Southport, N.Y. (WETM)- You may have noticed leaves changing early this year. It is the end of August and some trees are already beginning to change colors, but why is it happening?

Abnormally dry conditions and drought conditions during the growing season can make leaf colors change earlier. Trees can even skip the colors with the leaves just turning brown and dropping. We have been experiencing abnormally dry weather or drought conditions here in the Twin Tiers.

“Leaves change color as their green pigment, chlorophyll, breaks down and secondary pigments shine through. Some leaves produce new pigments in the fall as well that mask chlorophyll. The range of secondary pigments gives us the wonderful variety in colors. Trees lose lots of water through their leaves, in the winter the benefit of having leaves to photosynthesize is outweighed by the water loss. This summer was very dry and our trees are suffering from water stress, starting to drop leaves early is their response to drought. The Southern Tier experiences peak color in the second half of October. Trees in areas closer the Finger Lakes change later than those farther away, since the lakes keep temperatures warmer in fall and winter.”

Marissa Nolan, Horticulture Educator, CCE Schuyler

Leaves change seasonally due to loss of daylight as days get shorter and temperatures get cooler. But a tree changing earlier than it should is a sign of a tree being under stress. The stress could be due to either too much moisture or a moisture deficit, disease or an insect infestation, root damage, or more.