Trouble or Treat? When Fall Color Comes Too Soon

When the leaves of deciduous trees lose their green and change to red, gold, and brown, they give us a familiar spectacle. In fact, it’s one of nature’s better shows. But when your trees change color early, or when only part of the tree changes color while the rest stays green, that’s often a sign of disease.
 
Why Leaves Change Color
 
The reason deciduous trees give us that colorful autumn show is natural, but for the leaves it’s also mortal. As winter approaches, the tree shuts down and goes into hibernation, protecting its core from the extreme cold and frost.
 
Sap is pulled back to keep the heart of the tree alive. The leaves, abandoned by the tree, die. As they die, they stop producing chlorophyll, the photosynthetic chemical that allows leaves to use sunlight to make food for the tree. The chlorophyll breaks down chemically, producing substances with other colors and giving us that autumn show before the leaves fall from the trees in death.
 
So in the fall, what happens is that most of the tree dies. It’s adapted to this cycle and will come back to life in the spring, but still what we’re seeing is a display of death and decay. The loss of the leaves is a response by the tree to a life-threatening situation: the drop of temperature to something too cold for exposed plant growth to survive.
 
Other stresses can cause the same effect, especially in conjunction with the seasonal change. What that means is that a color change that comes too early or unevenly is a sign of leaves dying for some other reason than the approach of winter. The change in the weather provides additional stress that, added to whatever is wrong with the tree, causes the leaves to die before their time.
 
Signs of a Problem
 
There are two things to look for this fall as your trees’ leaves change colors.
 

  1. The leaves losing their green earlier than other trees in the area of the same species?

     

  2. Is the color change affecting only a part of the tree?

 
Tree diseases are often treatable, and can pose a danger to other trees of the same or related species if left untreated.
 
Either way, these are both signs that your tree may be suffering from a disease. If either of these is happening, it’s probably time to call in an expert. A professional arborist can help to identify the problems and provide advice as well as solutions and suggestions on what you can do to help.