Expert: Dry Conditions Will Hurt This Year’s Fall Color Outlook

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It’s dry and getting drier in Virginia’s mountains, leading to what could be a very disappointing season for fall color, according to Virginia Tech tree physiology expert John Seiler.

“These trees are dropping their leaves with very little color development,” said Seiler. “There are lots of trees that are going into what I call drought induced leaf abscission, versus normal fall leaf abscission which goes through first step, nice color development.  I’m usually pretty optimistic, and we’ll still have some good trees to look at, but it’s going to have a negative impact.”

“If we get some rain, which is not really forecast, there will still be some individual trees that will be really pretty.  But the general hillsides, people are going to notice it – it’s going to be off this year,” said Seiler. “It’s probably already too late for some of these trees.”

Seiler points to northern red oaks and sugar maples, already dropping their leaves, in some cases five weeks early. He’s hopeful that species like scarlet oaks and hickories still have the potential for colorful displays, if the early weeks of October bring rainfall.

Fall color this year will be significantly different from what we experienced in 2018, when Virginia received plenty of summer and early fall rain.

Still Seiler encourages leaf watchers not to cancel their plans – but keep an eye out for better locations.  “Localized thunderstorms have made a real difference in some localities, so it’s best to do your homework.  Hunt for the prime spots and plan your trip accordingly.”