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Tree Fall-in: Autumn about to arrive

By Ed Brock

With autumn's chill beginning to tickle the leaves and making them blush, it's time for Marion Perrott and her husband to go north to Blueridge, Ga.

"My boss has a cabin up there," Perrott said.

Betty Smith of Ellenwood will be taking a church trip to north Georgia's mountains to watch the leaves change.

"We go every year," Smith said. "It's the colors, the apples and everything else you eat up there."

Fall officially starts on Tuesday and by mid-October the much awaited color change should be in full effect.

"I think it will be a good year, especially if we get a little rain," said Marco Fonseca, an arborist at the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Griffin.

In the fall, trees have to make a decision, Fonseca said, an allocation of their resources as the chlorophyll in their leaves begins to fade away. Chlorophyll is a green pigment in the leaves that aids in photosynthesis, the process by which plants turn the light of the sun into energy.

"Chlorophyll making is an expensive proposition," Fonseca said. "Trees at this time of year say ?I don't have to grow anymore, I just need to sleep, why should I spend all this money?'"

If the conditions are right, meaning a gradual drop in temperatures and high humidity, then the tree replaces the chlorophyll with carotenoid chemicals that serve as a kind of filter and which make the red and yellow colors of fall. But making carotenoids is a process too, Fonseca said, and if the trees don't have enough water they may skip that process.

One trick would be to use a drip system to water trees like maples overnight, Fonseca said. Dogwoods and sour woods also change colors as well and oaks keep their fall colors for a long time.

The mountains are a popular vacation spot in the fall, but those who don't have time to make that drive can also visit local parks like the W.H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Reserve on Reynolds Road in Morrow or Panola Mountain State Park on Ga. Highway 155 in Henry County.

"We're expecting a good fall with the amount of rain we've had," said Panola Mountain Park Manager Phil Dew.

For the $2 parking fee area residents can chose from several tours of the 914-acre park in the upcoming months, Dew said.

There will be a geological tour around the mountain on Oct. 11 at 10 a.m., a night prowl on Oct. 18 at 6 p.m., a wilderness tour starting at 9 a.m. on Nov. 8 and a bird-spotting hike on Dec. 6 at 8 a.m.

Participants must call ahead to (770) 389-7801 to register for the tours.

Cool weather is beginning to hit the area and this week's highs should be in the lower 80s with highs in the upper 70s on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service offices in Peachtree City. Even cooler weather should begin in late October or early November unless, like last year, the area experiences unseasonably warm temperatures called an "Indian Summer."

It's also time to get the heating system checked at home.

"People need to get serviced early, before it gets cold and we get busy," said Tommy Estes with Estes Heating and Air Conditioning Inc.

Estes said he recommends getting a full service agreement in which they will make regular service calls at least twice a year in order to prevent breakdowns. Customers with service agreements also get priority, Estes said.

For around $70 Estes provides a service inspection that includes cleaning and replacing filters and lubricating moving parts. A service agreement is $119 for a year.

People should have their heating and air conditioning units serviced by a professional company, Estes said.