Early Fall: the Best of Both Worlds
Early fall is a thoroughly enjoyable time of year. It’s still warm enough to enjoy a picnic in the sunshine, or your last chance to cook out in shorts and a t-shirt. Nevertheless, fall has unmistakably arrived. The first hints of color are showing among the leaves, and there’s a welcome coolness in the air – although it’s not too cold yet. Apple-picking season is in full swing, and it’s a great time to enjoy a beautiful orchard among Virginia’s sunny hillsides. You can enjoy harvesting delicious fruit without worrying about overheating in the blazing heat of summer.
This week, we’re providing our guide to early fall in the Front Royal area. Read on for the scoop on the foliage you’ll see in early fall, as well as our top “picks” for local apple orchards. We’re even throwing in some tips on how to use that big bag of apples when you get it home.
Early Fall Foliage in Virginia
Early fall doesn’t bring the riotous beauty of full-on fall foliage, when vivid colors totally overwhelm the landscape. Nevertheless, early fall foliage has its own particular charms. The deep green of the forest changes to a lighter shade. The first bright pops of red and yellow against this green background are charming . . . and they hold the promise of more to come.
If you’re out hiking or driving through Virginia in early fall, you’ll see the first signs of fall foliage. Among the first colorful leaves of the fall, you can expect to see Virginia Creeper, Black Gum, and Dogwood. Virginia Creeper is one of the first heralds of fall, but it isn’t actually a tree at all. This vine climbs on anything – trees, walls, houses, even along the ground. In Shenandoah National Park, the sight of bright red Virginia Creeper leaves intertwined among the still-green tree branches is one of the first signs of the arrival of fall. Black Gums and Dogwoods will be among the first trees to turn, bright splashes of red, gold, and even purple standing out from a tranquil green background.
Apple-Picking Around Front Royal
You can enjoy the sights of these early turners while on an apple-picking expedition in the Shenandoah Valley. The Front Royal area is home to several pick-your-own apple farms. Check out Hartland Orchard or Hollin Farms, both located just one exit down from Front Royal on I-66. Stribling Orchard is another favorite, with a stunning mountainside location. Unfortunately, Stribling’s 2020 season is cancelled, but be sure to check back next year.
If you’re driving from Front Royal to pick apples at any of these orchards, you’ll drive directly past the local favorite Apple House, right before you get on I-66. Make sure to stop in and pick up some of their famous Apple Butter Cinnamon Donuts. These divine creations are the perfect treat to enjoy on your apple-picking adventure (or on your way home!).
Apples, Apples Everywhere!
There’s just one thing about apple-picking. That basket of apples looks a whole lot bigger on your kitchen counter than it did in the field! If you’re overwhelmed by a huge supply of apples, we’ve rounded up some ideas for you.
Apple pie and apple crisp are classic favorites that need no explanation. It’s also surprisingly easy to make your own apple butter. You don’t even need to peel the apples, and as they cook all day in your crock pot, they’ll make your whole home smell like fall. Or enjoy apples baked on a fall campfire. There’s even a good use for all those apple cores that get left over from your baking. Apple scrap vinegar is a fun way to use the parts you would otherwise throw away. And it has an impressive range of uses and health benefits.
Fall is in the Air!
Many pick-your-own orchards offer apple cider for sale, but if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try making your own. You’ll need an apple crusher to break down the apples, before squeezing the juice out in a cider press. Commercial apple cider equipment can be forbiddingly expensive, but for home use, you can get what you need for a more reasonable investment. Enjoy your fresh, sweet cider warm or cold, or ferment it into hard cider for an extra challenge.
It’s definitely fair to say that the year 2020 has defied expectations. When the calendar flipped to January 1, who would have predicted that we’d face a pandemic and the lockdown of our entire society, not to mention riots and social unrest?
With all the uncertainty in today’s world, we can take some comfort in knowing that the seasons continue to change as they always have. While the tide of human affairs ebbs and flows, another stunning fall will illumine the Virginia hillsides around Front Royal. And yet, as we mentioned last week, no two falls are the same. With the many factors that go into creating the beautiful colors of fall, it should be no surprise that there’s some variation from year to year. Certain colors might be more or less vibrant. The season could begin earlier or later, and could be more or less drawn out.
But since we know a little bit about what causes the leaves to change, we can make some estimates as to how each fall will go. So, even though it’s apparently dangerous to make any kind of prediction in 2020, we’re going to be bold. Here are our best guesses as to the way the fall foliage will play out this year in the Front Royal area.
Spring and Summer 2020 Indicate a Late Fall
Leaves are living things that come to life in the spring and die in the fall. Weather conditions during the entire lifetime of the foliage will impact its appearance in the fall. Taking a look back at the spring and summer can give us some hints as to how the fall may go. For a couple of reasons, the weather of spring and summer 2020 points to a late arrival of fall color.
First of all, spring got off to a rough start this year. Though warmer temperatures appeared earlier than normal, they weren’t around to stay. A chilly April, and a late frost in May damaged the yields of fruit-bearing trees in many areas. Tender young buds that had emerged in the early warmth could not survive the bitter cold of the late the frost. In general, the colder temperatures in late spring meant that the season got off to a later start than usual. A late start to spring often causes fall to come slowly as well.
The conditions of the summer are also likely to cause fall foliage to appear later than usual. Summer 2020 saw record-breaking heat in Virginia, and a fairly dry July. These conditions can cause tree stress, leading to less vibrant fall hues. However, welcome rains in August brought some stress relief to the trees. These late rains will likely allow the trees around Front Royal to stay greener for longer. They may also reverse the negative impacts of a hot and dry July.
Fall Weather May Cause Vibrant Reds
Of course, it’s not possible to predict the fall foliage entirely from the weather of spring and summer. When fall arrives in Front Royal, it will bring its own combination of weather conditions that can greatly influence the foliage display we see around us.
It’s obviously difficult to predict the fall weather in advance. Long-range weather forecasting is far from an exact science. In fact, many meteorologists will tell you not to trust a forecast of longer than ten days. And they may well be right. But it’s still fun to make some guesses.
According to the Farmer’s Almanac, a popular long-range weather forecast source, the Front Royal area will enjoy plenty of sun in September and October, mixed with some rain. The forecast of sun bodes well for a brightly colored fall. Sunlight supports the production of anthocyanins, the chemicals responsible for the red hues in fall leaves. The sunshine of the fall, in addition to being enjoyable for humans, promises to contribute to a stunning display on the tree covered mountain slopes of Virginia. That is, if the almanac’s right…
Our best prediction: fall foliage will be slow to arrive in the Shenandoah Valley, but splendid when it comes.
Visit the Shenandoah Valley for Some Lucky Leaf-Peeping
The good news is that while we can’t predict the exact condition or timing of the fall foliage, we can tell you one thing for sure. Any visit to the Shenandoah Valley or the Front Royal area during the fall foliage season will be memorable. Even if your arrival doesn’t quite coincide with the perfect peak of fall foliage, you’ll still be able to enjoy glorious colors, beautiful views, and every essential fall activity that your heart desires.
After all, the unpredictability of the foliage is part of the fun of leaf-peeping. It’s an exciting pursuit that requires knowledge AND some good luck!
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