Well, here it is: November. Thank Heaven we live in an area of the world that welcomes the month. In England and most of northern Europe, the gray (“grey” there) curtain of winter has already descended with the infamous London fogs, rain and other slippery features of nature’s often nonfeasance.
Here, on the other hand, we are just now delving into the most colorful time of year. Most years, it is November when our foliage color explosion arrives. Only further north and at higher elevations does it occur in October.
It is difficult sometimes to break from what is one of the busiest months of the gardener’s year to just stop and smell the roses, or see the foliage color, as it were. We won’t belabor the ins and outs of why all those leaves change from green to varied other colors in fall. It has to do with other chemicals, i.e. sugars, taking over from the green chlorophyll that abides in them throughout the warm months. We don’t need to know any more than that, except to realize there is a Chemist at work with superior knowledge to any earthly college trained one.
It is said that parts of the United States and Japan offer the finest fall color of any other place in the world. This is because of optimum conditions of cool nights and warmer days at just the right time.
Don’t forget that while all this is happening the sap that keeps feeding the leaves from spring to early fall is dropping to its winter quarters in the root system.
When the move is complete, sometime in early December, the leaves will fall with more alacrity than they have up until now.
Which means what? Well, those leaves need rounding up, either with a rake or some gas-powered, whining, earsplitting roaring (blower) that disturbs neighbors for miles around.
That places us squarely on the horns of a dilemma: Do we ruin our ears with machines or our back with the raking? You can, and should, however, use sound-reducing earmuffs to lower the decibels of the blower to a less troublesome level.
The leaves can, as we have discussed in past years, be stacked back to rot down in a couple of years to leaf-mold and, eventually, compost. If some green matter (i.e. grass clippings) and commercial fertilizer are added to the leaf pile after each layer is added, the whole thing will break down sooner, and perhaps be usable within a year.
Leafmold and compost are excellent for mulching shrubs (with a heavy application) and tough perennials with a lighter coating.
Last fall about this time, I topped off a couple of our (mostly) perennial borders with sphagnum peat.
Though the peat has little nutritional effect, its contribution to soil conditions did wonders.
Peat is finely broken down when purchased and makes a nice looking mulch. Once it is saturated with a few rains or artificial watering, its value as a soil conditioner is pronounced.
Back to leaves. Please don’t waste all that free fertilizer, weak as it may be. Like the peat, the leaves offer little food value, but contribute greatly to the soil structure. Why waste a lot of space in landfills with material that has so much value to the garden, and consequently the gardener?
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.