Fall colors should be at their peak about now in the Kansas City area.
But for the most part, they have been a bit lackluster. Call it a fall fizzle.
“It is not as vibrant as in typical years,” said Wendy Sangster, community forester for the Missouri Department of Conservation in Kansas City. “It seems like it’s been a while since we’ve had a really, really great fall color season.”
If you’re looking for something to blame for the lack of vivid reds, yellows and purples, look toward the weather and changing weather patterns.
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The timing has to be just right for the weather to bring on really good colors, Sangster said.
This year’s conditions probably played a role in the lackluster season. The Kansas City area has had torrential rains. That was stressful for the trees.
Earlier in the season, fungal disease weakened trees and caused leaves to shrivel. While the trees typically recover by fall, it may have added to the drab-looking season.
This fall, Kansas City also went through some dry periods. While the area isn’t in a drought, the dry spells came at a time when the trees could have used the moisture to provide really good fall color, Sangster said.
Some trees also have lost their leaves to winds and rain from recent storms, she said.
Leaves change because there’s a lot of sunlight during the day, and then it gets cool at nights. Those cooler temperatures trap sugars in the leaves, which leads to the vibrant colors.
“We haven’t had a lot of that this season,” Sangster said. “We’ve had a lot of warm temperatures and then all of a sudden not so sunny and colder.”
The fall color is patchy across the metropolitan area. The Bruce R. Watkins Parkway has pretty colors. But a few blocks away, the color isn’t very dramatic.
Two of the most colorful species of trees native to the Kansas City area are the white ash, which produce purplish-maroon colors, and green ash, which produce vibrant yellow.
But with the infestation of the emerald ash borer, a lot of the ash trees have died, especially in Platte County, Sangster said.
“They are declining throughout our region, and I think that could have an effect on the color,” she said.
Dennis Patton, a horticulturist for the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Office in Olathe, agreed that fall colors across the board have been fairly disappointing.
“What I’ve noticed the last several years is that unfortunately fall colors are not happening at once anymore,” he said.
It has spread out over a longer period of time, which he thinks is because of changing weather patterns. The last frost of spring is coming earlier, and the first freeze in the fall is coming later.
“We’ve added a good 10 days, and in some years maybe two weeks, to the growing season,” Patton said.
It used to be that the peak fall color would come around the second or third week in October. Now, it’s the third or fourth week in October.
“Here we are on Nov. 1 and we are still seeing a lot of green trees out there that haven’t changed,” he said.
Because it’s happening over a longer stretch of time, the fall colors aren’t as dramatic or noticeable, Patton said.
“We don’t see it all at once,” Patton said. “It’s in dribbles.”