Trees are getting ready for winter as autumn colors begin

MADISON — September is technically still summer on the astronomical calendar, but the days are getting shorter and cooler. Wisconsin has more than 17 million acres of forested lands and changes in color mean the trees are starting to get ready for winter. Peak fall color varies each year, and 2017 is one of the wettest on record, which could have an impact on color this year.

Early fall color is already showing up in Wisconsin's Northwoods.
Early fall color is already showing up in Wisconsin’s Northwoods.
Photo Credit: DNR

“Fall color viewing helps usher in the change of seasons for Wisconsin residents and visitors every year,” said Colleen Matula, forest silviculturist/ecologist with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry. “It is time for our forests – both rural and urban – to show off their colors.”

The first hints of color typically appear in isolated, lower-lying areas by mid-September. Peak fall color usually occurs in far northern Wisconsin during the last week of September and first week of October. Central Wisconsin peak color generally occurs during mid-October and in southern Wisconsin during the latter half of October.

Wisconsin’s forests, parks and natural areas are great for fall color viewing. Go to and search “Explore Outdoors” to find a place near you. For the most up-to-date information and an estimated date of peak colors, go to the Fall Color Report on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism Travel Wisconsin website and signup for email updates.

Nature’s autumn leaf colors are influenced by three factors: leaf pigments, length of night and weather. The vibrancy of the season depends on the variable weather conditions, like temperature and moisture.

“Shorter days mean the sunlight is less intense, and leaves begin to adjust by producing less chlorophyll, revealing the yellow and orange pigments of the leaves,” Matula said. “Temperature and moisture also affect the color display.”

According to Todd Lanigan, DNR forest health specialist, hardwood trees already showing color in lowland areas are stressed from being in water too long due to the wettest year on record for Wisconsin.

The leaf pigments determine the full range of the color palette. Chlorophyll gives leaves the basic green color and is necessary for photosynthesis. Carotenoids, which produce yellow, orange and brown colors, are always present so trees like aspen and birch have more predictable colors each year. Anthocyanin, which produces red and purple tints, varies with the conditions and makes each autumn unique for other species. Visit this page for more information about fall colors:

Whatever the color, or wherever you are in the state, autumn is a great time to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of Wisconsin’s trees as they usher in the next season.