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.

 

3 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.

  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.

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