FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. — The peak foliage season – summer’s final bow until next year – is almost upon Fairfield County. But extreme weather in the past several months, including a spike in temperatures last March and dry weather throughout spring and summer, might dampen the vibrancy of the fall leaf colors.
Many factors play a role in leaf color, but Henryk Teraszkiewicz, executive director of Wilton’s Woodcock Nature Center, won’t make a specific prediction. “Last year it was too wet, so there was a lot of anthracnose, a fungal disease that occurs most commonly and severely on sycamore, white oak, elm, dogwood and maple, and it really appeared to take a toll on sugar maples.”
Master gardener Maggie Pichura, environmental educator at Teatown Lake Reservation in Ossining, N.Y., agreed. “The colors may not be as vivid as in other years” because of the lower rainfall in early spring, she said.
“It looks as if the spring’s impact will take away some of the vibrancy to the leaves, but we’ve had some nice weather last week, which is why the leaves began to change almost at once,” said Pichura.
Every fall, deciduous trees drop their leaves to prevent water loss during the winter, when water is not available from the ground or from snow. Whether the doomed leaves put on a show of color depends on temperature and moisture. “Both can vary quite a bit on their own, but together they determine what kind of fall color we will have,” said Pichura.
But optimal conditions for colorful leaves also come from warm, wet springs and summer conditions that are not too dry and not too hot, as well as from sunny fall days combined with cool nighttime temperatures.
“Some trees have already browned out along the edges of their leaves,” said Pichura. And some, she said, are beginning to drop their leaves quickly with evening temperatures dipping into the 50s.
But color intensity could vary within specific areas. “Within our region, there are microclimates,” said Pichura. Additionally, one area may receive more rainfall than another adjacent one, and this determines how long trees hold onto their leaves. Hard wiring — geology and soil conditions — also dictate the fact that not all leaves turn the same colors.
The Connecticut fall foliage report predicts a late October to early November peak in the season, Teraszkiewicz said.
But, Pichura said, “Whether or not it is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ season depends on the beholder.”
“I try to get enjoyment out of what I’m a witness to in nature any time,” she said. Sound advice, leaves or no leaves.