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Leaves Already Changing Color A Sign Of Drought, Not Early Fall

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CBS 2 producer Carol Thompson noticed the burning bush in her yard was already changing colors in mid-August, well before the start of fall. Experts say it's a sign of drought damage, not an early fall. (Credit: Carol Thompson, CBS 2)

CBS 2 producer Carol Thompson noticed the burning bush in her yard was already changing colors in mid-August, well before the start of fall. Experts say it’s a sign of drought damage, not an early fall. (Credit: Carol Thompson, CBS 2)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Have you seen them yet? Some trees and shrubs in the Chicago area have been changing colors, a month before the official start of autumn.

CBS 2 producer Carol Thompson took a photo of a burning bush at her house that’s already starting to turn red.

We got to wondering if this is an early sign of fall, or a sign of trouble.

CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez went to find out.

Leaves changing color and falling off trees are usually signs of fall.

“You look at the leaves and it seems like they’re … turning brown one by one, but this is early for them to do that,” said one woman at Grant Park on Tuesday.

But it’s no change of season. The falling leaves, and leaves changing color this early in the year, are signs of stress from the drought.

“In my 30 years doing this, I’ve never seen overall symptoms of drought like this,” said Kris Bachtell, director of collections and grounds at the Morton Arboretum.

Bachtell said trees suffering from drought damage sometimes show signs of fall.

“If it didn’t lose its leaves, it can have very intense, very bright, very brief fall colors,” he said.

But sometimes the problem is obvious.

“These drought symptoms are fairly extreme, we’re actually seeing some scorch,” Bachtell said.

You’ll often see yellow or gray colors, wilting, and – worst of all – leaves hitting the ground due to drought damage. Some trees – especially younger recently planted trees – might never recover.

Insects spot their vulnerability, and move right in.

“We’re going to see, probably, the effects of this drought for two to three years,” Bachtell said.

To help the trees in your yard, Bachtell advised keeping them moist, by giving them at least an inch of water each watering. Three to four inches worth of mulch, which helps keep the roots cool and moist, also is a huge help.

Some areas have had rain lately, and the temperatures aren’t as bad as they were, but experts said you should keep watering. You’ll know by Spring how your trees and plants fare. Once they bloom, you’ll know you’re out of the woods.

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