Serendipity Gardens: Will trees drop or hold on to leaves?

Published 9:00 am Saturday, October 13, 2018

Serendipity Gardens by Carol Hegel Lang

Carol Hegel Lang is a green thumb residing in Albert Lea. Her column appears biweekly. Email her at

As I gaze out the patio doors, I am greeted by the yellows and oranges of the maple trees in my neighbor’s yard. In my backyard, the pagoda dogwood has started turning crimson on some of the branches. The Japanese maple is just beginning to show a change in color, but it won’t be long before the leaves are blood red.

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It will be interesting to see what happens with the leaves this year on the Japanese maple, as last year it did not lose its leaves in the fall. Instead, it held on to crumpled up brown leaves through the winter and into late spring.

It is a phenomenon called marcescence. This phenophase of leaf drop for deciduous trees is the response as the day’s length decreases and triggers a chemical change, signaling the leaf to disconnect from the plant’s circulatory system and fall. However, weather can affect this process if an early freeze takes place before the enzymes do their thing. If this happens, leaves do not fall off. This is what happened to my tree and several others that I have in my yard.

I happened across an article in one of my gardening magazines this summer explaining this phenomenon.

My progress in getting the gardens put to bed has been slowed down by all the rain we had in September, but I did get most of the garden ornaments put away. I have also been emptying out containers and making frequent trips to the landfill with my PT Cruiser filled to the brim with containers on every trip. The yard people will cut down the gardens, although I do the pollinator garden because anything I planted this spring I leave standing to protect it through the winter. The only seeds I collected this year are from the zinnias. If the weather holds I will dig out two Joe-pye weed plants and also divide the one in the pollinator garden, but if we get snow early that will wait until spring. My lily bulbs should arrive any time, and they need to get planted before winter.

The raccoon still visits my feeders nightly, so I have to put the peanut ones in the garage, but, knock on wood, no skunks have shown up. There have been three deer visiting the professional, building on Front Street probably eating fallen apples from the crabapple trees, it’s hard to believe we get all of these visitors in town.

The beauty of the trees is enhanced by all the lovely mums, pumpkins, gourds and, of course, Halloween decorations people put out. This year I decided not to do any decorating since, I am so behind with the gardens, but I sure enjoy seeing what others have out.

As I am writing this, our weather is doing its crazy Minnesota thing, with temperatures in the high 70s this afternoon and then in the morning dropping to the 30s. No wonder we don’t know how to dress. Should it be shorts and tank tops or mittens and heavy jackets? You have to learn to just go with the flow when you live in Minnesota.

This morning I still had a monarch looking for nectar plants, which have mostly already thrown away, and a hummingbird was doing the same thing.

The cooler weather means Roosevelt can go with us in the car again, and he sure is letting us know that he is ready to beat us out the door and jump in the car. That dog just loves riding in the car. He will be so glad when the thunderstorms are done for the season, as he just hates them.

Soon I will be sitting in the house reading and watching the birds out the patio doors while taking a well-deserved rest from gardening. In the blink of an eye, seed catalogs will arrive and the gardening process will start all over again.

The seasons change all too quickly anymore, it seems. Enjoy the beauty of fall in Minnesota, comfort foods, pumpkin pie, hot chocolate and time with family.

“September slipped into a gold and crimson graciousness of October.” — L.M. Montgomery