Dry summer brings early fall colors, leaf drop in Deerfield
Jay Zahn, Deerfield Park District's director of park services, shows off a group of Hawthorn Trees at Woodland Park. Zahn explained Friday that the summer drought continues to negatively impact local trees this fall. | Joe Cyganowski~ For Sun Times Media
Updated: September 14, 2012 7:22AM
DEERFIELD — Though the dog days of summer now seem like a distant past, the heat is still taking its toll on some trees around Deerfield.
“We’re already seeing leaf drop in some species,” reported Todd Sinn of Urban Forest Management, the village’s consulting forester and arborist.
“Tress are stressed because they’re trying to conserve energy,” he explained.
David Cassin, assistant superintendent of natural resources for the Lake County Forest Preserve District, added that the annual tree cycle is about a month ahead of schedule. Leaves are turning colors early, others are browning and some are losing their crown leaves.
“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,” he said.
The drought’s lingering impact has been on display at Lake County’s Independence Grove in Libertyville for weeks.
Sue Reinish, who owns the Deerfield-based landscaping company How Does Your Garden Grow?, said most local trees are still green. She is, however, concerned about the impact the unusually warm spring and hot summer has had on plant life.
“It’s a subject that both I and all the people in my industry have been talking about nonstop all summer,” she said. “Plants are really victim to weather.”
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,” Cassin said.
Trees in urban environments are particularly vulnerable in extreme heat.
Sinn added that areas with heavy foot traffic, like parks, have more compact soil which causing less water absorption. Clay soil also prevents water from fully soaking into the ground, he said.
And more water isn’t necessarily the solution.
“The recent downpours haven’t helped that much,” he said. “A nice gentle rain is more beneficial to trees.”
The general rule, Sinn explained, is a 15- to 20-minute soak every other day for trees two- to four-inches in diameter. The water need increases to an hour for an older tree that is at least two-feet wide.
An inch of water a week should suffice, Sinn said.
The Deerfield Park District altered its routine grounds keeping work this summer to ensure trees were hydrated, said Jay Zahn, the district’s director of park services.
Park crews did less lawn mowing and more watering, and kept low-release watering bags at the bases of trees to help them stay moist, he said.
Other than that, “I don’t know that there’s much we can do,” Zahn said.
Despite the early leaf drop this fall, the lasting impact of a drought may be not seen until next spring.
“Sometimes when you have a season like that, you see certain trees die in the next year,” Reinish said.
Zahn believes the true effect won’t be felt for longer than that.
“This could last for several years, depending on severity of drought,” added Zahn.
-- Staff writer Linda Blaser contributed to this report.