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Fall colors will be muted in northern Missouri

Many trees north of I-44 already have turned brown or dropped their leaves as a result of Missouri's continuing drought.

JEFFERSON CITY - Missourians who want to enjoy the awe-inspiring glow of autumn vegetation will be smart to look south of I-44 this year, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Conservation Department foresters say the Show-Me State's continuing drought will put a damper on the blaze of fall color in the northern half of the state. Local conditions, such as soil depth, will produce pockets of normal fall color in northern Missouri, but overall the Conservation Department predicts fair to poor fall color there.

The outlook is brighter in southern Missouri. The area south of I-44 has received more normal rainfall than the northern half the state this year, and trees there are likely to show average to good color. Even in this part of the state, however, trees growing in areas with thin rocky soil are showing scorched leaves and won't have good fall color.

"Although the stage already is set, the weather over the next few weeks will ultimately determine the colors we see," said, Bruce Palmer, forestry education coordinator for the Conservation Department. "More rain in mid-to late September could help send trees into the fall in good shape. As the leaves start to change colors, clear, sunny days and cool nights will help intensify the colors."

Palmer said the peak of fall color likely will occur around Oct. 10 in northern Missouri. In central and southwestern Missouri, the Ozarks and around Kansas City and St. Louis, the peak will be the third or fourth weekend in October. Southeastern Missouri will see peak fall colors near the end of October.

Widespread, heavy rain over the Labor Day weekend hardly put a dent in the three-year drought gripping northern Missouri. Drought-resistant oaks there will still show some fall colors, but maples, elms, hackberries and other species won't be up to par. Many already have turned brown or dropped their leaves prematurely.

"Early leaf fall is a self-defense mechanism," said Palmer. "The surface area of leaves is huge, and water continues to evaporate from that surface, even when the ground is dry. Dropping leaves reduces water loss."

Palmer said many trees that lose their leaves early this year will return to normal growth next spring. Some will die, however. Drought is one of many stresses a tree can suffer. When combined with disease or parasites, lack of water can sap a tree's vigor. The longer the drought continues, the more trees will die.

Homeowners can help trees on residential lots by deep soaking the soil once a week. One way to do this is to let a hose run at a slow trickle and move it every hour or so until the entire area underneath the tree's branches has been soaked.

- Jim Low -




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