After a wet and sweltering summer, most are breathing a sigh of relief as temperatures cool down and trees begin to change color — a sure sign that fall has arrived. The Missouri Department of Conservation encourages people to enjoy fall foliage through camping, driving tours, hiking or even canoeing or floating. To help, MDC offers weekly online fall color updates from agency foresters all over the state at mdc.mo.gov/fallcolor.
“Our fall color reports not only show users where trees are beginning to turn, but even suggests the best places to see changing leaves,” said Russell Hinnah, MDC Forestry Field Programs supervisor.
Predicting fall color can be difficult, especially with the severe weather Missouri has experienced this past spring and summer.
“Weather patterns this year have been unusual,” Hinnah explained. “We’ve had lots of rain and flooding in spring and early summer, followed by some parts of the state experiencing a dry spell combined with warmer temperatures. That combination may have stressed some trees, resulting in them dropping leaves early.”
Hinnah said chilly nights are key to leaves changing color.
“Sugars produced by photosynthesis are trapped inside leaves by the chilly autumn nights,” he said. “Those sugars are the building blocks for the rich red, yellow, orange, and purple pigments. Cool nights cause the breakdown of green pigments, allowing the fall colors to show through.”
Missouri trees first begin changing color in the northern part of the state, then move southward across the state. Sassafras, sumac, and Virginia creeper are some of the earliest to change in mid-September. The peak of fall color is usually this time of year.
“Trees such as maples, ashes, oaks and hickories are at the peak of their fall display by the middle of October,” Hinnah said. “Normally by the end of the month, colors are fading and leaves are falling.”
Missouri’s fall color can be viewed and enjoyed from almost anywhere. For spectacular vistas, choose routes along rivers with views of forested bluffs, and along ridges with sweeping scenes of forested landscapes.
“We encourage the public to visit MDC’s conservation areas or Missouri state parks to enjoy a scenic drive,” Hinnah said.
Fall color isn’t limited to trees. Prairies and roadsides can display beautiful shades of gold, purple, olive, and auburn with autumn wildflowers, shrubs and grasses. In cities and towns, visitors can enjoy places with mature trees, such as older neighborhoods, parks and even cemeteries.
Fall at Lake of the Ozarks
While colorful fall foliage can be enjoyed across the state, one area that actively promotes its natural beauty at the onset of fall is the Lake of the Ozarks.
In 2018, readers of USA Today recognized the lake area for its autumn colors. The Lake of the Ozarks was voted the second-best place in the country for viewing fall foliage.
“Those of us who live at the Lake of the Ozarks enjoy the beauty of the seasons on a daily basis, but for visitors, fall can be a very special experience,” said Jim Divincen, administrator for the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association. “Mother Nature puts on quite the show, and many vacationers visit every October to enjoy it.”
One reason the Lake of the Ozarks is known for its fall colors is that the landscape surrounding the lake gives visitors a chance to see it — rolling hills, scenic overlooks and expansive views of the water give visitors unique glimpses of the thick hardwood forests that abound in the lake area.
Ann Koenig, MDC forester, predicts the fall color will be “outstanding” at the lake this year.
“It’s been a relatively mild year with not too many hot days, and we’ve had steady rain throughout the state. It’s going to be a good growing season for trees, and that will lead to a lot of bright color.”
The lake area’s two state parks feature numerous walking and hiking trails. Lake of the Ozarks State Park, Missouri’s largest and most visited state park, boasts 14 different trails, while Ha Ha Tonka State Park, recently named the most beautiful place in Missouri by Conde Nast Traveler, has 12 unique trails. Both parks offer a variety of trails that range in ease and difficulty, from paved walking trails to rugged cross-country treks.
Visitors can also view fall colors from the water. The area features several local marinas where visitors can rent a boat for a day. The area is also home to three different 150-plus passenger yachts, which offer day cruises.
The lake is also home to Fort Leonard Wood’s Lake of the Ozarks Recreation Area. Located at 789 Olney Circle in Linn Creek, Missouri, LORA offers camping, boating, swimming, water skiing, fishing and other outdoor activities. Operated by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, the site welcomes active-duty service members, Retirees, members of the National Guard, Reserve, Department of Defense employees with ID cards, family members and Fort Leonard Wood contract employees. For more information about LORA, call 573.346.5640 or visit https://https://leonardwood.armymwr.com/programs/lake-ozarks-recreation-area-lora.
The Conservation Department provides its annual fall color update at mdc.mo.gov/fallcolor. The weekly reports include what kinds of trees are turning and suggestions on the best places to view them. The updates run through November.
(Editor’s note: Information in this story provided by the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau and FMWR.)
Fall is a great time to plant trees
Missouri Department of Conservation
Fall brings milder temperatures, frequent rainfall and reduced daylight hours, conditions that make it a great time to plant new trees, according to the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Successful tree planting, however, does not just depend on the weather. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
— Location: Before digging any holes, examine the surroundings around where a tree will be planted. Are there power lines overhead? Is there enough space for a tree? How much sunlight does the site receive? Remember to call the Missouri One Call System at 811 or 800.344.7483 at least two working days before digging to make sure of the locations of any underground utilities.
— Species selection: Select tree species appropriate for the site. Before purchasing any trees, consider the goals for the space and important aspects, such as tree form, mature tree size, fruit production, and wildlife benefits. Plant native species to help reduce issues with pests, soils, and climate. Check out MDC’s “Right Tree in the Right Place” guide for more tips at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZAh.
— Planting Depth: Start a new tree off right by planting it properly. Trees that are planted too deep or too shallow will struggle and may even die. Plant trees so that the tops of the major roots are flush with or slightly above the natural level of the soil. The root flare should be visible once the tree is in the ground. See MDC’S “How to Plant a Tree” guide for more information at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZA7.
— Water: Consistent watering is one of the most important steps in helping new trees establish healthy roots. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that trees receive 10 gallons of water per inch diameter of the trunk two to three times per month, either through rainfall or by watering the tree. This is especially important during dry, hot periods in late summer and early fall. Don’t forget to water mature trees, too.
— Mulch: Correctly mulching around trees can help retain soil moisture, control weeds, and provide a barrier from lawnmowers. Spread shredded bark or wood-chip mulch no more than three inches deep in a doughnut shape around the tree, leaving a gap near the trunk. Burying the root flare and trunk of the tree under mulch is harmful, can suffocate roots, and cause rot. Learn more about mulching from MDC at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z5j.
— Fertilizer: Most of the time, fertilizing trees is unnecessary. Consider having the soil tested for nutrients and pH before adding fertilizer or soil amendments. Soil tests are affordable and easy to do. The University of Missouri Soil and Plant Testing Lab provides soil testing services. Visit soilplantlab.missouri.edu/soil/soilsamples.aspx for more information.
Images used with permission.