Tag Archive: leaves

  1. Engulfed in Leaves? 3 Options for Dealing with your Trees’ Autumn Offerings

    Leave a Comment
    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    This week we wrap up our series on leaves by examining the methods and benefits of utilizing the fallen ones!

    I don’t know about you, but one of the keystone autumn memories I cherish from my childhood is raking leaves into an enormous pile…only to wreck my efforts by diving into them.

    Of course, this would happen repeatedly until my father would declare the scattered mess off limits and hurry me inside to clean up.

    As I got older, the task of raking lost its allure and became more of a chore, so as an adult, I’ve become a bit savvier when dealing with autumn’s leafy offerings.

    Engulfed in leaves? Here are some options!

    1. Leave the Leaves!

    Option one, and likely the easiest route, is to simply leave the leaves where they fall!

    If your yard is scattered with black cherry, locust, or other broadleaf species that have mostly smaller leaves, there may not be much action to take after they fall.

    In the case of maple, oak, and other trees with larger foliage, however, a bit of mulching may be in order.

    Use a lawnmower to shred the leaves into dime-sized pieces.

    There are several benefits to gracing your grass with this mulchy mixture:

    Provide habitat for wildlife such as frogs, turtles, bats & salamanders. Additionally, many moths and butterfly caterpillars overwinter in fallen leaves before emerging in spring.
    Increase your soil fertility and offer your lawn a nutrient boost! As leaves decompose, nutrients such as carbon, nitrogen, and potassium are added to the soil.
    Supply food for critters like earthworms, millipedes, and other essential decomposers.
    Suppress weeds in your lawn. Decomposing leaves cover the soil in between individual grass plants where weeds are most likely to germinate.
    Save your back! Mulching is far faster and much easier on the body than raking leaves.

    2. Compost to Feed Future Plants

    If your yard is rather arborous and fallen leaves are too thick to mulch with a lawn mower, it may be necessary to turn to plan B: Collect and compost leaves in a designated location.

    Composting is a process in which microbes break down organic materials into a nutrient dense, soil-like material.

    When done correctly, leaves and other fall garden debris can be composted and ready to use by late spring.

    This is a great option for gardeners with the desire to build their own rich planting medium.

    In the case of leaf piles, size and location matters!

    A pile that is 3’ x 3’ x 3’ is manageable and large enough to maintain the heat needed for the composting process. Make as many piles as necessary, choosing a shaded site with good air flow.

    “Feed” your compost pile throughout the fall season by adding freshly fallen leaves to a pile of older leaves.

    You can also supplement by adding other natural materials you may have laying around such as grass clippings, garden debris, and kitchen scraps. (It’s important to note there are a number of materials that shouldn’t be added to backyard compost piles, such as animal products, that will attract pests and take too long to compost.)

    Maintain your compost by keeping it moist and oxygenated.

    Water is needed for the composting process, so it may be necessary to add water to your pile. Additionally, compost requires aeration. This can be accomplished by occasionally turning the pile with a spading fork or other garden tool.

    Additional information on backyard composting can be found in OSU Extension’s Composting Series.

    3. Utilize a Leaf Pickup Service

    If you don’t have the space to compost your leaves and live in an area that offers leaf pickup, this service may be a good option. There are some important tips to remember when readying your leaves for collection however.

    Keep yard waste, including leaves, grass clippings and garden debris, out of drainage ditches and storm drains.

    If you caught our earlier article on stormwater, Only Rain Down the Drain, you likely remember that everything that enters a storm drain is ultimately outletted, untreated, into a local water body.  Leaves, in particular, can be very problematic for storm sewer systems so never leave them in the path of stormwater. Even if leaves are left behind, water filtering through can become rich in nutrients. When this “leafy brew” makes its way into rivers and streams it can cause an overgrowth of algae and wreak havoc on water quality.

    These same rules should also be followed in rural ditches and waterways.

    Avoid piling leaves, grass clippings, etc. in drainage ditches and grassed waterways. Doing so blocks the natural path of water and can result in flooding and erosion.  

    When bagging leaves and yard waste, use biodegradable paper bags.

    Paper is a better option, as plastic trash bags can take many years to break down. Better yet, designate a trash can for yard waste and mark it appropriately.

    Specific leaf pickup guidelines for Fairfield County communities can be found below:

  2. 4 Mysteries of Autumn Revealed

    Leave a Comment
    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    It’s that time of the year again. The air is getting brisker, the days are getting shorter, and the leaves are changing color. Join us this week for the second post in our series on leaves as we unravel the mysteries behind this brilliant display.

    1. Why does this explosion of color occur each autumn?

    It’s difficult not to become entranced by the majestic display tendered by changing autumn leaves. Offering an explosion for the senses, what we are really experiencing is chemistry happing right before our eyes! Let’s take a closer look at where these colors come from.

    Have you ever heard of the idiom, “showing one’s true colors”? During autumn, this is exactly what leaves are doing!

    In fact, the brilliant fall colors we are now experiencing are actually embedded in the leaf throughout the entire year.

    We simply don’t see these other pigments during the summer because they are overpowered by the surplus of green chlorophyll leaves produce for photosynthesis.

    The shortening days of autumn trigger plants to begin shutting down their chlorophyll production, and existing chlorophyll is slowly broken down. The result of this lack of green is the exposure of many other colors! These colors come from a variety of compounds found within the leaves:



    Responsible also for the color of many fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, beta-carotene is a common pigment in most leaves year-round and assists with photosynthesis. In the fall, it gives leaves their orange hue by reflecting yellow and red light from the sun.

    Red & Scarlet


    Unlike beta-carotene, the production of this pigment occurs primarily during autumn. Its presence acts as a sunscreen, shielding the leaf from damage caused by the sun’s ultraviolet light. During the growing season, chlorophyll does this job.



    Flavonols are present in leaves all year. During the growing season, flavonols assist leaves in light absorption and energy production.  Their colors aren’t revealed until chlorophyll production begins to cease in the fall. Interestingly, they also play a primary role in the coloration of many types of flowers.

    While we bask in the beautiful changing colors of fall, trees are busy preparing for the approaching winter.

    Because the soft plant tissue that makes up broadleaves would certainly be damaged by the cold winter temperatures, many perennial plants have adapted to lose their leaves and enter a dormant state.

    Energy is removed from the leaves and the connection with the plant is slowly severed at the base of the leaf stem.

    Water and nutrients no longer move in or out of the leaf, and the leaf dies and eventually falls to the ground. Here, it decomposes to a rich humus that will help to feed the plant the following year.

    Nature is quite resourceful!

    2. Why are some Autumns more vibrant than others?

    There are many factors that influence the intensity of autumn leaf colors. Temperature, water supply, and light can all affect the duration and brilliance of fall color displays. This is why no two autumns are the same from year to year.

    Generally, the most dazzling autumn displays result from warm sunny days followed by cool nights. Low temperatures in the fall that are above freezing, trigger the production of anthocyanin. This is the pigment responsible for vibrant reds and scarlets and is abundant in species such as sugar maples. Early frost decreases this red color.

    Soil moisture can also have an effect. Summer droughts can result in the early onset of fall color due to stress. Oftentimes, temperatures aren’t adequately low for bright displays. Windy and rainy weather during autumn can cause leaves to fall to the ground prematurely and interrupt colorful displays.

    3. Why are some trees a bit more colorful than their neighbors?

    As discussed above, fall color is the result of multiple compounds. Different species of trees have varying compound makeups that can dictate which colors they display in the fall.

    “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

    -Albert Camus

    For instance, maples, sassafras, and sumac tend to produce high rates of anthocyanin, the compound responsible for that vivid red color. Anthocyanin production is triggered by sunlight, so the parts of the tree most exposed to sunshine will exhibit the brightest colors.

    Forest age can also have an effect on overall color. Due to forest succession, the composition of dominant tree species can change as forests mature.

    Early successional species, such as sassafras, sumac, and tulip tree, often reward viewers with brilliant colors of reds and yellows. More mature forests, especially those disturbed by fire or timber harvest, may contain more oak and hickory, offering displays of reds, browns, and yellows. Less disturbed mature forests may be dominated by shade-loving sugar maples, red maples, and beech and also offer a vibrant color presentation.

    Finally, some cultivars, such as the Freeman maple ‘Autumn Blaze’ and serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance,’ have been selected for their bright fall colors. These beauties are most often found in home and city landscapes.

    4. Why is my understory still green?

    You may notice a wall of green remaining in forests beneath those beautiful fall colors.

    This green understory is likely made up of non-native, invasive species such as bush honeysuckle, autumn-olive, and privet.

    These shrubs make their living on extending their growing season beyond that of native species. Fall is the perfect time of year to spot these invasive species and make plans for their removal. Visit the Ohio Invasive Plant Council’s website  for tips on invasive management.

    BONUS: Leaf Rubbing Activity

    Are you looking for a fun and colorful way to preserve memories of the brilliant display offered this autumn? Why not get out the crayons for a leaf rubbing craft! Pair this with a good tree identification field guide to add an educational component to this activity.

    Collect dried or freshly fallen leaves of all shapes and sizes. Ensure they are not wet and can be flattened easily.
    Using a flat, hard surface, sandwich a leaf between two white sheets of paper. You can use one leaf or use several as a mosaic.
    Holding the top paper steady, select a crayon you’d like to use to create your leaf rubbing. It is helpful to peel the paper wrapper off of the crayon. Turn the crayon on its side and gently rub over the top sheet of the paper.
    Remove the leaf from under the paper and admire your creation!

    Join us next week for our third and final installment as we explore the benefits and challenges offered by those many falling leaves!

    In the meantime, get the latest in fall color with ODNR’s Fall Color Update!

  3. Leave it up to the Leaves!

    Leave a Comment
    by Carrie Brown, Engineering Technician

    It turns out there are some amazing capabilities hidden amongst that beautiful canopy.

    If you’re anything like me, you treasure many childhood memories associated with playing outside. Maybe it was fishing in the watering hole on the back forty with Grandpa. Or perhaps you recollect swinging as high as the clouds on the neighborhood playground.

    Pondering those simpler times, there are a few reliable old friends that often come to mind: the line of dense white pines along our property border and a scattering of apple trees nearby. My sister and I would spend countless happy hours hiding out in the conifers, stocked only with apples and our active imaginations.

    I’m inclined to believe that many have a tree or two that we remember fondly.

    Trees provided a place of solace then and continue to today. From their deep roots to their stately wooden frame, they are an embodiment of comfort and sanctuary.

    However, what really catches the eye and provides differentiation among species is the canopy. The myriad of shapes, sizes, and colors of leaves is astonishing, from sycamore leaves the size of dinner plates to slender clusters of pine needles. (Yes, conifer needles are leaves! Read on to find out more.)

    Photosynthesis, Let’s Get Into This!

    With so much diversity among leaves, interestingly they all serve the same major function: acting as solar panels for the plant they embody.

    Thinking back to biology class, perhaps the term photosynthesis comes to mind? We won’t get into the specifics, but basically plants have the amazing ability to chemically combine sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide from the air to make food! It’s really pretty incredible when you think about it.

    If you want to know more about the process of Photosynthesis, watch this video. But be warned, this catchy tune may be stuck in your head for days!

    Jack of Many Trades

    Leaves have also evolved to have a variety of interesting “side jobs.”

    Carnivorous plants, such as Venus fly trap, use adapted leaves to capture insects.
    Many succulents use their leaves to store water.
    Leaves serve as a foundation for many ecosystem food webs. For instance, oaks support over 500 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars – more than any other native tree! These insects are a principal source of protein for our migrating and breeding birds.
    Species such as stinging nettle equip their leaves with specialized hairs that deter disturbance by delivering an inflammatory chemical when touched.
    Plants such as dogwoods and poinsettias use colored leaves to attract pollinators to their tiny flower clusters.

    Conifers vs. Broadleaves

    As stated earlier, conifer needles are leaves! They perform the same function as broadleaves such as maple & oak, capturing sunlight and turning it into fuel.

    There are some fundamental differences between these two tree types, however. While broadleaf trees tend to shed their leaves each fall, most conifers hold their needles for a few years and lose them on a staggered basis.

    Needles have a thick waxy coating and diminished surface area that helps them retain water, which comes in handy in drier climates. And their tendency to grow in a conical form with slender leaves help conifers shed snow while still capturing sunlight.

    A Sneak Peak of Next Week

    You have likely noticed that many of our broadleaf trees are going out in a blaze color! In fact, the Autumn of 2020 is forecasted to be one of the more brilliant falls we’ve had in years (and goodness knows we deserve it!) Peak fall color in Ohio is predicted to hit in mid-October.

    With this quickly approaching, tune in next week as we explore the following:

    Why does this explosion of color occur each autumn?
    Why is it better some years than others?
    Why are some trees a bit more colorful than their neighbors?
    Learn about a fun, kid-friendly activity that combines leaf identification and art!