Dry summer brings early fall colors, leaf drop in Lincolnshire
A family enjoys a boat 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
Updated: November 12, 2012 1:29AM
LINCOLNSHIRE — An increasing number of trees around Lincolnshire and throughout the 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.
Jennifer Hughes, Lincolnshire’s public works director, said that while the drought has been an annoyance, it has not caused a spike in the village’s tree deaths.
The most significant tree menace in 2012, she added, is the same plague that has assaulted Chicago area trees for the past five years: the Emerald Ash Borer beetle, which eats ash trees.
“We’re going to be planting more trees this fall,” Hughes said. “We’ve got a long-range plan for tree replacement, in anticipation of ash death.”
While younger trees with weak root systems did struggle this summer, Hughes said Lincolnshire’s elder arbor had little trouble. The village tried to help trees overcome the dry and hot summer by placing watering bags — containers filled with water that slowly release their contents — at the base of trees in one week cycles.
But this is not the first drought to strike Lake County.
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 it’s odd to see, Cassin said the autumn look across Lake County 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, has a Libertyville client 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.
DeVito will keep a close eye on Mundelein’s village 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,” he 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, in some cases, which will lead to earlier fall coloring next year, too.
“It’s like chasing your tail,” she said.