Growing Concerns: Put your leaves to work for a better garden next summer

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The calendar may say it is fall, but there are still lots of summer days left.

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However, leaves have already started to change color and drop. But why does this happen and what to do with all the leaves?

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Trees drop their leaves so the tree can survive the winter. Deciduous trees and shrubs actually push their leaves off the branches.

Fewer hours of daylight and cooler temperatures activate hormones in the plant that trigger the leaf-drop process, called abscission. The leaves stop their photosynthesis, the food-making process, and the chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green colour, breaks down creating fall colours. The plant’s phloem cells which conduct water to the leaf and sugar to the rest of the plant, are closed off and a layer of cells, called the abscission layer, forms between the twig and the leaf stem. The abscission layer slowly cuts the leaves from the plant while sealing the wound.

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What should you do with all the leaves? During the years, I have raked more leaves than I care to remember. Many folks prefer to mulch the leaves and leave them on the grass as well as in gardens.

I continue to cut my grass right up until the snow flies and, as the leaves fall and cover the lawn, they get cut up by the lawnmower and mulched back into the soil or blown into flower and vegetable beds. Leaves, if they decompose, leave behind nitrogen. If you cut up leaves with the mower in the fall, they break down faster and it is a lot less work.

So, don’t make fallen leaves your enemy. Just run over them with the lawn mower and they will help feed the grass and plants for an awesome show next year.

Growing Concerns is produced by Parkway Gardens. Send your gardening questions to Homes, c/o The London Free Press, 210 Dundas St., Suite 201, London, Ont., N6A 5J3

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