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Fall colors Mt. Timpanogas
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Wind and drought will affect fall leaves this year

FILE: Mt. Timpanogas, Alpine loop. Credit: Chris Thornblad, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Another casualty of 2020 in Utah could be the changing of the fall leaves.  

Drought conditions made many trees unhealthy.  And while they survived, their leaves became brown, cracked and withered before they could change colors.

Taun Beddes, Utah State University extension horticulturist, said at best we may have muted oranges and reds this year.

Even if the trees are getting irrigation, many of the trees which turn red, that we planted, aren’t completely adapted to our soil and to our lack of humidity.  So they dry out and desiccate in August and September,” said Beddes.

Dry weather isn’t the only thing affecting the fall leaves this year

The hurricane-force winds moving through northern Utah last week caused major damage to trees and leaves.  “In some areas, a lot of leaves were shredded and [in] others they’re fine, but leaves are gone.  It’s so late in the year, the tree is not going to grow any new ones,”  Beddes said.

Leaf colors are associated with the type of trees from which they fall. Some of the most popular species — East Coast, Red, and Sugar Maples and the Autumn Blaze — are bad choices for Utah.  Beddes said they are designed specifically for moist climates, like Oregon and New England, and don’t do well here.

Some of the better trees to plant in the Beehive State if you want to have bright fall colors are the Pacific Sunset Maple. Norwegian Sunset Maple and Japanese Zelkova.

Beddes also says you actually need to start in the spring with good soil nutrition to have the best results.

How and where to see changing leaves

Right now, Beddes recommends going to Cache County or along a stream where there is more water and moisture.  Areas that are south-facing and in extreme drought have probably seen the peak of their fall leaf season already.

“The take-home message,” said Beddes, “is that if you’re planting new trees, buy adapted trees that have good fall color instead of the most popular ones that are less adapted to our climate.”