Autumn hues are leaf-ing us

Autumn hues are leaf-ing us

Imagine the most picture-perfect, Hallmark movie apple-red and bright orange pigmented tree hosting full, rustling leaves. And this gorgeous plant is a fall staple in your front yard, adorning your property with a vivid leaf litter and autumn vibes. 

This certainly isn’t a common view in most of Texas, but we do see some change in color throughout the basin. This year, however, has seen less than the norm.  

Unfortunately, the severe effects of the drought in Texas have caused native trees to delay their color-changing schedule. To blame - the exceptionally dry summer combined with the 2022 fall season being warmer than previous years.

Adored fall foliage happens when the levels of chlorophyll in deciduous trees slip. This is a mechanism to save energy for trees.

This year, Texans are just seeing a color change in early November, according to the Smoky Mountains Fall Foliage Prediction Map.

“Many trees put on fewer, smaller leaves this spring or started to change color or prematurely drop their leaves in the summer,” said Karl Flocke, Texas A&M Forest Service woodland ecologist, in a press release. “All of this will most likely lead to fall colors that are less impressive than in years past.”

This effect is caused by the leaves' natural response to “protect their photosynthetic organs from damage caused by excess sunlight,” which can mimic fall foliage, Flocke said.

“However, due to the drought, some trees have already defoliated,” said Courtney Blevins, Texas A&M Forest Service urban forester in the press release. “Others still have their leaves, but they are dead and brown. These trees obviously will not be giving us any fall colors to enjoy this year.”

Texan farmers have dubbed 2022 as “one for the record books,” with over 80% of the state battling drought conditions for most of the year. While 2011 was believed to be one of the most devastating years for drought, many experts believe 2022 may be worse, according to the Texas Tribune.

Another unfortunate result of prolonged drought and an expected drier season is the increase of pests attacking weaker trees, according to the Texas A&M Forest Service. Root rots, canker-causing pathogens and wood-boring insects all call dehydrated trees home in these conditions. To make matters worse, when wood-feeding nuisances colonize a tree, trees typically will experience a quick death because of the damage suffered to its phloem layer or vascular tissue.

The Texas A&M Forest Service recommends the best way to ensure your tree lives through the prolonged drought period and dry fall is to water younger trees up to three times a day in a week without rainfall. The best time to water one’s trees is either early in the morning or later in the evening to avoid quick evaporation during the warmer hours of the day. Older, pre-established trees do not need as much water as newer planted ones, but property owners should be attentive to any drastic change they notice, such as wilting, malformed leaves or tips of leaves turning brown.

In order to encourage the autumn leaf shades we treasure, Texan landowners should pay close attention to the wellbeing of their trees, guaranteeing they receive enough water every day to battle Mother Nature’s lack of precipitation.