Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Fall in the South

After a long summer that started early and finished late, we are enjoying the beginning of an extended period of pleasant sleeping weather and bright, warm days that, with only a few exceptions, will last till Christmas or beyond. In this climate, autumn is my favourite time of year. The heat of summer is mostly a fading, if recent memory, and we have months of cooler but still pleasant weather ahead of us.

It's hard to believe it, but I never liked autumn when I lived in Ontario, probably because it was followed by winter; by far the hardest, longest season when one works out of doors in the north. Fall usually came in a rush in Ontario. Except for the harbinger species which started to show colour in August, most things retained their green through September, until one day toward the end of the month when everything seemingly changed colour at once. This lasted a week or two and often the colour would be exceptionally pretty until the next good front came through and then whammo everything was winter bare.

Autumn in the south is more subtle and progresses much more slowly than I remember it in Ontario. Our harbinger species down here are the nut trees (pecan, hickory, walnut and butternut) which lose their leaves and begin dropping nuts in early September, followed by the bois d'arc (bodark or osage orange) trees which begin shedding large, inedible fruit in mid September. Unless it's dry (like it is right now), most of the rest of the trees remain fully green through mid October and then slowly begin changing. "Peak" colour (which is kind of a misnomer because usually we change colour one species at a time rather than all at once), ususally happens the first week in November. The Bradford Pears are the last trees in the landscape to turn colour down here. Usually they put on a bright red show from Thanksgiving into early December.

Dry years mean poor to non-existant colour; many trees lose their leaves early with no colour change at all. Despite a wet start, this will be such a year. We haven't had a drop of rain since mid August.

Bermuda grass, big and little bluestem, johnsongrass, dallisgrass, and zoysiagrass all slowly senesce and give way to fescues, clovers, and bluegrasses as nightime temperatures begin to get under 50 degrees with some regularity. We've had two or three cool nights lately and we're in the middle of this process right now. Often the pastures look deader here on an 80 degree October afternoon than they do in January; definitely not like that where I come from ! I'm waiting a few more days for the warm season grasses to fully senesce before I give the pastures their final mowing of the season. Depending on the rain situation we may still get considerable cool season grass growth, but probably not more than the horses will be able to keep up with from now until next March.

Along toward the end of the month or early in November, we can expect to wake to a white frost on the ground although a serious freeze (mid 20's or below) usually has the decency to wait until after Thanksgiving. The horses are beginning to thicken their coats for cooler weather and Canadian man has stopped sweating like a horse at the slightest exertion.

Hope everyone else is enjoying fall right now too !


Sylvia said...

My most favorite time of year!!! (except for this shit amount of rain we've been getting. I'll send it south)

Anonymous said...

As a 'Bama girl living in Minnesnowta I sure miss those long autumns.

Jason said...

'Bama girl, I bet that's right !

Jack said...

Are you trying to make us "northrners" feel bad?
I think fall is the best time of the year - nothing compares to a sunny September or October day in Ontario!

Jason said...


The problem as I see it isn't the sunny days; they'll take care of themselves.

The problem is the plethora of cloudy, windy, nasty, damp, cold days. I seem to remember a God's plenty of these to go along with the sunshine, especially in the waning days of October in Ontario ! ;)

Plus, summer is our relentless season down here. After five months of incessant humid heat, surely I can gloat a little bit ? :)