GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Even though the calendar reads “August,” viewers have been spotting patches of “fall-like color” across West Michigan.

The daylight is beginning to get shorter for our area and the temperatures are slightly cooler, but it is far too early for most trees to be undergoing a seasonal color change. So what is happening?


While some species of plants change color earlier than others, a transition to a fall-like appearance is usually a sign of stress on a tree or bush. Just like humans can “go gray” after stressful situations, trees can also change color after a particularly difficult time.

Stressed plants will do everything they can to keep their core healthy. This can mean cutting off food to branches, and allowing the leaves to undergo an early transition to death. The most common causes of stress are dryness, disease or bug infestation.

According to Bert Cregg, a horticulture expert at Michigan State University, some plants do transition to fall colors earlier than others, but mid-August is too early.

According to work by Cregg, burning bushes can turn color and drop leaves early when infested with spider mites. Drought can also stress trees and plants heavily causing an early leaf change and drop.

Over the last 30 days there have been several areas in West Michigan that are trending drier, and likely starting to show spotty tree-change.

The lakeshore is particularly susceptible to early color change this year due to the dry stripe that runs down the shoreline. Some cities and towns have seen about half of their usual rainfall in the last 30 days.


While several weather factors impact exactly when leaves change and how vibrant they become when they do, the seasonal leaf change is mostly a function of daylight loss.

As our days get shorter and the temperatures get cooler, the leaves begin to undergo their passage to fall. This makes planning for a fall color tour across our state a bit easier.

Generally, leaf change usually begins at higher elevations and latitudes in late September for our state. Most of the Lower Peninsula waits until October to begin the change. Many counties wait until early November to fully hit peak.