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When will Eastern Iowa hit peak fall color?

Factors like moisture, temperature, cloud cover impact timing

While this year’s unsteady weather raises question about just when fall colors will arrive — and how vibrant they’ll be — the changing of the leaves last fall arrived pretty much on time. These trees display fall colors Oct. 11, 2018, in Iowa City. (The Gazette)
While this year’s unsteady weather raises question about just when fall colors will arrive — and how vibrant they’ll be — the changing of the leaves last fall arrived pretty much on time. These trees display fall colors Oct. 11, 2018, in Iowa City. (The Gazette)
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Iowa’s fall color is arriving slowly but surely.

Mark Vitosh, district forester with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said so far the turning of Eastern Iowa’s leaves seems to be slightly delayed, but yellow leaves are beginning to emerge on some trees.

“I was in Northeast Iowa last week near Dubuque, and things like sumac and some of the walnuts were just starting to turn. There was very little color,” he said Monday. “It seems it may be a tad behind, from my observations. By early October I’m not used to seeing this much green.”

Typically, fall color peaks in northeast Iowa about Oct. 10, with progressively later peaks farther south. The Iowa DNR reports the color usually is at its peak the last week of September to the second week of October in the northern third of the state; in the first through third weeks of October in the central third; and in the second through fourth weeks in the southern third.

This year, “It could be the second or third week of October before things take off and change in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas,” Vitosh said.

The Iowa DNR publishes a weekly fall color update online at iowadnr.gov/Conservation/Forestry/Fall-Color. A fall color hotline was discontinued this year, but people can sign up on the website for email updates.

Vitosh said leaves may change sooner in towns than in rural areas.

“Especially in urban areas, a lot of the color I’m seeing right now is in parking lots or by apartment buildings. Those are stressful situations, a little bit tougher environments for trees, with not as much root zone,” he said. “When there’s more stress on roots, they want to shut down earlier to survive.”

Trees that spent a lot of time in submerged flood plains this year may also show signs of stress and change their leaves sooner than normal, he added.

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“With all the moisture we’ve been seeing, it can be too much water stress,” he said. “Last week there were places along the Mississippi that were still under water, with stands of silver maple still under water.”

Additionally, excessive summer rain in some parts of northeast and central Iowa have caused leaf diseases on many trees, which will subdue some color.

Other parts of the state didn’t see enough rain, which can lead to a less-vibrant fall show than normal, Vitosh said.

“It’s been a summer of extremes,” he said. “I know just a couple of weeks ago, there were quite a few areas in the east and south that were pressing close to drought. That can wash the colors out and make them kind of bland. Some leaves just kind of fade.”

Clear skies during the day and cool nights lead to the best colors.

“If we go a week with a lot of overcast days, that doesn’t promote color change very well,” he said. “The weather we’re going to have the next three weeks is gong to have a pretty big impact on how the color’s going to be.”

Rob Wagner, recreation supervisor with the Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation Department, is crossing his fingers for good fall color about Oct. 10 in northeast Iowa and southwest Wisconsin.

That’s when the city hosts is annual Fall Leaf Tour for adults ages 50 and up. The tour includes a bus ride through the Mississippi Valley to visit apple orchards near Gays Mills, Wis., along with a lunch at Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown.

“You’re not guaranteed to see the color; it’s kind of up in the air every year,” he said.

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But the potential promise of scenic red, orange and yellow leaves — plus the apples, shopping and lunch — have made the program a popular one for more than 30 years, he said.

“It’s just a really relaxing day. You get to just sit back and enjoy and actually see the colors,” he said.

As long as the weather cooperates.

If You Go

• What: Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation annual Fall Leaf Tour

• When: 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10

• Where: The bus departs from parking lot of Walmart, 5491 Highway 151, Marion, and stops at apple orchards near Gays Mills, Wis., along with a late lunch at Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown.

• Who: Adults ages 50 and up

• Cost: $62.50 for residents, $70.50 non-residents; includes lunch and transportation

• Register: Call (319) 286-5566 or visit crrec.org and register for program #301103-01.

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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