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During the warm months of summer all leaves are filled with chlorophyll, the green pigment in a leaf that helps a tree get its food via photosynthesis.
But as those warmer temperatures start to cool, less chlorophyll is produced. And when the temps really start to drop, cork cells (which are formed at the intersection of a leaf’s stem and the branch) ‘damn up’ the flow of chlorophyll all together. With the green chlorophyll absent, the leaf’s other pigments are finally given a turn to show their true colors, resulting in brilliant yellows and oranges.
The red and maroon pigments, however, are a bit different. These pigments develop in the sap of leaf cells towards the end of summer. Their colors depend on the amount of light they receive – more light equals more color (which is why it’s unusual to see brightly colored trees in the deep shade).
There’s nothing more beautiful in a garden, than watching leaves turn color. Their show is fleeting, lasting just a few weeks, so sit back and enjoy it!
But when they start to fall, don’t be so quick to rake them up. Instead, consider them Nature’s way of painting your garden with shades of yellow, orange and red.
I leave mine in place for many days, until they begin to turn color or start to form thick mats (not good for the plants under them!). It’s at this point that I then start to think about grabbing a rake.
Before you rush out to rake and bag the leaves for your composter consider saving some for the spring. Leaves make wonderful and cost effective mulch! Gather them into piles, run your lawnmower over them a few times to chop them up, and when thoroughly dry, bag them and store someplace where they won’t get wet.
In the spring, after weeding your garden beds, take these lovely, dry leaves and carefully place them in your garden beds in 2 to 3 inch thick layer. Make sure to keep the leaves an inch or so away from the crown of your plant, as you don’t want to promote diseases that may form in a damp environment.
This natural mulch not only suppresses future weeds, but also holds in moisture, keeps the ground cool and slowly decomposes to continue to nourish and feed your soil.
Hmmm….cooling shade in the summer, colorful art in the fall, and food in the spring. And all from a little leaf!