Colorful autumn leaves can give colorful flowers later

In the Garden with Mr. Bee

October 13, 2011|By Lou

This year's display of fall foliage should be exceptionally attractive, because we've had plenty of rainfall as well as the warm afternoons and chilly evenings required during early fall to produce vivid leaf pigments.

Long ago and far away, though, the Wyandots, native American farmers and hunters living alongside Canada's St. Lawrence River, had their own reason for why leaves change colors during fall.

The Wyandots believed that a fight over food took place one autumn between a spirit deer and a spirit bear that lived in "the land of the sky." As blood from the bear and deer rained down from the sky, leaves were stained shades of reds and yellows. Every fall since, this legendary fight is commemorated when leaves change colors.

Leaf mold

Sooner or later, leaves from trees and shrubs fall to the ground, making a mess out of landscapes by depriving grass of the sunlight it needs to survive, unless, of course, the leaves are removed.

Unfortunately, too, removed leaves are often put out with the trash, ending-up in landfills or incinerators, unless they're collected by local governments and recycled into a brown, crumbly substance called "leaf-mold compost" (decomposed leaves).

Leaf mold is a terrific soil conditioner that I till into our clay-based soil to help the soil drain water and aerate more freely. Full of plant-benefiting microorganisms, it also adds a minute amount of fertility to soil, mostly in the form of micronutrients.

Homemade leaf mold

I make leaf-mold compost by creating a mound of leaves that measures at least nine cubic feet. Then I permit the pile to decompose until its size reduces by a factor of seven.

Our leaf mold is usually ready to use by spring. But even if leaves at the bottom of the leaf pile fail to fully decompose by spring, I till the partially ecomposed leaves into vegetable and annual beds. There, the leaves finish decomposing.

The Wyandots didn't fully understand why leaves change colors, or how compost helps plants. But don't you think their explanation for why leaves change colors during autumn is as colorful as autumn leaves themselves?

This week in the garden

This is the perfect time of year to purchase and plant trees and shrubs already sporting vivid fall colors. Some of my favorites include Japanese maples, amur maples and burning bushes.

Lou Boulmetis is a certified master gardener who lives in Littlestown, Pa. Call him at 1-888-727-4287 or email

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