[The Brazil Times nameplate] Overcast ~ 46°F  
High: 64°F ~ Low: 55°F
Thursday, May 5, 2016

All the colors around us

Thursday, September 10, 2009

It seems earlier and earlier each year, when you look at the window and see the tree leaves turning colors.

There is no mistake that this color change is occurring already this year. Right now, when I look out my window, I can already see a few trees, which have started changing their leaf color, but before long, others will follow suit and my landscape view will be full of bright red and orange hues.

With this change comes the ever popular question as to what causes these bright wonderful colors that individuals love to take pictures of and the dread of knowing that workloads will increase in order to keep your leaves from building up in your yard.

Chemistry is the driving force behind the leaves changing colors.

Throughout the summer, chlorophyll gives leaves their green color and is essential in the photosynthetic production of food needed by the tree. Once the days grow shorter and temperatures begin to fall, chlorophyll production slows down.

At this time, other pigments begin to appear giving leaves their brown, red, orange, purple and yellow hues. The color the leaf takes on depends on which chemical is more prominent: anthocyanin, carotene, xanthophylls or tannin.

It is never completely certain which chemical will be more prominent but tannin, in particular, is more prevalent turning leaves brown to dark red in oaks, walnuts and hickories. When the leaves do start to change colors, the outer margins of the leaf will change first. Slowly the color will change further into the leaf, leaving the midrib to be the last green segment.

This is due to how the plant receives its nutrients from the roots and other parts of the tree.

Temperature, light and water supply are the primary factors that influence the pigment of the leaves, resulting in no two autumns ever being alike. Red colors often develop on exposed leaves due to the bright light they receive. A similar result occurs when there is a mild drought. Color intensity will decrease if there are several rainy days near the peak of coloration. The biggest impact that weather has is delaying the onset of the fall colors due to a late summer drought.

Therefore, it is generally said that the best fall foliage occurs when there is a dry, late summer with rain in early fall or when there is heavy rain and bright sunshine with a gradual drop in temperature. However, an early frost will kill the leaves, making them turn brown preventing the vibrant fall colors from appearing.

The bad part about the leaves changing colors is that the color never lasts as long as we wish it would. Instead, the leaves eventually fall to the ground, resulting in a yard that is covered in crumbly red, yellow and orange decaying leaves.

Generally, no one likes this occurring, which is what results in another item being listed on the "To Do" list of homeowners. This pesky problem can be a good thing in the eyes of some because it can provide you with some free mulch, a new source of compost, and a chance to have some fun with the kids.

Some homeowners have issues with the smell that is associated with mulch. One way to get around that is by racking your leaves up and using them as an odor free mulch alternative. Due to fallen leaves being relatively dry, they make excellent mulch beneath trees, shrubs and other landscape plants. If you collect your leaves using a lawn mower bagger, there will be some grass clippings in the mulch mix, which should provide you with mulch with only a slight odor.

The other good use for fallen leaves in the fall is as compost. This is because the leaves often have enough microorganisms on them to start the composting process. To increase the rate of the composting, bag the leaves with some grass clippings. These grass clippings will provide added nitrogen that will speed up the process. The resulting compost is great to use as a soil conditioner when there is adequate moisture in the compost. Adequate moisture for composting leaves is about 40-60 percent moisture. Therefore, it is a good idea to wet the leaves when forming the compost pile. If too much moisture is provided, then the compost will begin to smell.

To help the compost thrive, it is best to turn the pile from time to time to allow air to enter it and allow the decomposition to occur. Similarly, when the pile may need turned to maintain the proper temperature.

When using leaves to provide mulch around your yard or as compost, it is best not to use leaves from a diseased tree. Therefore, if you suspect your tree may have a disease, you need to find another alternate to dispose of your leaves. One fun way to dispose of your leaves is to spend some time with your family raking and playing with them.

In particular, it is often fun to rake the leaves into a huge pile and spend time jumping in them with your younger children. The only bad problem with this idea is that it does not get rid of those pesky leaves. However, one you get them into a pile they will be easier to handle whether you choose to bag them up, burn them or let them blow away in the wind.

Whichever method you choose to do, it's best to make sure that it is allowed in your community since some locations do not allow burning of leaves or disposing of them through curbside pickup.

Even though summer is ending and the leaves are changing colors, I am excited about those great photo opportunities available with such a colorful backdrop.

Now that you know a little more about what makes leaves change their colors and have an idea or two about what to do with your leaves this fall, I hope you take a chance to enjoy the bright colors that are on their way to Indiana. One thing to remember is, not everyone has the chance to see such scenic views like we have in Indiana. While you are making cherished memories, don't' forget about all the opportunities available to you through Purdue Extension. Some important activities through Purdue Extension include:

* Sept. 19 -- Nature's Path to Fitness, Clay County Fairgrounds, 9 a.m.-noon,

* Sept. 21 -- Annual 4-H Council Meeting, Owen County Extension Office, 7:30 p.m.,

* Oct. 2-4 -- Seventh Popcorn Festival of Clay County, Forest Park,

* Oct. 19 -- 4-H Award Program Night, Owen County Fairgrounds, 6:30 p.m.

You may contact the local Purdue Extension Office by calling 448-9041 in Clay County or 812-829-5020 in Owen County for more information.