Fall: When Bedford Puts Its Best Foot Forward

By Peter Collins-Brown

A happy cyclist and maple tree in full color along Dudley Road

I don’t know of any other season that showcases the beauty of Bedford like Fall. It’s the quintessential New England town—the one you see on travel sites—the white church steeple standing out against a brilliant blue sky surrounded by an abundance of warm colors of red, orange and gold from oak, elm and maple trees. So what exactly does it take to create such a pretty picture?

Well, weather has a lot to do with it. We need ample sunshine interspersed with rain showers during the summer months to produce the most colorful foliage. Then, if you remember back to biology class, there’s something called photosynthesis and this chemical called chlorophyll that has a lot to do with determining the color of the leaves. Chlorophyll is the chemical that causes leaves to be green. When the days are long in late spring and early summer, an abundance of chlorophyll is being produced to develop and keep our trees a vibrant, emerald green. But as the days start to shorten in Bedford in early fall, chlorophyll cells don’t have enough energy from the sun to keep the leaves green. In addition, the cooler weather of early fall contributes to the breakdown of chlorophyll production—the trees are literally running out of gas. That’s when red, purple, orange and yellow pigments replace vibrant greens – it’s nature’s way of going out in a blaze of glory.

Although cool nights are critical in the development of vibrant, rich colors, one hard frost can end the foliage season overnight. All of those perfect weather conditions in the previous months leading up to a colorful fall can be undone in one or two cold nights. As daylight decreases and it becomes colder in Bedford by November, our trees eventually can’t produce enough energy to sustain any pigment cells—the last remaining leaves turn brown and drop from the trees.

But what about those years when we seem to have little to no color—you know, when the leaves seem to turn brown overnight and begin dropping in late summer? This can be a direct result of the weather patterns present when the first leaves began to sprout in late April. Too much rain in spring and early summer leads to a deficiency in the collection of ultraviolet light that is needed to feed the leaves and produce the chlorophyll required to sustain the leaves through the season. A cloudy damp spring can mean a dull colorless fall.  On the flip side, not enough rain in spring and early summer can lead to the same outcome—carbohydrates are not efficiently produced via photosynthesis, and we have dull drab colors in the fall.

So, what can we expect this fall? The early dry spring, coupled with an exceptionally dry winter, may mean a less than perfect foliage season for us this year. Look around town—you will see some trees that have dull brown leaves. But it might not be all bad—the rains of early summer did help. As you might expect, your best bet for great fall foliage early is in northern New England. If the weather stays temperate, color will shift southward, arriving in Bedford by mid-October. Let’s hope for mild autumn days and cool evenings with no tropical storms, heavy rains or frost. Keep your fingers crossed—we might have a great fall foliage season yet!


Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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