Early arrival of autumn colors

Published 5:56 pm Friday, October 1, 2021

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Autumn leaf watchers, be advised. The fall foliage colors in Virginia may peak by the third week of October this year – about a week ahead of normal, according to Virginia Tech tree physiology expert John Seiler.

“I’m seeing some signs of things being a little early this year. A couple of particular ‘go to trees’ I monitor, they’ve already got some yellow in them. We may be a week early, in part because of the lack of long-term rain. Before the recent storms, we were drying out a bit. But that slow, steady drizzle should really help,” Seiler said. “Decent amounts of precipitation keep the leaves from dropping too soon. And because those vivid reds form in the fall, rain improves the outlook they’ll be bright and colorful.”

Seiler is quick to point out that Virginia never really has a poor or average year for fall colors. It’s either good, better or best.

“That’s because of the diversity and wide varieties of tree species here in Virginia. If one tree gets hurt by a hot, dry August, there’s another species that didn’t. It buffers the bad weather like that,” he said. “Our mountains offer constantly changing elevations and aspects, which lead to a higher biodiversity, which leads to a greater mixture of fall color.”

“People should be looking at their calendars, picking a good Saturday or Sunday. Shoot for the time period starting around Oct. 23 – on through the end of the month. Plan your trip accordingly, check the weather and pick a good day when the sun is out because the colors look a lot better when there’s sunshine.”

Professor Seiler specializes in environmental stress effects on woody plant physiology, including water and pollutant stresses.