Red Isn't the Only Fall Color

By David Mooter

Forester Emeritus,

Nebr. Forest Service


          In Ne­braska , the end of summer and the beginning of fall brings out the red for Nebraska football. But red is not the only color of fall as the trees begin their annual show of fall colors. Fall can be the most consistent of all seasons in Nebraska . And for a state that is not known for its trees, fall color can be quite spectacular. After all, here we have the opportunity to combine the beauty of tree color with the beauty of prairie grasses and harvesting operations.

          What causes fall color in trees? Why do some trees turn yellow and others red? Why is fall color better some years than others? The dark green that we see in the summer months is due to the chlorophyll in the leaves. Chlorophyll is vital in the manufacture of food for the tree. This is true in any green plant whether it is a tree, shrub or grass. In the food-making process, chlorophylls break down and are continually used up while sugars are produced. As the chlorophyll is used it is replaced by the plant and this process continues through the summer. As summer comes to an end, the chlorophyll is replaced at a slower rate and finally comes to an end as the days grow shorter. The shorter days cause a layer of corky tissue to form at the base of the leaves... an abscission layer. Eventually the flow of water and minerals into the leaf is stopped and the chlorophyll dies. With the death of the chlorophyll, other pigments in the leaf are unmasked and begin to show through. Unmasked pigments include the carotenoids which result in brilliant yellows and oranges. Some trees where carotenoids are conspicuous include ash, maple, aspen, birch, black cherry, cottonwood, tulip tree and sycamore.

          Another group of pigments called anthocyanins, are responsible for the reds, pur­ples, and blended combinations of these colors. Unlike the carotenoids, these pigments have not been pre­sent in the leaf all season. Instead they develop in late summer in the sap of the leaf cells. Their formation depends on the breakdown of sugars in the presence of light. These colors are more brilliant when the days are full of bright sunlight.   There is no formula to predict fall color and time of peak color vary and are deter­mined by complex environmental factors as well as the genetic makeup of the plants themselves. These fac­tors vary from plant to plant and from region to region. The "peak" of fall color occurs from the north to the south and the best fall color occurs during the shortening days of autumn when days are bright, sunny and cool, when nights are cool but not below freezing. Insect and disease problems can reduce the brilliance of the color. When summers are hot and dry, coloration can also be dulled. Trees that are stressed for one reason or another begin fall color earlier than normal, sometimes even in mid-August. You can see pictures from around the country on the internet during the fall coloration period. Go to the Weather Channel or just Google fall color 2010.

Reprinted by permission from Country Lanes Magazine and Country Lanes II, October 2009 issues, and Dave Mooter .

Copyright 2010





          Now is the time to buy your Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus, Dutch iris, Hyacinth, Squill, and Allium while the selection is good. When buying Tulip, Daffodil, and other spring blooming bulbs, many have early Spring, middle Spring, and late Spring varieties.  If you want flowers for the whole Spring season, buy some that bloom at different times. If you want a big splash of color all at once, get varieties that bloom at the same time. Very early spring for Crocus, common Snowdrops, and Siberian squill in Lincoln and Central Nebraska is the end of March and the first part of April .  Early spring for Grape Hyacinth, Tulips and Daffodils is the month of April . Mid-Spring is late April and early May, with late Spring usually the middle to the end May. Allium and Dutch hybrid iris bloom in very late Spring which is usually in June .

          Do not plant Tulips, Daffodils, Crocus, and other spring blooming bulbs now. It is too early to plant many of these bulbs as the soil is too warm.  Tulips, daffodils, and some other Spring blooming bulbs do best when planted at least after the first week of October. It is preferable to have the soil warm so the roots grow this fall. Planted now they will break dormancy and then may be injured when the ground freezes. If we have warm weather, wait until the soil temperature is 60 degrees F. or below so the bulb does not break dormancy. Tulips can even be planted up until the time the ground freezes hard. I have planted some around Christmas time when we had a mild fall and the ground did not freeze until after New Year’s Day. Also plant when the soil is fairly dry. Wet soil packs tightly around the bulb and retards growth.

          If you buy your bulbs now, store them in a cool, dry location until time to plant.  Plant tulips and daffodils about 6 to 8 inches deep, and crocus about 3 to 4 inches deep with about a tablespoon of “Bone Meal” or “Super-phosphate” added in the bottom of each hole.  As soon as you have finished your planting give the ground a thorough soaking.

          For more information read “NebGuide #1742 Spring Flowering Bulbs”. This is available from your local County Extension office or go to “” In the search box in the upper left corner of the website, type in the publication, the name of the publication, or the name of the plant, disease, insect, tree, or shrub you want information about. You can print this from your computer for your files or for reference.

          Enjoy your Spring flowers by planting this Fall!!!

Copyright 2010