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Early Signs of Tree Stress:
When Fall Colors Arrive Too Soon

Many people plant trees for the stunning colors they display in the fall, especially in places where autumn weather is consistent. However, the fall weather in Indiana has been known to be anything but “normal.” It can be unpredictable from year to year. Depending on various things like high temperatures and drought, we might see fall colors in some tree types earlier or they might not be as vibrant as usual.

Trees Showing Fall Colors

But when individual trees start showing their fall colors earlier than expected—maybe as early as August, September, or even October—it’s like they’re trying to tell us something. When plants are under stress, they often change color, turning yellow or red, and this can happen in any season—spring, summer, or fall. Sometimes, one tree might change color before others of the same kind in the same area. Right now is a great time to keep an eye out for these early fall colors because they can be a signal of problems you might face next year.

Here are some important things to check when you see a tree with early fall color:

  1. Check the Roots: First, see if you can spot the base of the tree’s roots. If you can’t, the tree might have been planted too deep in the ground or the soil around it may have changed, which can stress the tree.
  2. Look for Damage: Examine the trunk, the base of the tree, and the roots for any signs of harm. Sometimes, there could be damage inside the tree that we can’t see, which is causing it stress.
  3. Check for Girdling Roots: See if there are roots wrapping around the base of the tree. These can squeeze the tree and make it hard for water and nutrients to move through it.
  4. Mulch Matters: Make sure there is mulch around the base of the tree. If there isn’t, the tree might be stressed from not getting enough water, or it might be struggling against weeds and grass. But be careful not to pile the mulch against the tree trunk.
  5. Soil Check: Look at the soil. If it seems very hard or compacted, it could be because of recent construction work around the tree. This can affect how much water, food, and air the tree’s roots can get, which can make the tree sick.


Knowing what kind of tree you have is important, but these days, it’s also crucial to know the specific type you’re planting. This helps you understand what to expect when fall comes. By paying attention to these things, you can not only enjoy the beauty of fall but also make sure your trees stay healthy for a long time.



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