Shorter days prompt nature’s grand finale

yuhasHave you noticed lately the shrinking amount of light each day and how it seems to affect your energy level?   The same is true for the  deciduous trees.

They sense the shortening days and start to slow their production of energy. They know the shorter days signal cooler temperatures. Trees save energy by getting rid of their leaves and reducing themselves to their tough parts; trunk, branches and bark that can survive the frigid weather that lies ahead.

But why do they put on the spectacular display of color each fall as they shed their leaves in preparation for winter?  Photosynthesis is the process in plants that converts sunlight into energy or food. It utilizes chlorophyll, a green pigment. As temperatures cool and photosynthesis slows, the green pigments are diminished and the other pigments present in the leaves appear. The yellow, orange, and brown shades, which are created by carotenoids, produce a glorious show as they take center stage. The brilliant red and purple hues are due to trapped sugars in the leaf and anthocyanin pigments.

This autumn is shaping up to be a beautiful display.

The timing of color, leaf drop and type of pigment predominant in the leaf are genetically controlled. Walnut trees may drop their leaves earlier, Oaks tend to be more yellow or russet colored and maples pop out in the landscape with their crimson shades.  Warm sunny days followed by chilly nights produce the most brilliant red colors but, because the carotenoids are present all season long, the yellow and orange hues vary little from year to year.  This autumn is shaping up to be a beautiful display.

For many, the falling leaves create hours of work, raking and bagging them for disposal. This year try to enjoy the fall colors a little more and spend less time removing them.  Leaves and yard debris contribute to 13 percent of our solid waste. Mulching the leaves produces fertilizer, a natural weed barrier and enhances the soil. Leaf litter also provides important food, shelter and nesting material for salamanders, box turtles, toads, frogs, birds and mammals. Some moths and butterflies overwinter in fallen leaves.  Pile them in the corner of your yard or save some leaves in paper bags for spring mulching.

You do not need to drive to southern Indiana or across state lines to view spectacular fall foliage. We are blessed in East Central Indiana with beautiful forests where we can enjoy the colorful display of autumn.