LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Residents in Kentucky and Southern Indiana may have noticed trees losing leaves earlier than usual. Though falling leaves tend to mark the start of autumn, this change does not mean fall came early.
Instead, some trees are likely stressed by dry conditions. The stress can cause trees to turn colors prematurely, leading to leaves falling in late August instead of late September or early October.
According to the University of Kentucky Forest Health Research and Education Center, hot weather and lack of rain can have lingering effects on plants.
Trees that are already stressed are prone to showing even more symptoms. Species like tulip poplars are more likely to show those effects, including changing colors, even if they have recently received rainfall.
Hot, dry summers not only stress trees, but can cause less vivid fall colors like in 2019. Lots of rain does not specifically mean the leaves will be more colorful, though. Experts at Bernheim Forest said the changing colors depend more on temperature and day length.
Outside of the effects of dry weather, some insects like the locust leafminer or diseases like bacterial leaf scorch show up late summer, possibly causing brown leaves or early fall leaf coloring on specific tree species.