Autumn has arrived almost unnoticed, but it seems that every day the leaves turn a little more and gradually begin to assume their gorgeous autumn hues. A few days ago on a country drive I passed a red maple that was nearly at peak color, and lots more maples that were showing tinges or yellow or red. The goldenrod is in full fig, purple asters beautify the roadsides, and early morning air is chill and brisk, invigorating with that always touch of wood smoke.

Everyone knows that leaves turn color, but they actually don’t. Those maple and oak, beech and cottonwood, ash and hickory have the colors they’ll eventually turn with them all summer. But come fall, depending on weather and temperature, the veins that feed each leaf from its woody stalk pinch shut. When they do, no more nutrient and water can reach the green chlorophyll that colors each leaf. The chlorophyll breaks down and disappears, allowing the hidden pigments below to appear. Those pigments are carotene (guess what color?), xanthophylls, and anthocyanins of various kinds. Sometimes one color will dominate a leaf or tree species, sometimes two will intermingle producing leaves that are purple, red and gold, or whatever. Isn’t nature marvelous?

But marvelous or not, this lovely fall is fleeting and all too soon a wind and rains will send leaves spinning in heaps to the ground, and winter will be with us for the next five or six months. That’s in the future though, and there are still weeks to savor an ever growing pageant of riotous color. Some will enjoy autumn’s palate right here, while others will want to make little day trips or overnight jaunts to where the color is best.

Fall color invariably starts right at Lake Erie and moves slowly south with the Ohio River reaching peak last. If you’d like to know where the best color is to be found over the next weeks, and where there are autumn festivals and events to celebrate the coming of fall, just call 1-800-BUCKEYE. They’ll have weekly updates on where the best color is waiting.

Fall is also a prime time to plant trees and shrubs, and if you’re looking for some extra eye catchers come spring, the next weeks are the time to plant them. One of the reasons is that as soon as leaves drop off those new trees and shrubs they’ll enter a dormancy period, which lasts from leaf-drop to spring bud-break. For newly planted trees, this dormancy stage is ideal, because it gives them a chance to become more established before warm weather and spring rains trigger renewed top growth. “Warm soil combined with autumn’s cooler air temperatures create less stress on the new tree,” said Bill Schultz, a forester with the State of Ohio. “But the greatest reward for planting in the fall occurs in the spring.

As soon as temperatures warm up and ground thaw occurs, autumn planted trees are able to reap the benefits of all that Mother Nature has to give.” As a rule of thumb, trees can be planted until ground freeze, which usually occurs in early January. However, because of Ohio’s unpredictable weather, Schultz recommends getting your tree in the ground before the end of October. Balled plants are better than bare rooted ones, and don’t forget to water it occasionally until the ground freezes unless Mother Nature does it for you. Then enjoy your new plants for long years to come.

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