Cyclone Rake Blog: November 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Mulching with Leaves & Pine Needles

Late fall and winter is not too soon to do something with the leaves or pine needles you have collected with a Cyclone Rake. Used properly, leaves and pine needles may provide attractive and economical winter mulch around many plants. Follow these tips to put your leaves and pine needles to use before next spring.

Use Oak Leaves and Pine Needles to Mulch Acid-Loving Plants

Oak leaves are slightly acidic before decomposing. That means they need some time to decompose to be used as garden compost, as they’ll soon rot and lose their acidity. But you can use this fall’s oak leaves to mulch and help protect your acid-loving plants - like azaleas and rhododendrons – this winter.

A University of Missouri growing guide recommends placing oak leaf mulch 4 to 6 inches deep around azaleas and rhododendrons. This helps conserve moisture and minimize winter injury to shallow roots. The mulch can be kept around the plant in warmer months, but be careful that leaves do not mat and form a layer that prevents water from reaching the soil below.

Pine needles provide slightly acidic mulch without as much risk of matting, creating excellent mulch around acidic-loving plants. Clemson University Cooperative Extension recommends a two-inch layer of pine needles. Whole pine needles interlock with each other, creating a mat while still allowing water and nutrients to reach the soil surface. Pine needles can also be scattered on top of other mulches to help keep them in place.

Consider Coarsely Shredded Leaves for Winter Mulch

Some plants can benefit from winter mulching, a layer of mulch leaves laid in late fall to insulate flowers or shrubs in winter. Winter mulching can also prevent “heaving,” when the ground rises and falls from thawing and freezing, which can damage plant root systems. Most garden guides recommend winter mulching after plants are dormant and temperatures are below freezing.

Winter mulch is meant to be removed when temperatures warm in early spring. It is important to use leaves that are not as finely shredded – like the leaves collected with the Cyclone Rake Power Vacuum Pickup – to keep the mulch from becoming matted. Having protected your plants for the winter, the winter mulch can be removed to the compost pile to break down.

If you Grow Strawberries, Use Pine Needles as Winter Mulch

Winter mulching protects strawberry plants during the harsh winter months. Straw is often used, but pine needles are ideal – especially for a smaller home garden strawberry patch. According to the University of Massachusetts Extension Center for Agriculture, the pine needles can be spread out between the rows of strawberry plants as temperatures warm. This helps keep strawberries clean when they ripen, reduce fruit rot, and cool the soil.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Why Leaves Fall — And Why They Don’t Fall At The Same Time

Collecting leaves with a Cyclone Rake is a great time to enjoy the beauty of your landscape and its trees. As you pay attention to your trees year after year, you’ve probably noticed that all leaves do not fall equally. Some trees shed their leaves sooner, and that timing can vary from year to year. The reasons for different leaf falls are anchored in tree genetics – especially in the leaves.

Leaves, as you probably know, contain chlorophyll – the main pigment that converts the sun’s light into sugars. Chlorophyll pigments are green. During autumn, leaf cells begin to seal off the flow of water to the leaf. That leaf moisture loss starts to reduce the green chlorophyll pigments. This process helps guard the leaf from frost damage.

As the Chlorophyll decreases, the leaves start to show their true colors. Leaves also contain over 80 different carotenoid and xanthophyll pigments, according to a Clemson University Extension publication. Carotenoids, like beta-carotene, appear as orange hues, like the sugar maple. Xanthophylls, like lutein, are more yellow, like the leaf changes of aspen and yellow poplar. Other leaf pigments include tannins, which appear as golden and brown; and anthocyanins, which appear purple or red, like red maple and sweetgum.

During fall’s shorter days and cooler nights, a layer of cells at the base of the leaf’s stem, called the abscission layer, starts to seal off the flow of water to the leaf. That “abscission layer” lets the leaf make a clean break from its branch – keeping tree sap from leaking out and tree diseases from getting into the tree. That’s why leaves fall at the stem.

A tree’s species and genetics largely dictate when the water flow starts to seal off, but weather and environment can also change that timing from year to year. Moisture, temperature and sunlight are most important. A late summer drought can delay the process. Drought in the early fall – right when the tree is starting to decrease chlorophyll production – can cause early leaf drop, according to Colorado State University. Early freezes can also kill leaf tissues, leading to an early drop.

By spending consistent time in your landscape, as you do when collecting leaves with a Cyclone Rake, you’ll start to notice the leaf fall pattern and timing of different trees – and notice how the weather from year to year can affect that timing. As you notice that, you might also take time to marvel at how each tree species has particular genetic designs and varying pigment levels that provide the ideal timing for its leaves to fall.

Websites referenced in this blog post: