AUSTIN (KXAN) — Have you been outside at all the last few weeks and noticed the trees? Seriously, it’s beautiful out.
KXAN viewers sent dozens of photos of the trees. It is a very unusual sight to see these red, orange and yellow tones in Central Texas. According to the experts, the warm weather and lack of a hard freeze this season are to blame.
“Fall color happens because chlorophyll, which is green, typically masks all the other pigments in a leaf,” said John Davis, urban ecologist with the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Davis said in the late summer and early fall, chlorophyll begins to drain away from the leaves. When this happens, leaves reveal their actual color.
Davis said this change occurs because of three things: shorter days, daily temperatures and the amount of rainfall the trees received during the summer. This year has been a relatively dry year.
The lack of rain isn’t likely responsible for the vibrant colors.
“The thing that is driving this spectacular fall color we’re seeing this year is the combination of day length with longer, cooler night temperatures without freezing,” said Davis.
Freezing temperatures and fall foliage
According to Davis, trees maintain their leaves until they are exposed to a prolonged hard freeze. While there have been a couple of nights with below-freezing temperatures in Central Texas, those temps didn’t last long enough to trigger the trees. During the winter, trees go dormant and shed their leaves.
“I can even remember times in my life where by the time we hit, we hit late October or even early November, we’ve already had that hard freeze,” Davis said. This year, that hasn’t happened.
Are Texas trees more colorful than usual?
The trees don’t just have their leaves though, they appear more vibrant too. Davis said that isn’t the case. “The longer time we have (without a freeze), the more of those colors are going to show through.”
Basically, the longer the stretch of time with cooler nights, longer nights and without a prolonged freeze, the more fall colors we get to see.
“I’ve been in Texas many years, and oftentimes, we will have warm temperatures and green trees followed by a hard freeze, and then it’ll be brown the next day or two,” Davis said.
With warm weather still in the forecast, we’ll likely see these fall colors for a few more weeks. “Until we get that hard freeze, we’re probably going to see this continue.”
What to do with leaves when they do fall?
Davis said when the leaves do fall, do not rake them!
“A lot of butterflies and bees will overwinter in fallen leaves,” Davis said. Raking leaves can destroy these precious habitats.
“It’s really important from an ecological perspective to leave those leaves on the ground.” Raking them and tossing them can damage bee and butterfly populations.
Austin serves as a stopping ground for many butterfly species during the winter. The city was also recently recognized as a member of Bee City USA.
“I recommend maximum is move them perhaps from your grass over to beds and let them, let them do their thing. Let them decompose there and provide homes for butterflies and bees over the winter,” Davis said.