New Castle News

Mitchel Olszak

November 11, 2013

Mitchel Olszak: Autumn becomes the time to report for leaf duty

NEW CASTLE — This time of year, I find myself frequently looking skyward.

I’m not pondering the clouds, anticipating snow or scanning for NSA drones.

Rather, I’m looking at the trees.

In particular, I’m checking to see how many leaves are left on branches in an effort to determine how much yard duty remains for the fall.

When I was a kid, I lived out in the sticks. Trees were everywhere, along with their leaves. So we didn’t bother with them. Eventually, they either rotted or blew away.

City life is different. Leaves must be dealt with in effective fashion. That means either bagging them or mulching them. I employ both strategies.

In my younger days, I never paid much attention to the leaf-dropping habits of trees. Now I observe how some seem to surrender all their leaves in a couple of days, while other trees give them up grudgingly. It can take them a month to shed their leaves fully.

Last week provided the first killing frost in my neighborhood, a process that tends to accelerate leaf loss, which is a bit later than normal this year because of mild weather.

One of the benefits of this is that leaves haven’t been particularly overwhelming at any given time, but it means the task of dealing with them will be stretched out. As I write this, my assessment is that we’ve just passed the peak leaf time and the fluttering is starting to fade.

In addition to cold weather, assorted factors impact leaf action this time of year. Chief among these are wind and rain. A rainy, breezy day right about now guarantees lots of leaves.

Plus, the types of trees must be considered when it comes to leaves. Maples generally lose their leaves before oaks and maples have smaller, finer leaves that are easier to mulch and break down better.

When there are just a few leaves in the yard, I chop them with the mower and leave them as fertilizer for next spring’s lawn. But lots of leaves require a different plan. I attach a bag to my mower and gather up the fragments for the garden. That compost is one method that helps me outproduce Gary Church.

The real work with leaves comes when they invade the spaces between shrubs where the mower won’t reach. Then they have to be extricated in some fashion. That usually involves me and a rake.

Yes, leaves can be a nuisance and a chore. But I really don’t object. For much of the year, I enjoy trees and their leaves. They provide summer shade, improve the scenery and enhance wildlife habitat.

Some things in life amount to a tradeoff. And so it is with leaves. So, despite some extra yard work in the fall, I think I get the better end of the bargain.

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Mitchel Olszak
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