Lackluster leaves? Drought conditions impact Utah’s fall colors


LEHI, Utah (News4Utah) – Fall is here and leaf peeping typically snags the outdoor spotlight, but this year is different than years past.

A gradual cooling highlights the vibrancy of fall colors, but it seems like that won’t be the case this year.

“This year it seems like the colors are less than they will usually be, but hopefully, later on, they will bloom,” Nathaniel Coleman, a climber enjoying American Fork Canyon, said Wednesday.

Temperatures will be warming way above average heading into the weekend, which isn’t always good news for our trees.

Many folks may see brown on leaf edges on quite a few trees, but that’s actually an impact from heat stress. The brown on the leaves is called “leaf scorch” and happens after several years of heat stress. Drought conditions impact our leaves and force depleted chlorophyll levels.

“The plants haven’t been able to keep up on the chlorophyll production. They are stressed out. That affects their ability to maintain what they got. As the chlorophyll is degraded, maybe the plants aren’t as healthy as they normally would be,” said Michael Caron, horticulture agent at the Utah State Extension at Thanksgiving Point. 

Valley plants and crops are a bit of a different story, they need to be covered with a light blanket or cloth when temperatures dip into the 30s. Trees, though, are getting ready to protect their buds and store energy in their roots for next year. Fantastic fall foliage is a formula. 

“If it gradually cools off we can see some really nice colors. But if we go from above average temperatures to where we are freezing now regularly, we are not going to see good colors, the leaves tend to drop very quickly at that point,” said Caron.

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