Why Aren’t the Ginkgo Leaves Yellow This Year?

Ginkgo trees can be stunning in fall. The broad, fan-shaped ginkgo leaves turn a brilliant yellow that is particularly striking at sunrise and sunset. Then, the leaves all drop quickly -- sometimes in one day -- and the show is over. Something different is happening this year -- the leaves are dropping and many are still green.

Why No Fall Color?

ginkgo tree still green

The ginkgo, between the light pole and the maple, is a pale green and most of its leaves have already dropped.

The short answer likely is that we had warm weather through September, then a lot of cold and wet weather in October, followed by a freeze and high winds. To the leaves, it seemed like summer suddenly went to late fall. We're shutting down. No time to change color!

Of course, there is a lot more science behind this and not all ginkgos have remained green. I found a bright yellow tree on my walk yesterday, though many more have seemed greener than normal.

Here's the long explanation:

When days get shorter and weather cools in fall, plants prepare for winter by shutting off supplies of chlorophyll to their leaves. Chlorophyll is the main substance that gathers light and turns it into nutrients. It also gives plants their green hue. But chlorophyll is not the only substance in leaves. These background substances include xanthophyll, a pigment that makes things yellow, such as egg yolks and the leaves of ginkgo trees in fall.

After a freeze, the leaf stems develop a scar-like tissue where they connect to branches. Once the scar is formed, they drop. Ginkgos are among the trees that develop the scar all at once, which is why their leaves tend to drop so quickly. Other trees, such as maples, develop these scars slowly and their leaves tend to drop over a couple of weeks or more.

The Unusual Ginkgo

Ginkgos are a popular tree in urban yards because they handle salt well and have few pests or diseases. They are pretty, too, with their fan-shaped leaves, and they can grow to 80 feet tall. They are an unusual tree in that they are classified as a conifer, along with firs, spruces and other evergreens. Ginkgos have been around 150 million years, and the Ginkgo biloba is the only species in the genus.

The ginkgos people plant today came from China, and that is the one concern about ginkgos as an urban tree. Because they are nonnative, they are not popular with our native pollinators.

Have your ginkgos turned yellow this year?

fall leaves

Ginkgo leaves from a tree that turned more yellow fill the street.

 

Unlock a year of expert gardening support when you join the hort...

14 Comments

  1. Brad Mcfeggan on October 25, 2018 at 11:33 pm

    I planted a Ginkgo in my yard 10 years ago. I live in a Chicago suburb. My Ginkgo has never turned Yellow (always dropped leaves while still green). Even during previous years when other ginkgos would turn a vibrant yellow color, mine never does.

    The tree is healthy, and grows very well every year. I’m not sure why it doesn’t get fall color, but as long as it continues to grow and look really healthy I’m not too worried about it.

    I have noticed other Ginkgos in the area that would normally turn yellow aren’t.

    • Rita on October 19, 2020 at 1:33 pm

      I have the same problem. We bought two Gingko trees at the same time. Planted one back by our pond probably 600 feet from our house. The other we planted in our front yard. The tree by the pond turns brilliant yellow every Fall, it is gorgeous right now.

      The tree in our front yard has only turned yellow once in 12-years. Very sad about this because we bought it for the striking yellow in Fall and wanted to make a beautiful statement with it in front of our home. I haven’t seen that there is any fix for this; it must be a different variety than the other we bought at the same nursery.

  2. Verna Mclaughlin on October 31, 2018 at 2:47 am

    My father planted our ginkgo 45 years ago. It has grown into a beautiful tree but has stopped turning the beautiful golden in the fall. Several years ago it started dropping the fruit which we don’t mind as it is out in the field. But I am so sad it doesn’t turn golden anymore. it can’t be just the weather as the other trees on our street all turn.

    Can I feed it carotene or something?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on October 31, 2018 at 3:00 pm

      According to the National Gardening Association, if leaves consistently fall off without turning yellow, it could be a sign of root stress or heat stress. You might want to talk with a local arborist about feeding it something. It sounds like a beautiful tree.

  3. Caroline L. Seibert on October 16, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    I live in the PNW and have three healthy Ginkgo trees, 10′ tall. In previous years, they turned yellow in the fall, normal. This is the first year, after 3 frosty nights, enough to leave an ice-skim on the birdbath, that the leaves are wilted, some ochre-like and mostly green. There are the obvious buds for next year, but the wilting really bothers me, like they haven’t had water in months and months and they have! The Styrax japonica is ochre too, instead of yellow. In other words, the Ginkgos and Styrax didn’t have time to fully color. Warm days, warm to frosty nights. Things are out of balance.

  4. Bryan Hand on August 13, 2021 at 2:51 pm

    The leaves on my Ginkgo tree are turning quite yellow in mid August. Do I have anything to be concerned about. Do I need to care for this tree in someway.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on August 17, 2021 at 7:37 pm

      Have you watered the tree? Our drought is tough on all trees and it may need water. Dig down about 6 inches near the tree. If the soil is dry, it needs water. It may drop leaves early because of drought stress.

  5. Tony on November 9, 2021 at 6:54 pm

    My two Ginkos are about 12 years old, planted along our driveway. One tree gets leaves sooner than the other in spring and holds them longer than the other tree. They have turned yellow every year except this fall. Instead with the first frost they started dropping green leaves for a week or more before going bare. This has never happened before but also in the spring this year we had a late frost after their leaves were coming out but not all the way. It like stunted the size of all those leaves and tree didn’t fill out until new leaves sprouted. I’m wondering if that spring frost affected the ability of the leaves to turn yellow.

    • Mary Lahr Schier on November 17, 2021 at 4:41 pm

      That’s possible. The drought could also have been a factor. It was a tough year for many trees.

  6. James Roe on March 26, 2022 at 11:31 pm

    Got a new young Ginkgo just hours ago – San Francisco, generally temperate (60 degrees) weather –

  7. Brad McFeggan on April 4, 2022 at 2:55 pm

    I think the Ginkgo leaf color change depends on a variety of factors.

    1. Climate and Weather: Ginkos are very sensitive to freezing temperatures. A early frost is all that is needed for a Ginkgo to drop all its leaves before fully turning color. I’ve heard for others who have stated that their tree hadn’t turned fully yellow until mid-November. All Ginkos will eventually produce a fall color if the season allows them to.

    Also very wet soils and droughts can actually cause a tree to go dormant sooner (the good news of that would be seeing beautiful yellow fall color). However, if the weather seems relatively average and your tree is growing in very organically rich soils, you might not see your tree get fall color at all before the frost hits.

    2. Soil conditions: Though Ginkgo’s are known to grow relatively well in almost all soils, I have noticed that healthier more organic soils will actually prolong the time it takes for a Ginkgo to change color.

    For example: I’ve seen two Ginkgo’s close to each other. One is planted in undisturbed organic soil with good drainage and relatively no clay and another Ginkgo just down the street was planted on a roadside parkway which has poorly drained clay soil with restricted root growing space.

    The tree growing in the parkway along the road will start yellowing up its leaves in the fall almost 3-4 weeks before the other Ginkgo tree. Though the the tree along the road does fine, the poor soil conditions causes to tree to go dormant sooner than the other tree.

    3. Genetics: trees are usually very similar to their parent plant and most trees vary somewhat from one another. Some trees genetically hold their leaves longer than others (even a couple weeks can make all the difference when frost is just around the corner).

    This is why many nurseries create the specialized cultivars trying to lock in the key elements that make the trees desirable to people. Sometimes when trying to create these cultivars, they don’t go according to planned and you may have received a tree that genetically doesn’t go into fall color as early as others.

    In a nutshell, there are many different factors that may cause a tree not to go into fall color.

  8. Kenneth G. McGrath on October 29, 2022 at 5:35 am

    Does the sex of the ginkgo effect the color change in anyway ?

    • MSHS on October 31, 2022 at 4:26 pm

      Not that we’ve seen or read about…

Leave a Comment