New England Fall Foliage » Foliage Articles » Effects of a warm winter on a colorful autumn

What creates, good fall foliage?

I was asked back in December by a friend who was getting worried because the mild weather was causing certain trees to bloom. I’ve seen this happen several times over the past 15 years and it seems the trees weather it without a noticeable effect on the fall colors.

Fall foliage reflection on a Maine brook. #foliage_Reports, #JeffFolger, #JeffFoliage, #Vistaphotography

Maine fall color reflections

I just read an article by the Boston Globe and they asked Norm Helie, an applied plant and soil scientist who consults at the Boston Public Garden. He has seen this happen during the past three warm winters and the flowers and trees didn’t get hurt by it.

What would hurt is an abrupt freeze which doesn’t allow the trees to prepare for the winter. When we go into winter like we did this year, “very slowly”. The trees can actually build resilience because of the unexpected warmth.

For my first time leaf peepers
So we have talked about the current warm winter, what about the coming spring and summer?  There are so many factors that  will affect what the New England fall foliage will look like. But here are what I think are the most important ones.

Critical factors

The three most critical factors are temperature, precipitation and amount of daylight. Balance between all of this is usually the best but nature seems to abhor a balance and each year is different in relation to:

  1. Precipitation
  2. Temperature
  3. Sunny days

Rain is critical to a good growing season and in my opinion, an optimal year would be a spring that is just a little  light on rain which means that we have occasional rainy days but not a week long drenching. This way the anthracnose fungus will be kept to a minimum come September. But! if we have average rainfall during the summer then the trees won’t mind a “little drought in the fall. If the rain diminishes in Sept and doesn’t show in Oct, I would be quite happy. But what we seem to get is a dry Sept and rain every weekend in October. Not a good combo.

As far as temperature goes I like to see a warm spring and a warm to mildly hot summer (80s – 90s) and in August we usually get a last hot week and then as the month switches to September the temperature should also start sliding southward. Ideally in September we would have sunny warm days in the 70s and nighttime temps cooling-off in the 50s. (AND low 40s by mid Sept!)

Sunny days are critical for the autumn peak colors. The more days that we have that are bright, the brighter the fall colors. The bright reds are dependent on sunny days over much of September and October. During these two months I like to see virtually no rain (or very little) with daytime temperatures in the mid-60s to low 70s and evening temperatures approaching the low 30s. We don’t want a hard freeze but a light freeze in the mid-low 30s is perfect for generating bright colors.

Negative critical factors

Fall color affected by insects and fungus

Fall color affected by fungus and insects

  1. Anthracnose
  2. Drought
  3. Winter Moth or other pests

Anthracnose is a fungus affecting deciduous trees. It usually doesn’t appear until late August when the first leaves start changing color. read more about it here.

Drought is a tough subject because some dry conditions help the fall colors intensify the sugars and thereby making the fall colors brighter.  BUT! too much will stress the trees and cause them to drop their leaves and it also slows the turning of the autumn colors. It’s a fine line to walk.

Winter moth or Asian longhorn beetle are both very real threats to our fall foliage pastime. You can read a bit more in this article that I wrote a couple of years ago.

Will September set us up for success or failure in our search for fall colors?

Randolph white church in fall foliage

In the past, I’ve written many articles about everything from, how to make plans in case of rain or just a lack of ideas on where to go or what to do.

This is why I added several pages of articles to the menu under Foliage Articles. These pages contain either planning articles or topics of interest (like covered bridges, festivals and train rides, and many others) that I hope will give you ideas of things to do during your fall foliage vacations.

What sorts of fall colors we receive each September and October are a mystery and while I try to make educated guesses, they will be determined by the weather we receive. Sometime in Late February I’ll have another look at the El Nino forecast and see what NOAA is forecasting for Sept and Oct.

Escape today

If you have any specific questions, just hit the comments below. I try to quickly on the reply here.

Jeff "Foliage" Folger  You can purchase images by visiting my Fine Art Gallery websites
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Jeff Foliage

My name is Jeff Folger,
but people call me Jeff Foliage.
I have several pages that I write blogs for such as:
My most popular blog is for Leaf peepers: Jeff
I live in Salem, Massachusetts and work as a blogger and Travel Photographer. I'm also the founder of the New England Photography Guild.
Feel free to visit me on my blogs and see what life in New England is like.

I started with Yankee Magazine as their first blogger on everything fall foliage. Now I blog on my own blog on my favorite subject, telling leaf peepers where the fall foliage is showing up in New England and helping them (to some extent) plan their fall foliage vacations.
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