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What's leading to the early signs of fall colors?

What's leading to the early signs of fall colors?
What's leading to the early signs of fall colors? 02:40

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- There's no denying we're in the dog days of summer. However, some trees are starting to act like the seasons are changing.

We wanted to know: What's leading to the early signs of fall colors? And which parts of Minnesota are on schedule? 

When Minnesota shows off its colorful side, Minnesotans show up to appreciate it.

"I love looking at a place like northern Minnesota, especially along the north shore," said Matthew Golz.

"Lutsen for sure," said Trent. "You get all the colors, the reds the yellows the orange, everything," his wife, Jenna, added.

They just hope it's on schedule.

"It does feel early. I'm sweating," joked Trent about the current temperature outside as some leaves start to turn.

"Folks might see this color and think that this plant is triggered into its fall display, but we're a little too early for that," said Brandon Miller as he scanned a tree branch near Mississippi River Boulevard. He's an assistant professor of horticulture at the University of Minnesota.

"Why are the leaves falling on some of the trees already? "We're entering into a moderate to severe drought in the metro area and a lot of the leaf fall that you see with these Lindens around us are in fact response to the drought," he said.

The lack of rain in the metro this summer has some trees trying to conserve water so much that they're withholding it from leaves, causing them to change color and fall.

"This is not plants shutting down early and entering into a fall color or going into dormancy early. This is more just a tree survival strategy," Miller said. 

Some trees are more drought sensitive, which is why only a few species have started to drop leaves in August. Those include lindens and poplars. Miller said some oaks are more resilient to drought.

How will this impact fall colors? "Severe drought in the summer can shorten the peak duration of fall color. It tends to be a bit more dull and it can actually occur a little bit earlier," said Miller.

This year, northern Minnesota received plenty of rainfall, that means peak colors will happen as expected in mid-September to early October.

Central Minnesota normally starts a little later, but the drought means the two regions will likely share the same peak this year.

"And it's a little unclear how this drought on top of the drought that we had last year might also affect our fall color in the Metro," he added.

It's an issue Miller and other experts are studying now in hopes of learning which trees best handle drought conditions or if there's a better location for them to be planted.

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