Fall Foliage Color Delay

By Lauren Wanko

The leaves are slowly starting to change color at Davidson’s Mill Pond Park in South Brunswick. The explosion of autumn hues can’t come soon enough for these locals.

“I’m ready. The quicker the fall colors come out, the more anxious we are to get out with our kids and our family,” said Susan Stephenson-Martin.

“I want it to get here I want it to last until at least Thanksgiving, that would be lovely,” said Janice Tonkery.

The fall foliage won’t last that long says Rutgers University’s Bill Hlubik, still this year, he expects the colors to last longer then usual because the leaves are expected to peak later then usual.

“I think this year with the drought conditions, we’ll see more color in the beginning of November and possibly mid November as well. The only thing that may affect that in a negative way is if we have extreme cold weather that comes in before that,” said Hlubik.

The agricultural agent says in New Jersey, leaf color typically peaks between Oct. 19 through the end of the month. But the recent dry weather will most likely delay that.

“Typically drought and any other type of stress issue could affect the brightness or intensity of colors for the fall. What happens is that the sugar formation and the changes that would normally, occur slowly take a little bit longer to occur,” said Hlubik.

The shorter days and longer nights stimulate the biochemical processes in leaves of deciduous trees says Hlubik. The leaves start to shut down the reproduction of chlorophyll.

“Chlorophyll is actually what gives us the bright green color of leaves and gives us the photosynthesis that produces all the energy that the plant needs,” Hlubik said.

The familiar green color starts disappearing.

And then the carotenoids, the orange the yellow pigments start to appear and carotenoids are always there in the leaves where as other pigments it takes a while for them to form for sugars to build up.

Like the deep purple and blue hue.

Before the winter hits the tree stores nutrients into the root system that provides energy for the spring says Hlubik. Eventually the tree loses it leaves as a protective measure so they don’t freeze. They eventually fall to the ground, break down and recycle the nutrients back into the soil, that helps the tree thrive the following season.

The perfect recipe for fall color — adequate rainfall, cool nights, warm, sunny days — the leaves then produce the sugars they need to provide the brilliant colors and the pigments will slowly start to appear says Hlubik.

“I think even though we’ve had a drought, I think we’re gonna see some pretty good color. Right now we’re actually getting ideal conditions,” he said.

If only Mother Nature continues to cooperate.