As autumn sets in, Maryland trees show their true colors: Deep reds, fiery oranges, golden yellows. What a show it is. When and where to find fall foliage at its best, though, isn’t as simple as looking up a movie time.
When leaves change color depends on many factors, including temperature, light and water supply. In Maryland, the westernmost and highest elevated jurisdiction, Garrett County, typically kicks things off. This year Garrett’s first fall color was observed the first week of September, according to Melissa Nash, a forester at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
Garrett may have a “rolling peak” instead of a county-wide peak this year, Nash said. A rolling peak may require those hunting fall foliage to travel around the county to find peak foliage since some areas may have more muted colors due to the difference in moisture.
As of Thursday, the department’s weekly fall foliage report showed all of the state at least at the midpoint for foliage, with Carroll, Frederick and the panhandle nearing peak.
According to Explore Fall, a website that models fall foliage using temperature, precipitation and daylight data, as of Thursday, over half the state has moderate color, and western and parts of central Maryland had peak or high color conditions.
While there is fall color in Garrett, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources classified western Maryland as near peak this week since oak trees are still in the early part of the color change, Forest Manager Sean Nolan noted in the report, with still a few days to go for peak.
This tracker will update every Monday and Thursday with the current status of fall foliage and forecast for the next week. The maps are based on data from Explore Fall.
Current fall foliage status as of Oct. 26
7-day forecasted fall foliage
How the timing of fall color has changed
When leaves turn is shaped by dropping temperatures and lessening sunlight. And when dryer conditions occur, like this year, leaves can also change or drop earlier.
Even within the ninth smallest state, the timing can vary by weeks. Western Maryland typically kicks off fall foliage with the average peak in Mountain Lake Park in Garrett County happening in mid-October. Leaf-peepers farther south, like in Baltimore, on average see peak foliage colors in late October.
Why — and what — leaves change
During the summer, the green chlorophyll in leaves makes food for trees. But in fall, trees begin to go dormant and reveal their leaves’ underlying colors . If conditions are dry, the transition between green and red, oranges and yellows may result in more muted colors.
The best conditions for foliage, according to Nash, the state forester, are a mixture of cool nights with warm to moderate days, with some rainy days, since the trees still need some water supply.
Below are the colors to look for in four of the most prevalent tree species in Maryland: Red maple, sweetgum, American beech and, the Maryland state tree, white oak.
Map sources: Explore Fall, U.S. Census Bureau