KC Gardens

Fall 2013 best fall color ever!

Dogwood

Tip of the Week

The last couple of weeks in the Kansas City area have been simply spectacular. I cannot remember a more striking, dramatic or beautiful stretch of fall color. I think I had to pinch myself once or twice as I felt like I had been transported to New England. So why was this fall better than past years? We have the same trees and potential for color, but what was it about 2013 that made this a season to remember?

There will be varying opinions, but this fall display started many months ago. Coming out of the drought of 2012 the trees were stressed. Timely spring rains helped the trees start their road to recovery. May and June rains, while not above average, were just enough and at the right times to keep additional stress off the trees.

Summer brought with it a mixed bag. By that I mean a few weeks of warmer than normal conditions. But overall, thanks to that two week stretch in late July and early August, it was fairly nice. It was this lack of extreme stress that started the process for great fall color.

The fall color moved in to high gear with the warm and sunny, although dry, September. The month of October provided the perfect conditions for the final development of the color: a combination of warm and sunny days and cool, crisp nights void of any hard freezes. It is this combination that develops and then traps the sugars in the leaves to make the outstanding displays of reds, oranges, purples and yellows that we all love.

Not all factors are completely understood on why leaves change color and how minor variations in weather patterns can have such a dramatic impact. We do know it is a complicated process involving the interaction of sunlight, moisture, temperatures, daylight, the genetic traits and chemical compounds and hormones found in the leaves.

Leaves are green during the summer because of the presence of chlorophyll. The chlorophyll masks other pigments, thus giving the leaf its green color.
During the summer months the tree keeps producing high levels of chlorophyll. But fall’s arrival depletes the tree’s reserves, and slowly the green mask retreats to reveal other pigments in the leaves, which provide the color display.

The two most common pigments in leaves are carotenoids and anthocyanins. Carotenoids give us yellow, brown, orange and many of the hues in this color palate. Anthocyanins develop reds, purples and their blends, which are the more prized coloration for fall leaves. The carotenoids are present in the leaves all summer long, while the anthocyanins develop in late summer from the breakdown of sugars. It is the Indian summer conditions of warm, sunny days and cool nights that increase anthocyanin’s pigment formation. For some reason the fall of 2013 was perfect for its development, which led to some of the best reds and purples we’ve ever seen. With that being said, the carotenoids responsible for yellow hues were also outstanding, with clear pure shades of vivid yellow and oranges.

Whatever the reason for the perfect combination of fall color, I hope you soak in the outstanding display. The fall of 2013 is certainly one to remember.

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