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It looks like a great year for fall colors

“Instead of going to your regular park, try to pick a new park, or a forest road you haven’t gone down before,” said Val Cervenka, a DNR forest health expert. “Perhaps the ‘road less traveled' will be a pleasant surprise.”

Fall Colors
Fingers crossed for a great fall color season this year.
File Photo
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DETROIT LAKES — Get ready for some fine leaf-peeping. Those parts of Minnesota that received plentiful rain over the summer are on track for an excellent fall color season, according to Val Cervenka, forest health program consultant for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

That’s good news for northwest and north central Minnesota in particular. “This year, I think the colors will be great,” she said in a recent interview. “Up in the northern areas, you guys have had very adequate moisture – unlike the drought last year.”

Show its Colors
Autumn starts to show its colors on Highway 2 near Nevis.
File Photo

That stands in stark contrast to parts of southern Minnesota, which have been dry all summer and continue to be in moderate drought, or even severe drought in the Twin Cities area, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In areas where the trees have been stressed by drought, the colors could turn early and the trees could drop their leaves early, Cervenka said.

“Stressed trees will sacrifice their leaves and put their energy into their roots for the winter,” she said.


Colorful tree reflections in pond on a beautiful autumn day in N
Colorful foliage tree reflections in calm pond water on a beautiful autumn day in New England
Leena Robinson/leekris - stock.adobe.com

The same can be true of trees stressed by too much water, like those affected by this year’s historic spring and summer flooding in the Rainy River Basin.

“Those leaves may not turn at all ... because the trees are dying,” she said.

“Tree stress isn’t good, whether from lack of water or too much water,” she added.

In fact, even deep-rooted, mature trees in urban areas should be given at least an inch of water a week by homeowners during a drought, she said.

At this stage of the game, Cervenka said, the best weather conditions for a great fall color season are sunny days and cool, but not freezing, nights.

And, of course, Minnesota has to dodge those season-ending storm events, with hard rains and strong winds that knock off the leaves at peak season.

enjoy the colors
This file photo shows past fall colors at Tamarac National Wildlife Refuge .
File photo

It will also help if September sees its usual, pretty-sunny weather in Minnesota, she added. “Cloud cover is not good for producing red leaves,” she said. “You still need moisture, of course, but you don’t want it to be cloudy all month. You want sunny days with a day or two of rain.”

Yellows are pretty common in Minnesota, but this could also be a great year for reds, Cervenka said.


Trees get their energy from sugars produced in the leaves by photosynthesis, and when that process starts to slow down with the end of summer, things get interesting: The green fades with the decline of chlorophyll, and in some trees, the extra sugar trapped in the leaf reacts to form anthocyanins.

For leaf peepers, anthocyanins are scarlet manna from Heaven.

These pigments cause the yellowing leaves to turn red. Red maples, red oaks, and sumac are the kings of anthocyanins, and proudly show off the brightest red and purple leaves in the autumn landscape.

That’s why people need to be aware of — not just trees — but goldenrods, asters, sumac and other bushes, shrubs, small trees and underbrush that have fall colors all their own, Cervenka said. “I suggest people consider these part of the fall color scheme, too,” she said.

Maplewood State Park near Pelican Rapids glowed with red and orange in late September and early October of 2017.
File photo

To enhance fall foliage outings, people should consider traveling to a state park or somewhere else they don’t usually go.

“Instead of going to your regular park, try to pick a new park, or a forest road you haven’t gone down before,” she said. “Perhaps the ‘road less traveled’ will be a pleasant surprise.”

To find out where the color is changing in Minnesota, check out the DNR’s Fall Color Finder , which shows color changes by region – and by individual state parks.

At this point, Itasca State Park is showing the most color change in the area.


The northeastern half of Becker County and the Park Rapids area of Hubbard County are also starting to show lots of color in the area. It might be a good time to take a ride on scenic Highway 34 from Detroit Lakes to Park Rapids, which is slated to lose a number of trees in an upcoming road construction project.

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