Color change comes early for area maple trees

If you look to the changing colors of area foliage as a sign of autumn, you may have been confused when area maples began changing colors back in July.

The reds of the sugar maple bleed through the veins of the leaves on this tree near the Wadena Cemetery in August. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

The reds of the sugar maple bleed through the veins of the leaves on this tree near the Wadena Cemetery in August. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Fast forward to the first week of September and a significant amount of maple trees in central Minnesota are now showing off their finest fall colors. But why did it start so early, many area residents are wondering?

Area forester with the Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District Anne Oldakowski said it’s a question that she’s had come her way quite a bit throughout August.

“We’ve done a couple site visits and sent off samples to the Minnesota DNR forest health specialist,” Oldakowski said. But the results were not pointing to any smoking gun in particular.

“We looked at the trees for disease issues, but did not see that,” Oldakowski said. “Bugs didn’t appear to be the issue either.”

One conclusion that others seem to concur with is the severely cold winter that blasted the area last winter. And the color changes are not isolated to Wadena, Oldakowski found. Other parts of Wadena, Otter Tail and Todd counties have shown the same issues with young maple trees.

So why target maple trees?

Old man winter puts a hurting on maple trees more than others because of the thin bark of the maple tree, according to Val Cervenka, forest health program coordinator with the Minnesota DNR.

“Maples react to stress very easily,” Cervenka said. She said boulevard trees are even more susceptible, which is evident with the many maple trees planted near the Wadena cemetery shortly after the tornado ripped out most trees in that area. Many of those trees are showing color change and appear to have dead branches. Cervenka said maples are also prone to root girdling, when the tree roots wrap themselves around the main roots, choking the tree of moisture and nutrients. This is a common occurrence in container plants where roots are allowed to form a ball then planted without proper preparation.

Temperature extremes are also not good for the maple, especially when the trees are planted out in the open. As the sun rises and heats up the maple tree, it expands the thin bark. When the sun sets, that bark shrinks back, often causing splits in the bark, the protective skin of the tree. 

For full article, go to: Wadena PJ

Source, image(s), credits & more: Wadena PJ | Michael Johnson