What is a sleeping giant? From late October to the following spring, the temperatures tend to change from warm to cold which brings us fall and winter. With the environmental change, our plant life and forest go into a stage of armored sleep. Dormancy is a waiting state, a suspension of life, a period of inactive visual growth. Plants and trees go to sleep or dormant to protect their living tissue and energy reserves from extreme heat, cold, and drought. When you see a tree that is dormant, it has no leaves and will appear dead, but is really still alive. If you were to cut into the right part of the tree you would still find a small amount of green, living tissue.
For example, when I worked in a nursery selling trees and shrubs and my customers would call with concerns that their newly planted trees were dropping leaves earlier than others, I always asked them to walk out to the tree and scratch the trunk and tell me what they saw. Was it green? Or was it brown? How often do you water? I asked them a number of questions to determine what kind of environment the tree or shrub were subjected to. If they had a consistent watering schedule, and the tree dropped all its leaves but had green living tissue, that told me the tree was entering a dormant stage to conserve energy. If the customer said “I hadn’t watered it in a week and a half” and the trunk was brown after they did the scratch test, this indicated that the tree had not merely gone dormant, but had died from the complete lack of water. Dormancy is not only a rest period but also a survival method that the tree defaults to during stressful conditions or even after it has gone to war with an infestation of insects.
Dormancy also allows us to manipulate the tree—from planting in the fall to pruning large limbs just before spring. If you need to take off a large limb hanging over the house or car, late February is a good time to make the cut, while the tree is still in a deep dormant stage. This will cut down on the shock to the tree, opposed to cutting during the spring while the tree is actively growing both above and below ground.
Taking a look around this time of year it may appear the trees are dead but they are simply sleeping giants waiting for the environment to change so they can leaf out and gather more energy for growing larger and sustaining life here at Crystal Bridges.