Beautiful Fall Foliage: How Early is Too Early?

Fall foliage from beautiful trees in fall

Hello, fall! Hello, cozy nights, football season, crisp fall wind, and infamous autumn colors. A lot of things come to mind when thinking of fall, but for many homeowners there is typically one thing that doesn’t:

How early is too early for fall foliage colors and leaf drop?

While it may feel nice to have a head start on an aesthetic season, there is such a thing as too early seasonal change. And, more often than not, the early fall foliage points to something wrong happening in your landscape.


Why do leaves change color in the fall?

Here’s a fun alliteration: chlorophyll creates color. More specifically, chlorophyll is the chemical in leaves that cause them to change color. Which color? Well, that depends on the season, of course.

For most of the year, chlorophyll forms the green color typically found in leaves. From summer until winter, however, the food-making process stops, and chlorophyll breaks down. This, as well as other chemical changes, results in the lack of green pigment – otherwise known as the bright yellow, orange, and red colors we associate with fall.

Why do leaves drop in fall?

October is the ideal time for both leaf color and leaf drop. It’s when survival mode turns on and the trees actively push off their leaves to protect themselves from the upcoming season.

Through doing this, trees in fall can stay healthy through the windy winter and start fresh in the spring.


When is there a cause for worry?

It’s easy to think that fall foliage should change and drop as soon as the calendar points to autumn; however, this is not the case.

When should leaves start changing color?

Location is the ultimate factor for fall foliage. In Northern Virginia this year, according to the fall color tracker, peak color should arrive the week of October 19th and continue until the end of the month.

In other words, if you’re in our service area and have been seeing pretty fall colors since September, there may be a cause for worry you haven’t anticipated.

October 12th: Near Peak Fall Foliage
October 19th: Peak Fall Foliage

When should leaves start falling?

Typically, leaf drop occurs about a week or so after peak color sets in. If leaves drop before reaching their peak color, other factors may be in play that are unrelated to the natural seasonal changes.


What Does This Mean?

Too much stress equals earlier halt in chlorophyll production (aka sooner-than-natural leaf color and leaf drop). There are a few possibilities that can explain this early fall makeover, all of which may require help from your Certified Arborist.

A few common stressors include:

  1. Heat stress
  2. Disease
  3. Pest infestations (mites, scales, whiteflies, aphids)
  4. Lack of water or nutrients
  5. Soil compaction
TreesSymptoms
Heat Stress • Symptoms first show up on the youngest leaves on the tips of branches
• Edges of each leaf are evenly brown
AnthracnoseAsh, Maple, Oak, Sycamore, Dogwood • Often caused by a wet spring and summer
• Brown, blotchy spots
• Tree may have been well-watered but still showing browning/yellowing and early defoliation symptoms
Bacterial Leaf ScorchOak, Elm, Sycamore, Sweet gum • Symptoms first show up on the oldest leaves and branches
• Young leaves on branch tips still green
• Edges of each leaf are not evenly brown

What You Can Do

Are early fall symptoms showing in your landscape? If so, you can take steps now to prevent this from happening again next year. This way, you can enjoy next year’s beautiful fall trees, worry-free.

  • Biostimulants: A must for all landscapes, biostimulants inject into the Critical Root Zone, foster good soil composition, strengthen the plant’s immune system, and are 100% organic.

Read More About Biostimulants

  • Mulching: Quick and cost-effective, mulch can protect your plants from the upcoming winter by retaining soil moisture and organic matter.

Read More About Fall Mulching

  • Proper Watering Procedures: Adjustments to watering procedures can be imperative for plants dealing with weather stress.

Read More About Watering Techniques

fall foliage beautiful trees in fall

Worried about early fall symptoms?

OR call 703.573.3029 to meet with one of our Certified Arborists.

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