This summer's drought could mean shortened, muted fall color season

This summer's drought will make for more muted fall colors this fall.

The severe and extreme drought across much of Minnesota this summer is putting stress on trees, which will impact their colors this fall

Alan Branhagen, Director of Operations at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, says early fall colors you may see now are beautiful, but they’re a sign of stress from a severe drought this summer

"Trees just are shedding excess leaves and so on here late in the [summer] season because they’re stressed for water, and that’s one of the mechanisms they use to conserve water is shed extra leaves," Branhagen said. 

When those early leaves fall, fewer are left on the tree, which means fewer will change color during peak season, so colors could appear muted. 

"Unfortunately, the outlook is telling us we’re not going to live up to our potential," he said.

Some trees are also experiencing what he calls "leaf burning" or discolored patches on leaves that will not change color this fall, adding to potential for muted colors.

MINNESOTA DROUGHT: What you need to know

Branhagen says there is still hope to have a fall season where trees reach their full potential. He says "good" fall leaves happen when we have sunny days, fall precipitation and cooler temperatures overnight.

"It’s those cool night temperatures with the bright sunny days and that’s what triggers the best fall colors," he said.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has released their Fall Color Finder. The site is updated every week with information on where leaves are "peaking" across the state. 

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