Fall Foliage: When Should We Expect To See Autumn’s Bright Colors

By Kat Robinson

First posted on 09-25-2012

Autumn has arrived in Arkansas and with it crisper air and cooler temperatures. It’s a very busy time as well with travelers visiting the Natural State to view the vibrant fall colors. But this year’s harsh summer drought and severe temperatures have some wondering if we’ll see a great display of turning leaves this year.

Bob Byers, Associate Executive Director at Garvan Woodland Gardens, the University of Arkansas’s botanical garden located in Hot Springs, shares insight into what we might expect this season.

According to Byers, one of the important mechanisms native Arkansas trees have for coping with drought is early dormancy. “While it can be literally a life saver for many of our trees, it can affect fall color, since one of the primary mechanisms of drought dormancy for most tree species is early leaf drop,” he explained. “Depending on the severity of the drought and the timing of what rain does occur, this can be more or less severe. Many hickories and some of our oaks reached this stage this summer and that will likely affect the fall color in some areas.”

Byers, who also serves as the resident landscape architect at Garvan Gardens, noted that the rains received in late August and early September arrived in time to prevent a lot of our more colorful trees (maples, black gum, sweet gum) from going into early dormancy.

“As most of these species begin their fall displays in the early to mid part of the fall foliage season, we’re still expecting reasonably good fall color in the early part of the season,” Byers announced. “However, late season color may be affected to some degree by drought dormancy on many oaks. Fortunately, white oak that contributes most to late fall color still looks pretty good in many areas of the state, which will help extend the season in the Ozarks and Ouachitas where this species is common.”

So where white oak is prevalent in the state, autumn color is expected to remain brilliant late into the season, while this summer’s drought could mean duller color and fewer leaves on the trees in areas where hickories are predominant.

But there is some good news.

“A final consideration is timing,” continues Byers. “Many of our trees have made new growth following recent rains, which may push peak fall color a few days later than average in some areas as those new leaves and stems mature. Overall, we’re expecting a good fall color season, but weather always plays a major role, so only Mother Nature knows for sure.”

Byers suggests that fall foliage enthusiasts call their favorite destination the first or second week of October for an update on conditions at that time, as predictions then will be much more accurate as peak season nears.

You can keep up with the changing colors of autumn on the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism’s Fall Foliage website at http://www.arkansas.com/fall/fall-foliage. And for fall-related deals, events and photos, check out http://www.arkansas.com/fall