Published on 09/29/97

Stage Set for Great Fall Foliage Season

Dry late-summer weather has hurt south Georgia farm crops. But in north Georgia, the lack of rain has helped set the stage for what could be a glorious fall foliage season.

"Dry weather helps bring out the best colors," said Kim Coder, a University of Georgia forester. "The weather we've had so far has set up an above-average year for fall foliage in north Georgia."

Coder said cool, clear and dry are the keys to vivid fall foliage colors:

* Cool nights with no freezes or frosts.

* Cool, bright, sunny days.

* Slight drought conditions in the last half of the growing season and on into the fall.

Other factors, he said, include the volume of leaves on the trees and the overall health of the leaves.

"We've got a good leaf volume out there," Coder said. "And so far we've had a pretty good year in terms of disease and environmental problems that affect tree health."

The peak of the season, he said, is still more than a month away.

"The last two weeks of October and the first week of November are on schedule to be great stuff," he said. "Right now it looks like the orange peak should be about Oct. 29."

But Coder said he wouldn't hinge all his foliage-viewing plans on that prediction.

"The Weather Channel has color maps on the Internet that are supposed to show the waves of color as they move through the mountains," he said. "Services like that can provide a much more accurate short-term picture than a long-range forecast like this."

All Coder can vouch for now, he said, is that the stage is set for fall colors well above average.

"The factors that set the intensity of the color have been very favorable," he said. "Now we have to get the weather that will hold the leaves on the trees."

An early frost or freeze, heavy rains or high winds could undo it all, Coder said.

"It doesn't take much to break the leaves off," he said. "The leaves are barely held onto the tree while they change color in the fall. A lot of wind and rain can knock them off before they develop their full color."

Fall foliage colors come in waves, starting with yellows and moving through the oranges to a final red-leaf peak. A person's definition of the "peak" season may depend on whether the definer prefers yellow leaves or red.

"Overall, fall colors should be well above average," Coder said. "The yellows may not be as intense. But the oranges and reds are on line to be great if the weather cooperates between now and then."

Many yellow-leaf trees, he said, tend to color and drop early in any year but are more likely to go prematurely in dry years. "This is not atypical. It's really a keen indicator of the season," Coder said.

"From Aug. 15 to Sept. 15," he said, "we usually got a lot of nervous calls from people about the leaves 'going early.' They see the wild muscadines and maybe the yellow poplars turning yellow and get worried. But that's normal."

To learn more about fall leaf colors, check the UGA D.B. Warnell School of Forest Resources' "Poetry of Color in the Woods" page <> on the World Wide Web.

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.