Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Adriane - It depends on where you are going to see fall colors.  Here in the Boone/Blowing Rock/Grandfather Mt area, we are having our peak this past weekend and this week.  However, recent winds have taken a lot of leaves down now, so I'd have to say we're pushing past the peak now.  The maples are coming up nicely, especially red maples, and some late turning sugar maples.  The oaks are finally starting to turn also.  But by November, this area will be mostly defoliated.  Asheville, which is lower, may still have color, and down by Chimney Rock and Gorges State Park, which also are lower down, the color should still be around, although it will be pushing it.  Up on the Parkway, which runs at high elevations, most of the leaves will be gone, but there may be nice views of forests down lower that have good color.  Hope this is helpful!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

There was a question about how the colors are doing in the Old Fort area, from 3,000' down to 2,300'.  I haven't been there recently, but from others I've heard they're not yet peaking.  I would expect that area to peak the weekend after this one.  But the higher elevations should be looking good now.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fall Colors Peaking Now!!

Fall Color Report for October 7, 2012

While this past Saturday was beautiful, and hopefully people enjoyed the fall colors in the High Country, Sunday turned cloudy, rainy and cool. Monday is supposed to be partially dreary also, but then after that, the weather reports look very promising for a sunny end to the week and cool, clear days on the weekend, all the way from the Smokies to the Virginia border. That’s good, because the colors in the Highlands/Cashiers and Boone areas are going to peak by mid-week, and those colors will persist through the weekend. So, if you’re thinking of heading up to the mountains to see the fall foliage, this coming week and weekend look to be a good bet.

The birches have really come on this past week, providing a yellow highlight to the forests and the tulip poplars are starting to yellow up alsol; however, they tend to lag behind the birches. Beeches have also started yellowing, but they soon turn to brown, as do the magnolias and chestnut sprouts. Sugar Maples continue their progression toward orange and yellow, turning first on the outside of the crown, with the colors then working their way inward with time. Interestingly, tulip poplars turn in an opposite manner, from the inside out. Why some trees turn from the inside out and others from the outside in is one of the mysteries of fall leaf color!

Red maples, red oaks, sourwoods, dogwoods, Virginia Creeper and blueberries are all giving the forests that red accent which most people agree makes for a great fall color season. If the maples and oaks do well this year, we should have an exceptional fall color season. We’ll know later this week if that will happen.

Colors have peaked at higher elevations, such as Grandfather Mountain, Mt. Mitchell and Roan Mountain, and the quality looks pretty good. Around Blowing Rock at Bass and Price Lakes, colors are also very vibrant now, and perhaps among the best along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Craggy Gardens, Mt. Pisgah, and Graveyard Fields are reported to be at their peaks, and should be excellent this week. The southern end of the Parkway though, has not yet peaked, so maybe reserve a trip there for later.

This is the week to take in the foliage at high elevations, so for scenic drives, head upwards! The Cherohala Skyway in Robbinsville is a good bet, as is the Blue Ridge Parkway, from Cherokee, past Maggie Valley, and then on to Graveyard Fields at milepost 418. Craggy Gardens is a favorite spot, as is the Linn Cove Viaduct just north of Grandfather Mountain. Doughton Park at milepost 340 should be looking good these days and is a great place for hikes as is Mt. Mitchell State Park. Also, check out the various apple cider/honey stands along the Blue Ridge Parkway. It’s time for North Carolina apples!

A really great website for fall foliage color reports can be found at the Blue Ridge Parkway Guide by Virtual Blue Ridge: They update frequently, and have archived reports from the past and they cover the entire 470 miles of the Parkway. For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page ( and my ASU page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors ( . Happy and safe driving!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Here is a post today from Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation.  It's a sunny morning at Grandfather Mountain with increased clouds expected this afternoon.  This Monty Combs image looking up toward Linville Peak shows the color really starting to pop up on Grandfather.  Looks like colors will peak there in the next week or so.  The week after in the Boone area, which is lower. 
Dear All - I seem to have been remiss in posting to the blog the last week.  Please go to this website for the latest on fall color.  I will be posting a new update on Sunday, Sep 30th, so watch for that.  My class and I took a trip to the Belew's Creek Power Station north of Winston-Salem today, and we noticed the trees changing along the way.  Seems to be a lot of tulip poplar and sycamores having leaves turn brown for some reason.  I was amazed at how the maples down by Belew's Creek, and Winston-Salem were changing, along with dogwoods and sourwoods - seems early for that part of the state.  My guess is that colors will peak the weekend after this one (around Oct 7 through to Oct 14) in the Boone area.  Take care.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Fall Color Report for Week of September 16th, 2012
This report marks our first official fall leaf color report for the 2012 Fall Color Season in the North Carolina Mountains – that is, we will be up on VISITNC.COM and will be here for the duration of this year’s fall color season.  Many of you have been writing me and wondering if the record warmth we’ve experienced this year will affect fall leaf color, and I’ve been telling everyone that since this is an unprecedented year in terms of warmth that we have nothing to base our predictions on.  What I can say is that we have not had any severe drought, which is good, and recently, the weather has shifted noticeably cooler, with warm sunny days, and all of these conditions are conducive to good fall leaf color.  So, this far ahead, I am predicting a good year for fall leaf color, assuming our weather continues to cooperate over the next few weeks.

That being said, I have noticed some unusual patterns among the trees.  Dogwood trees began turning two weeks ago, which is very early.  I’ve also noticed sumac along roadsides turning red, and sugar maples have been turning orange and yellow since late August.  Today, I spoke to the North Carolina Christmas Tree Growers, and we went up to Roan Mountain, elevation ~5,800’.  There, I saw noticeable coloration in the woods, and even all the way down to 3,000’ at Elk River in Avery County.  Most of the trees turning color were sugar maples (yellow/orange to red), mountain ash (yellowish), and chestnuts (also yellow, but browning too due to a leaf disease they get each year at this time).  Some birches were also yellowing up while black locusts were dropping their leaves due to a native insect that eats their leaves. 

 So, are these observations indicative of an early fall leaf color season?  It is possible that some species might react to the warm temperatures and drop leaves early, while others maintain their usual schedule.  If that happens, we may see a somewhat extended, but diluted fall color season.  If most trees turn color at their usual time, then we should expect a great fall color season.  We’ll know more each week, and I’ll keep you informed as to how all this works out. 

For some great drives, consider coming up Rt. 261 from Bakersville/Spruce Pine to Roan Mountain.  The Appalachian Trail crosses the road there, and you can hike in the spruce-fir forests on one side and on the balds on the other.  It’s a great place to hike, with tremendous views all around.  Other drives include the Blue Ridge Parkway to Grandfather Mountain State Park, the Linn Cove Viaduct, and points north and south.  U.S. 64 through Cashiers/Highlands is also a wonderful drive, and there are numerous places to stop and hike along the way.

Remember, colors start earliest at the higher elevations and then work their way downslope each week.  For more information, don’t forget to check my Fall Color Facebook page ( and my ASU page, where you can also read about the science of fall colors (  Happy and safe driving!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fall Color Report for Week of September 9th, 2012

This Sunday, a high pressure system from the upper Midwest moved into the North Carolina Mountains, bringing with it sunny, dry, and cooler air.  Temperatures on Sunday got as low as 46oF, which is great sleeping weather and also just what the doctor has ordered for a good fall display!  We are about four weeks away from peak color in the Boone area, and if the weather conditions stay like this over the next three weeks, we should expect a good fall color season. 

 We are fortunate not to have had any severe drought this summer, and that’s another good sign it could be a good fall color season.  However, a dry period these next few weeks may make for more intense colors, particularly the reds, according to most fall color predictors.  However, the mechanism they propose, which is that mild drought concentrates the sugars, doesn’t make much biological sense to me.  Rather, I think that a dry period means more sunny days and the more sun, the more sugars a tree can make.  When trees load up on sugars, they produce more anthocyanins, which are the pigments that give us the red colors. 

 Since last week’s report, there hasn’t been much change in the status of the trees.  It’s still very green throughout the mountains.  However, if you take a hike through the woods (and I recommend that you do!), you’ll see plenty of signs of the coming fall in the understory.  The bright red berries on the Jack-in-the-Pulpits, and the dappled red berries of the False Solomon’s Seal are sure signs that summer is ending.  Indian Cucumber Root, another understory herb, has the unusual habit of setting its dark black berries against a red splash of color on the leaves below the fruits, perhaps to aid in attracting animals to disperse the seeds.  I wonder what eats those seeds.  One published study suggested deer, small mammals, and possibly birds might remove the fruits. 

 Remember, fall colors start first at the higher elevations and next week I’ll be checking out the high elevation areas and reporting in detail on their fall color status.  Stay tuned, and have a good week!
In response to the recent comment, I don't have anything new to add yet. I will be publishing my latest predictions later today.  Not much has changed since last week, although there are signs it is just beginning to pick up.  More later!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Greetings from the Fall Color Guy for this Labor Day Holiday.  I’ve been down in Madison County, GA celebrating my son’s 24th birthday, and eating some good BBQ and grilled steaks.  The Piedmont area of Georgia is getting some of the leftovers from Hurricane Isaac in the form of some much needed rain.  Today, as I drove back to Boone, I went through several thunderstorms, and it’s raining tonight here in the mountains.  That’s good for eventual fall color development, and although it’s gotten warm again, the forecast is for significant cooling by next Monday. 

 Not much is happening with respect to fall color development, so I don’t have any major announcements this week.  You may have noticed a lot of browning in the forests: this is due to a variety of causes.  One is the black locust leaf miner, which tunnels through the leaves, causing them to die and turn brown.  Chestnuts and sycamores get leaf fungal diseases that also cause their leaves to die and turn brown at this time of year.  None of these cause the trees to die though, so no worries.

The rain is timely and if the temperatures drop next week, that should bode well for good fall color.  I did see some tulip poplars losing leaves along US 321 between Gastonia and Hickory, probably the result of some drought in that area.  But I do not see that up here in the mountains.

 Happy Labor Day, and I’ll keep you up on what is going on here in the mountains of western NC.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Welcome To Fall 2012 Fall Color Predictions

Welcome back from a long fall color “off” season.  Once again it’s time to begin reporting on the progress of fall leaf color in the mountains of western North Carolina.  This past year, as you all well know, was not only warm, but the warmest on record.  We barely had any snow accumulation and our minimum winter temperatures were relatively mild.  Luckily, we did not experience any severe drought in the mountains, nor have we had any such drought this past spring or summer.  That bodes well for a good fall color season, since severe drought causes trees to lose their leaves prematurely and to under develop their colors.  However, since we have never had such a warm year preceding a fall, we are in unchartered territory when it comes to predicting how the fall colors will be this year. 

I have always emphasized that the major factors influencing fall color quality and duration include lack of a severe summer drought (we meet that requirement this year!), cooler temperatures (especially at night) and sunny days beginning in late August and continuing through September.  We seem to be on track with respect to temperature and sun here at the end of summer – in fact, here in the mountains it seems as if we’ve gone from a hot July right into a cool September, even though we’re still in August.  If we don’t’ get a severe wind storm in early October (which can knock the leaves off the trees) we may be on track for a good fall color season – keep your fingers crossed! 

Notwithstanding all these requirements, I’m still a little up in the air about both the timing and duration of fall color this year.  Take a look at the photo below, which I took on Sunday, August 26, 2012 of the dogwoods across the road from my home.  Note that they are in an advanced state of coloration already!  And along Rivers Street on the ASU campus, and even scattered throughout Watauga County, I’m seeing sugar maples already switching over to their orange-yellow fall colors!  However, the maples change early every year, so I don’t place much emphasis on their ability to predict the timing of the rest of the trees.  A few sumacs have also changed, but again, I don’t know if that is due to some other unknown stress or if that is truly a harbinger of an early fall color season.

Will we have an early fall color season?  We do know that trees this spring leafed out maybe one or two weeks ahead of their normal time, but what we don’t know is whether that will also translate into also developing fall color one or two weeks early.  Perhaps tree leaves have a definite lifespan no matter then they leaf out, and if so, fall colors may occur sooner this year.  On the other hand, there is some evidence that trees take advantage of good weather (and rising carbon dioxide levels!) and extend their lifespans further into the fall, which may either delay or keep the timing of fall colors about the same as in previous years.  As hard as this may be for me to admit, I simply don’t know what scenario will prevail.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

Here in Watauga County, at elevations between 3,300 to 4,000’, fall colors tend to peak in mid-October (somewhere between October 12-14), occurring sooner at higher elevations and later at lower ones.  For instance in Asheville, which is about 1,000’ lower than Boone, the peak tends to occur 7 to 10 days later.

The other big unknown is how long good fall colors will persist.  The duration of fall colors depends on many factors, including the weather at the time when color quality peaks, the occurrence of severe storms as mentioned above, but perhaps also the growing conditions in the preceding summer (and winter?).  This is because these conditions may affect the amount of sugars trees have available to make anthocyanins, the red pigments that most people consider a marker for a good fall color year. 

 A few years ago, colors peaked on a Friday, and were noticeably reduced by Monday, just three days later, a record short duration!  In other years, peak coloration seems to persist for at least a week or more.  When we have cloudy, warm days, or severe drought, these reduce sugar levels, which limit a tree’s ability to synthesize anthocyanins, and we get duller reds and a shift over to more orange-yellow colors.  When that happens, most people consider those fall seasons to be of lower quality.  Seems people prefer it when we have brilliant red leaves contrasted against a deep blue sky or the yellow-orange of other leaves.  Why that it is is something for the psychologists to ponder.

As in past years, if you have photos of fall color this year that you’d like to share with everyone, post them on Facebook, or send them to me, and I’ll post them on this page (with your permission of course!).  I look forward to sending you reports each week, and they will appear on this Facebook page, my ASU fall color page (, on Twitter (fallcolorguy), and also on my fall color blog (  So, happy watching!  As we do every year, everyone here in the High Country looks forward to having you up for what we hope will be a great fall color season!  Drive safely!!