Leaf Peepers: Can we expect to see better fall colors this year?

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Madison County Extension agents say it will be hard to predict how the fall colors will turn out on trees this year because of last year's drought.

Rhonda Britton, Regional Extension Agent, said it should be decent, but is unpredictable because some plants had a lot of stress early on.

We talked with Jeff Bennett, co-owner of Bennett Nurseries in Huntsville, who said the drought was tough but we should have hope.

"Last year was so miserably dry, things just turned brown and dried up. We had to miss some of the fun colors," he explained. "It has been dry lately, but we had rain earlier on. I think we'll get our fall colors," he predicted.

Bennett knows plants. It's his job and his passion.

He said there are a lot of factors that can affect foliage.

"If it has been dry a tree or shrub may have cut off the leaf sooner and it could have dried up. The plant may have had disease on it and had fungus/diseases to cause the leaves to fall off," he said. "Certainly, a tree that has put on a lot of foliage that has a rich, green growth during the summertime would show better colors than one that has been under stress."

The fungus is an issue with Japanese Maple trees right now.

"Japanese Maples have always been known for excellent fall color. They have taken a hit with powdery mildew fungus, which has to do with humidity instead of drought. So if you have powdery mildew on your Japanese Maples, you may not have fall color on that tree in particular," he said.

Weather is a big part of seeing vibrant colors in the fall, too.

"But sometimes if it's a long mild fall with those cool temperatures and not freezing nights, you can have an extended amount of fall color," he said.

Bennett said trees change color when chlorophyll breaks down to reveal the reds, yellows and oranges out of what was once green.

"It has been masking the yellows and browns," he stated. "When it starts to slow down and shut down, the green goes away. The other colors show. And then the red kicks in-- it's actually made once the green moves out."

The colors can be best seen in the higher elevations of north Alabama and even further north into other states.

Now, we wait on that process to continue as we eagerly await the leaves' splendor.

Bennett leaves us with one last tip: "We still need to take care of plants that might still be under stress, especially if they're new plants. We want to continue to water. Just because it's fall does not mean that we can neglect our plants."