The heat and dry conditions of this past summer remains memorable in the minds of Fox Valley gardeners. Little did we know, as we sweltered in the summer heat, the delights that would unfold as fall emerged! We have seen beautiful colors as our landscape prepares for the oncoming winter.
In the spring and summer trees and plants absorb water through their roots. Carbon dioxide is absorbed from the air. Plants turn water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and sugar (glucose); we call this photosynthesis, which means ‘putting together with light’. Chlorophyll helps make photosynthesis happen and it gives plants their green color.
Shorter days with less sunshine signal the trees to begin getting ready for winter. As the trees go through this process, the chlorophyll disappears and the bright green color fades away. Yellow and orange colors emerge. Red and purple colors, like maple leaves, result from glucose being held in the leaves post photosynthesis. Brown colors, like oaks, are the result of wastes that remain in the leaves. The assortment of beautiful fall colors is a gift of nature.
Once the leaves have fallen from our trees, another chore greets the homeowner. Now we can haul out the mulcher and grind the lawn leaves! This is a very good way to handle a light to medium blanket of leaves. Leaves left behind on the lawn will only cause problems next spring.
One solution for using leaves is to compost the leaves or add them as a top dressing to your garden beds. Working leaves into your soil will enrich it as the leaves decompose.
The last winter chore should be to cut your lawn short for winter. This allows the stray leaves to blow across your lawn and not become entangled in long grass blades.
Throughout the winter, plants will rest and live off stored food until spring when the process will once again unfold.
• Catherine Harrington is a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener for Kane County. Call the extention office at 630-584-6166.