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What Happens To Plants When They Go Dormant


By now, there may be just one or two leaves clinging to the beautiful trees in your neighborhood. I know I have several trees around my home that seemed to be full of colorful leaves just a short time ago. Can you relate? Though they may not look so good, the trees and plants all around you are simply in a state of dormancy. Dormancy is nature’s way of protecting plants and trees from the cold temperatures of winter. This week, I thought I’d take a closer look at what happens to plants when they go dormant.

Plants and Dormancy

In the spring and summer, nutrients travel from the roots of a tree or plant up to its leaves. These nutrients support the continual growth of the plant. But as temperatures begin to go down in the fall, many plants and trees go dormant. This means nutrients are stored in the roots instead of being sent up to the leaves. The state of dormancy allows a plant or tree to conserve its nutrients and energy until the temperature goes up again in the spring, providing the right conditions for fresh growth. Dormancy for plants is the equivalent of hibernation for animals.

Are They Dead or Dormant?

Dormant trees are sometimes mistaken for dead ones because there are no obvious signs of life. But a dormant tree or plant is still alive. There are a few things you can check to determine if a plant or tree is dormant or dead. Try checking for buds: Though a dormant tree is not actively growing in the cold weather months, there should still be some tiny buds on it. Alternatively, a tree with shriveling buds or no buds at all is probably dying or dead. A tree with a layer of fresh bark growing is in dormancy. But a tree with shedding bark that’s not being replaced with new growth is a dying tree. Here’s a simple test: Choose a small twig on a tree and bend it in half. If it doesn’t break, then the tree is dormant. The twig on a dead tree will snap very quickly, revealing a dry interior.

Caring for Dormant Plants

Did you know that indoor plants can go dormant, too? Sometimes, they go dormant due to stress, and other times, it’s just a natural part of their cycle. If you have indoor plants that go dormant, they require only a low level of sunlight to survive. But you should still water them about once a month.

Are There Any Plants That Don’t Go Dormant?

Annuals aren’t included on the list of plants that go dormant: They grow for a single season, so they are not designed to stop their growth and conserve energy like perennials do.

Interesting Facts About Dormant Plants

  • Evergreens such as pines and spruce trees have a dormancy period, but they don’t drop their needles.
  • The duration of a tree’s dormancy depends on its species and location.
  • A decrease in temperature as well as daylight hours triggers dormancy in plants and trees.
  • Putting mulch around the base of a tree before it goes dormant can help with root growth in the wintertime

The next time you look out the window at the bare branches of your favorite tree, remember that it’s just taking a well-deserved break until spring. Thanks for reading. – Alan

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