Peak fall colors could arrive early in East Tennessee

7:21 PM, Sep 5, 2012   |    comments
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Summer is winding down in East Tennessee, and that means the beautiful fall colors aren't far behind.

"East Tennessee is just a great place to be in the fall, so I think you're going to have visitors when you have different attractions for people to visit, but having the Smoky Mountains in close proximity and the beautiful fall colors, that goes hand in hand, so we welcome all the visitors," said Kim Bumpas, president of Visit Knoxville.

Those visitors may notice that some of those leaves already have turned a color - to brown - and have fallen to the ground.

"Once the tree's made its supply of food, then it will lose its leaves, and so we're seeing some of that starting to happen now," said David Vandergriff, UT extension agent for Knox County. "They've basically finished their year, and they're ready to rest for the season."

Pests and disease are causing leaves to drop, too, as well as stress from the summer's weather.

And as for the leaves still hanging on, some are already starting to turn color, long before the usual peak in October.

"Our earliest trees to color up are really coming in about the time they normally would, nothing really unusual there," Vandergriff said. "However, some of the mid- and later-season color trees are coloring up earlier than what they normally would be."

Vandergriff says that's because an abnormally hot June and a July full of rain allowed the trees to photosynthesize and make carbohydrates, which they store for food for the next season.

"Once the tree's leaves quit performing the food factory job, then they go into color mode," he said.

And that's happening a bit early for some of the trees around East Tennessee. But a little extra help from Mother Nature wouldn't hurt.

"One of the best conditions for good color development are clear, sunny days and cool evenings, cool nights, so we're starting to get both of those now," Vandergriff said. "Don't want the multi-cloudy days, no, for fall color, we need the clear days, and then the nice, cool nights."

The usual peak for color in the Smokies comes in mid- to late October, but Vandergriff said that peak could happen in early October this year, with a couple of weeks of good color both before and after that.


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