Dry summer brings early fall colors in Buffalo Grove
Kevin Marhenke of Green Oaks enjoys a ride through Lake County's Independence Grove on Aug. 24. The trees were already showing an early change to fall colors. | Darrell Harmon~for Sun-Times Media
BUFFALO GROVE — An increasing number of trees around Buffalo Grove and the surrounding northwest suburbs are showing their true colors early — a month early, to be exact.
“A lot of younger trees of all species are already starting to do what they normally do in October — they’re starting to die back,” said David Cassin, assistant superintendent of natural resources for the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
Others are already browning and losing their crown leaves.
“This is at least one month ahead of time,” Cassin said.
The lingering drought that started last December and continued through the summer is to blame for the sometimes colorful shut down.
“It’s a natural defense to drought, rather than try to struggle for water,” he explained.
Greg Boysen, Buffalo Grove’s public works director, said the drought appears to be over, as precipitation in the early autumn is tracking closer to normal.
While the heat and lack of rain were not severe enough to cause a noticeable spike in this year’s number of tree deaths, Boysen said the Emerald Ash Borer beetle has continued to feast on local ash trees.
“On average, we lose 100 trees a year for one odd reason or another,” said Boysen, who went on to explain that the drought had not contributed much to 2012’s figures.
This is not the first time Joe DeVito, who has worked for Mundelein’s public works department for almost 33 years, has seen firsthand the effects of a drought on village trees.
“In 1988 we had a real hot summer — over 47 days over 90 degrees. I remember then the trees turning to early fall coloration,” Mundelein’s deputy director of public works said.
While odd to see, Cassin added that the autumn look in August is not serious.
“It shouldn’t cause mortality to trees,” he said.
Nikki Hendrickson, a certified arborist with Hendrickson Tree Care Corp. in Lake County, reported that she has a client in Libertyville whose maple trees already are changing to orange and red. While nothing can stop the process now, homeowners can take action to avoid further distress.
“We tell our clients that every other day they should run a hose to the base of the tree and let it saturate into the soil,” Hendrickson said. “Grass and trees fight for the same moisture. They’re not living in your yard in harmony.”
The general rule is a 15- to 20-minute soak every other day for trees 2 inches to 4 inches in diameter, increasing to an hour for an older tree that is at least 2 feet wide.
Ken Loar, forestry and grounds crew leader for Vernon Hills, also recommends mulching around the base of trees.
“Watering and properly mulching the soil around the tree holds in moisture more effectively. It’s very beneficial for trees,” Loar said.
Local naturalists and public works crews intend to keep a close eye on their town’s trees to monitor for lasting effects of the drought.
“Probably next spring will be when we really notice it, when the trees don’t bud out in certain sections,” DeVito said.
Loar believes the true effect won’t be felt for longer than that.
“Unfortunately, sometimes the effects of drought won’t be seen until the following year — the second year after the drought,” he said.
Hendrickson anticipates smaller spring leaves and an increase in die back, which can lead to earlier fall coloring next year, too.
“It’s like chasing your tail,” she said.