Drought conditions causing leaves to change color prematurely

Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 3:24 PM CDT
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DAVENPORT, Iowa (KWQC) - “Right now we shouldn’t be seeing anything,” said Robert Spartz, certified arborist and district manager at The Davey Tree Expert Company.

What started off as a seasonably wet and mild spring, has turned into a summer of heat and abnormally dry conditions, leading to worsening drought.

August in particular put a lot of stress on our trees, according to Spartz.

“Moving into the fall season, here, is we’re going to start to see kind of a lot of dull fall color. Not gonna see a lot of those vibrant fall colors that we’re used to seeing. So, you know, an important thing would be, if I had to stress on thing, would be to start watering the trees,” said Spartz.

Spartz says the drought situation is the number on reason we’re starting to see some of the trees show signs of color, as well as the leaves that have already fallen to the ground.

“The trees are just lacking water. So you’re going to start to see, you know, maybe a lot of interior, yellowing of the leaves. The second thing would be, potentially, girdling roots. Roots typically start to wrap back around the trunk and start to choke out the tree,” said spartz.

Another reason leaves are changing color prematurely, is disease, especially on hybrid-maple trees.

“it’s a disease called ‘phytophthora bleeding canker’ which is like black lesions that are on the trunk and then can also lead to actual bark peeling off,” said Spartz.

“You’re gonna see kinda spotty color. You’re gonna see maybe a quarter of the tree maybe turning red in one section.”

Insects can also cause trees to change early.

Fall foliage typically peaks in eastern Iowa and western Illinois by the middle of October.

RELATED: Why do leaves change color in the fall?

The lack of moisture in the soil this year, means less-vibrant colors are expected.

Click here to learn more about fall colors from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Click here to learn more about fall colors rom the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.