, if the weather cooperates, we are looking at a good chance of a better than average year of color. For more foliage and weather updates follow me on Twitter at @growingwisdom

What do the leaves change?
The leaves of plants are food making machines. They gather light, carbon dioxide (C02) and water and convert that to food for the plant. In addition to the food, the leaves give off oxygen for us to breathe. (Interestingly carbon dioxide levels of the entire planet go up in the winter and down in the summer. This predictable pattern is related to the foliage coming out and dropping.) photosynthesis2.gifThe food making process in the leaves is known as photosynthesis and it's what keeps the plants growing. Deciduous plants, those that lose their leaves in fall, stop making food as the days get shorter. As the leaves die, chlorophyll is also no longer made. Chlorophyll is what gives the leaves their green hue and masks the reds, yellows and orange underneath. Once the leaves begin to shut down for the winter, the lack of chlorophyll allows us to enjoy the "true" colors of the leaves each autumn.

How good will the color be this year?

The health of the tree and especially the leaves, is a big factor in seeing vibrant colors. A wet summer allows the leaves to often be covered with disease. The result is that the colors end up more muted and dull. If we have a prolonged summer drought the leaves often fall early seeming to just dry up without much color. This year, we started spring with a drought and very warm weather. As the leaves emerged it turned cold and a bit wet, there was even some frost damage in May. June ended up being a below normal month of temperatures, the first such month in a year. The rest of the summer featured fairly typical weather with adequate rainfall and breaks in the heat. The western part of New England, especially the Berkshires has experienced some drought. Drought Now.gifWhere there is severe drought, especially in the Midwest, the color will definitely be negatively impacted this year. The general health the trees this year looks to be in good shape. Of course there are trees with disease however, I believe we are in good shape heading into the foliage season. The sweet spot for spectacular foliage seems to be a dry but not too dry late summer, cool nights, mild to warm days and not much wind. We seem to be getting that type of weather over the past few weeks and certainly again this week.

I do believe that the leaves coming out early and the weather on the drier and warmer side of average will help tip the scale toward a stellar foliage season as opposed to a dull one. Things that can impact this forecast would be several days of rainy cool weather, very windy weather in early October or very cold and even snowy weather with the leaves still on the trees.

When is peak?

The term peak doesn't mean it's the best time for viewing. I think the best color is when we are at about 50%-60% color and still have some green on the trees and less leaf drop. This is somewhat a personal an arbitrary opinion. By the time we get to the official peak week, there can be a lot of leaves on the ground. The maps below show where we are now, where we were last year in a couple of weeks and the average dates of peak foliage. I think we will be about 7-10 days early this year as compared to the average.
Foliage right now.gif
Foliage last year.gif
Fall_Foliage.jpg

Gardening this week

I wanted to give you a tour of the garden at it's peak this week so we went around with the camera and took shots of some of my favorite spots in the garden. I hope you enjoy it.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this blog or any others. Please follow me on Twitter at @growingwisdom and check out my latest videos at GrowingWisdom.com

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

David Epstein has been a professional meteorologist and horticulturalist for three decades. David spent 16 years at WCVB in Boston and currently freelances for WGME in Portland, ME. In 2006, More »
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