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Leaves, the Simple Joy of Fall

Photo by David Bartus on

Fall is in high gear here in the northeast. And, if you happen to live in an area that doesn’t get to see the magic of fall foliage then we’ll do our best to share it with you! A brisk fall walk at this time of year fills up all the senses! The crunch, crunch of the leaves as we kick through them, the smell of earth and decaying plant matter (it really is much nicer than it sounds), pine and wood smoke – fall really has a scent like no other.  

But the very best of this season is the color palette!  It’s a visual explosion of color and the reason for the vibrant fall tourism bringing “leaf peepers” and their billions of dollars to the northeast (though maybe not this year thanks to Covid-19…).

Photo by Valiphotos on

This billion-dollar industry is built on one simple thing… colorful foliage.  Have you ever wondered just how those leaves turn their beautiful colors? It’s a common misconception that it’s the fall chill alone that brings on those gorgeous hues but the dwindling amount of daylight is a big contributor as well, (Okay, so we don’t love EVERYTHING about Fall!). 

During the longer days of spring and even longer days of summer the leaves on the trees are busy making food in the form of chlorophyll from sunlight. The chlorophyll turns sunlight and carbon dioxide and water into carbohydrates for the tree and it’s the chlorophyll that also keeps leaves green. As daylight dwindles and temperatures chill the leaves stop making food and while the chlorophyll breaks down leaves lose their green color revealing the jewel tones of fall..

Photo by Ben Cheung on

Another signature of fall? Piles of leaves on the ground! When the tree stops taking nutrients, they drop their leaves to conserve energy – spurring the omnipresent rake on the front lawn. But, don’t rake and blow all of those valuable bits of the season away.  Fallen leaves contain twice the mineral content of manure and are the source of a huge amount of organic matter that can be used to improve the soil of our lawns and garden beds. They can be used as a natural mulch that fertilizes the ground and suppresses weed growth and best of all, they are free!.  

And, they aren’t just useful for our landscape. Fallen leaves provide pollinators like bees, moths, and butterflies with winter cover In fact, many butterflies overwinter as chrysalises or cocoons disguised as dry leaves. Toads, turtles, mammals, and invertebrates as well as birds rely on leaf litter for food, shelter, and nesting.

So, what should we do with these fallen treasures?

  • Keep some piles of leaves in the corner of your yard for overwintering creatures 
  • Let leaves lie in your flower or garden beds over winter for their nutrients
  • Mow or mulch leaves on your lawn instead of raking, but do not leave whole piles of leaves on grass or your lawn will be gasping for oxygen!
  • Use them in your compost pile

Besides admiring these gems of fall don’t forget to have some fun with them too. Leaves can be used to stuff a scarecrow or use them in decorative crafts. If you still have plenty left over then simply make one heck of a giant leaf pile and jump on in!

Deb Fries is a freelance writer and designer and has worked with Julianna Rae in Graphics and Customer Service, she now writes for the blog at