60928thumbIt might seem like autumn color is a bit early this year. In the wild, where there is no irrigation, native box elders, and maybe some of the cottonwoods and sycamores, are already yellowing. The box elders are already dropping some of their foliage. However, this is not caused by an early chill. It is caused by late warmth after an otherwise mild summer, and might inhibit better color later.

It is still impossible to say for certain. There are so many variables that affect autumn color, such as temperature, humidity and daylength. Some of the plants that develop color late, like flowering pear trees in irrigated landscapes, might not be bothered too much by the same variables that are troubling wild box elders now. Where autumn weather is so mild, color is unpredictable anyway.

Sudden cool weather after mild weather late in summer would have been better for autumn color. (Warmth through the middle of summer is no problem.) Foliage lingers best if the weather stays cool without getting too cold. Wind and rain will eventually dislodge foliage. Sheltered sweetgums might hold their foliage until just before it gets replaced by new foliage late in the following winter.

The earliest trees to color, as well as those that are notoriously less reliable for color, are the most likely to be inhibited by the weather this year. Besides box elders, cottonwoods and sycamores, other marginally colorful trees like willows, walnuts, maples, elms, redbuds, smoke trees and deciduous oaks, may develop bland color. Mulberries and tulip trees, though early, are more reliable.

Sweetgums (which are also known as liquidambars) , flowering pears, Chinese pistaches and maidenhair trees (which are also known as gingkos) are the most reliable trees for color locally. Maidenhair trees turn remarkably bright yellow. The others can be various shades of bright yellow, orange, red or burgundy red, (although Chinese pistaches do not not often get burgundy color here). Crape myrtles have the potential for the same color range if conditions are right.

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7 thoughts on “Early Autumn Color Might Disappoint

  1. We don’t always have a colorful autumn, but this year it seems promising. I’m already seeing a few yellows and of course that Virginia Creeper is beginning to turn red. Sumac provides great splashes of color on the roadsides about this time, but I haven’t been out and about to witness that yet.

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  2. The colors on the seacoast of New Hampshire are usually spectacular but a day drive through the mountains takes your breath away. I do miss my Chinese pistaches and gingko trees in my Virginia garden. 😟

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    1. There are not many choices for autumn color here. Neither pistache nor sweetgum are perfect trees, but they are the most reliable for autumn foliar color in our mild climate. Maples are unreliable colorful here, and there are many regions in which they are not very happy. The do not do well at all in the Los Angeles region.

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