Why are leaves changing color in southeast Texas? Here's why the fall weather may be the cause

Elyse Smith Image
Tuesday, December 19, 2023
Texas fall foliage 2023: Experts discuss the state and impact of fall colors and tree health
Tree experts spoke to ABC13 and warned that if you start to see fall colors across Texas at a different time of year, it could mean trouble for your tree's health.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Fall colors began to appear across southeast Texas earlier this December and could stick around into the first few days of winter until New Year's. But as ABC13 Meteorologist Elyse Smith found out, colorful leaves aren't always a good sign, depending on the time of year.

Smith spoke to local tree experts at the Houston Arboretum about the current fall foliage season and general tree health Monday afternoon ahead of winter beginning on Thursday. Steven Frederick, an agent with Texas A&M Agrilife Extension, noted that Houston's trees are doing pretty well, even with the recent flash drought and winter freeze back in February 2021. And the fall colors this year are a sign of that.

The reason why fall colors appear in the first place is because of the weather. The lack of sunshine paired with the cooler temperatures go hand in hand. Leaves start to lose chlorophyll, which makes them green, is due to the lack of sunlight. So, with a lack of chlorophyll, its more natural colors - the fall colors, the reds, the yellows, the browns, and oranges - appear instead. However, experts warn that if you start to see fall colors at a different time of year, it could mean trouble for trees.

Christine Mansfield, the senior manager of marketing at the Houston Arboretum, told ABC13 that seeing fall colors too early in the season, closer to September, could be a bit concerning.

"Changes of leaf color in the wrong season, losing limbs, losing bark, those are all things that you want to really make sure that you're talking to a professional about," Mansfield said. She notes that a good place to start with checking in on your tree's health is monitoring them each season and noting what they look like during the year. Moreover, if there are some larger changes year-to-year, it'll be easier to spot.

Frederick also gave some tips to help keep your trees healthy this winter. Those include mulching and watering before they go dormant, which trees that lose their leaves do. Not all trees, though, like pine, will go dormant in the winter, so you'll want to keep this tree up throughout the winter. And the sign that trees made it healthily through the winter will be when they bud in the spring.

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