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Unpredictable Fall Weather Challenges Even The Hardiest Plants

Pam Morris
Flickr - Creative Commons

To enjoy Colorado is to appreciate summer temperatures even well into the fall. While this weather is wonderful for people, it’s quite confusing for plants. Like other life forms, plants need to prepare for winter. Cool weather is one of their triggers to stop growing.

Plants in mountain communities are getting the right signals. The days are warm but the nights bring light frosts. The omen that winter is inevitable. That’s why the colors are so grand. Yellow-orange aspen, red scrub oak, and burgundy three-leaf sumac are decorating the hills. These plants have stopped growing and set their buds in anticipation for next spring.

Low land plants are more likely poised to be freeze dried if the temperatures dip into the twenties. Still heavy with green leaves, they’re also vulnerable to the first fall snow.

A hard, cold snap can do more than damage leaves. The plant tissues aren't ready yet and buds can be damaged. Twigs and branches can be injured if it gets cold enough too quickly. The damage largely depends on how much temperatures fluctuate but the extent of that damage won’t be evident until new spring growth.

If you've lived along the Front Range for awhile you've seen the damage snow can do to plants in the green leaf stage. The more snow we get the heavier the branches. Eventually even the strongest wood breaks. Hardwood trees brake just like soft-wood trees under the weight of eighteen to twenty-four inches of snow.

While there isn't a lot we can do, we can still save the branches after excessive snow. Be careful where branches and utility wires meet. Heavy branches, wires and wet weather don’t mix.

As any native Coloradan knows, the mild fall weather could last for weeks. Plants will adjust because of shorter day lengths and milder temperatures. The bright side is this could be an autumn to remember.

Tom has been offering garden advice on KUNC for almost two decades. During that time he has been the wholesale sales manager at Ft. Collins Nursery, Inc. Since January of 2005 he has been the owner and operator of Throgmorton Plant Management, LLC., a landscape installation and maintenance company as well as a horticultural consulting firm. He lives in northern Ft. Collins with his wife and two kids.
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