Where have all the colors gone?

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - Pam Bax­ter is an avid or­ganic vegetable gar­dener who lives in Kim­ber­ton. Di­rect e-mail to pcbax­ter@ver­i­zon.net, or send mail to P.O. Box 80, Kim­ber­ton, PA 19442. Join the con­ver­sa­tion at “Ch­ester County Roots,” a Face­book page for gar­den­ers in the Delawar

Last sum­mer we had, tech­ni­cally speak­ing, a se­ries of heat waves. Ex­pe­ri­en­tially, how­ever, the sum­mer was more like one long heat wave, in­ter­spersed here and there by a day or two be­low the ninety-de­gree mark. As the heat per­sisted, I know that I wasn’t alone in long­ing for the cool, crisp days of fall.

At last, af­ter an ex­cep­tion­ally warm start to the month, we’re fi­nally there, en­joy­ing sea­son­able days and windows-open, cool nights. Un­for­tu­nately, those hot, dry days of sum­mer and a sum­mer-like Septem­ber will prob­a­bly trans­late into less bril­liancy in fall fo­liage. We’ve al­ready seen leaves turn­ing brown and drop­ping from trees. Will they all go di­rectly from green to dead, with­out putting on the col­or­ful dis­play we’re used to?

The change in leaf color is a prod­uct of shorter days and cooler nights. But what about the ac­tual color? How can you know if the fo­liage in any given year will be more or less bril­liant than usual?

You prob­a­bly re­mem­ber the ba­sics from science class: chloro­phyll, which gives leaves their green color, is pre­dom­i­nant dur­ing the warm, grow­ing months. As the weather cools, trees shut down their food man­u­fac­tur­ing sys­tem. Chloro­phyll de­creases, let­ting the other colors al­ready present in the leaves show up.

I love this easy-to-un­der­stand ex­pla­na­tion from me­te­o­rol­o­gist Jake Reed (WHNT 19, in At­lanta, Ge­or­gia). He says that it takes “a suc­ces­sion of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freez­ing nights . . . to bring about the most spec­tac­u­lar color dis­plays. Dur­ing these days, lots of sug­ars are pro­duced in the leaf but the cool nights and the grad­ual clos­ing of veins go­ing into the leaf pre­vent these sug­ars from mov­ing out.

“These con­di­tions — lots of sugar and lots of light — spur pro­duc­tion of the bril­liant an­tho­cyanin pig­ments, which tint reds, pur­ples, and crim­son. The amount of mois­ture in the soil also affects au­tumn colors.

“A warm pe­riod dur­ing fall will also lower the in­ten­sity of

au­tumn colors. A warm wet spring, fa­vor­able sum­mer weather, and warm sunny fall days with cool nights should pro­duce the most bril­liant au­tumn colors.” (http://whnt. com/2016/09/15/how-willthe-on­go­ing-drought-af­fect-fall-fo­liage/)

So, how “fa­vor­able” was our sum­mer weather? Let’s take a look at the rain­fall over the past sev­eral months. The sec­ond half of sum­mer wasn’t just hot, it was also dry. In our area, the av­er­age rain­fall for July, Au­gust, and Septem­ber is roughly twelve inches. At present, we’re nearly thirty per­cent short of that mark.

While that may not sound too dras­tic, the en­tire

month of Au­gust reg­is­tered just 0.94 inch on my rain gauge. We don’t typ­i­cally ex­pect a lot of rain in late sum­mer, but this was dra­mat­i­cally less than usual. My records show 3.13 inches in Au­gust 2015, 4.67 inches in Au­gust 2014, and 6.21 inches in Au­gust 2013. The scant inch we saw in Au­gust this year — the sum of five pre­cip­i­ta­tion events — was barely enough to settle the dust; it cer­tainly couldn’t pen­e­trate down to tree roots.

Rain is com­ing this week. In fact, it may be rain­ing as you read this. Will it be enough to boost leaf color? We will have to wait and see.

Note: Did you know that you can find monthly rain­fall data for Ch­ester County on­line? Vol­un­teers in twenty-one mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties col­lect and

re­port the pre­cip­i­ta­tion each month, which is com­piled and archived by the Ch­ester County Water Re­sources Author­ity. Their on­line records go back to 2000. I’m one of the vol­un­teers, show­ing up on the chart as Sta­tion 106, East Pikeland Town­ship.

Pam Bax­ter From the Ground Up

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