As the days grow ever shorter, and the sun’s rays weaker by the day, changes in the natural world are many and profound. Over the last six months, the ecosystems came to life, ramped up to their maximum levels of activity and productivity, and produced its bounty of food, fiber and the next generations of life.
Now all the web of life is slowing and preparing for the harsh winter by entering a time of dormancy, or storing food, growing winter coats, and creating / finding places of refuge. For much of the plant community in our part of the world, entering dormancy is the key to survival.
Over the summer, and particularly in August and September, woody plants and perennial grasses and forbs store large amounts of starches / sugars in roots and stems. Chemical changes gradually take place that allow living cells of the plants to go through freeze / thaw cycles without rupturing. These changes are taking place right now, and will continue until mid to late November, when the process will be complete for most plants. They will be ready to gracefully endure a cruel Minnesota winter.
Mid to late September rains came just in time to help most of the plants stressed out by dry weather, and will aid the process of entering dormancy. For evergreen trees and shrubs this moisture is especially valuable, since their foliage is exposed to the elements all winter long.
While availability of soil moisture is a big benefit for plants as they enter dormancy, too much water can cause problems. Most plants stress out if soils are severely waterlogged for extended periods. A few more nice rains and/or waterings in late October and early November are beneficial, but try to avoid creating a situation where soils become super-saturated and stay that way all winter. Moderate soil moisture levels are the best for helping plants become fully dormant by Thanksgiving time. When plants become fully dormant they are most likely to be healthy and vigorous when they come to life next spring.