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updated: 10/14/2012 7:57 AM

Catching autumn's colors: A fall FAQ

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  • A cyclist relaxes near the Fox River on a gorgeous fall day in South End Park in West Dundee, beneath the brilliant red and yellow maple leaves.

       A cyclist relaxes near the Fox River on a gorgeous fall day in South End Park in West Dundee, beneath the brilliant red and yellow maple leaves.
    Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

  • A Witch Hazel leaf hanging in the shadows glows as it is backlighted by the morning sun in Arlington Heights.

       A Witch Hazel leaf hanging in the shadows glows as it is backlighted by the morning sun in Arlington Heights.
    Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Trees and bushes are changing into their fall colors in Volo Bog State Natural Area.

       Trees and bushes are changing into their fall colors in Volo Bog State Natural Area.
    Gilbert R. Boucher II | Staff Photographer

  • Maple leafs show their color at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. Peak color is expected to be this week.

       Maple leafs show their color at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. Peak color is expected to be this week.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

 
By Laura Stewart
lstewart@dailyherald.com

"Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower."

-- author Albert Camus

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Autumn's annual art exhibit -- the changing color of the leaves -- is upon us now. The rich red, yellow, purple and golden trees around us become a living patchwork quilt that can take one's breath away.

But the artwork is only temporary. The leaves must fall as the trees prepare themselves for winter.

We asked local experts about the fall foliage viewing window -- when leaf colors are at their peak -- and how to set the stage now for next year's autumn show.

When will leaf colors peak?

Bright yellow ash tree leaves hit the ground with recent wind and rain, but the show's far from over, said Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe.

This week, the stars will be the rich red leaves of the maple trees and the russett and yellow of oaks.

"The maples are colored up and are just incredible," Tankersley said. "And we have high hopes for the oaks. Some of them should now be starting to turn color."

"We are getting a lot of reds this fall, which tells me that the sugars are being stored in the leaves," Doris Taylor, plant information specialist at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle. said.

Did the drought affect fall colors?

Perhaps surprisingly, the annual leaf show doesn't seem to have been affected locally, especially compared to more drought-stricken areas of the state where many trees dropped leaves early, experts said.

In the suburbs, the lack of moisture in the ground still is a problem for trees, Tankersley said.

"We need good soil moisture for fall colors to be at their peak, and we are a bit below average as far as rainfall," he said.

Give trees in your yard "a deep soaking" this week to enhance and prolong the fall display -- and to help them prepare for the long winter, Tankersley said.

"The water helps them get through the winter until the ground freezes and gives them a better start for next year."

What can I plant for fall color next year?

"Maples and viburnum have exceptional fall colors, and they grow well in the Chicago area," Tankersley said. "If you go to a nursery now, you can see those plants in full color."

It's not too late to plant, Tankersley said, but no one should be planting anything after November. And make sure to water new plants well.

"Now is a perfect time for planting woody plants, trees and shrubs, as they still have time for root systems to get established in the soil" before the ground freezes, he explained.

What's the best way to take in fall colors?

"Just head outside. Bring your binoculars, go for a walk, and take a look at the leaves," Taylor said.

Tankersley added, "The colors are so spectacular. It's amazing to see the autumn leaves. It really refreshes the spirit."

Colors: It's not too late to plant, expert says

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