This has been a glorious fall; just enough cold to turn the trees into blazing candles. Flying in over west central Spokane a couple of weeks ago and seeing all the colorful trees was a treat.
Deciduous trees use several biological signals to tell them when its time to drop their leaves. As the days shorten and the temperatures cool, chemical changes in the trees slow the metabolism and begin to pull sugars stored in the leaves down into the roots for storage. This process also removes the green chlorophyll from the leaves and leaves behind the yellow, orange and red pigments we see. At some point the stems holding the leaves receive a chemical signal to harden off the attachment point which breaks the bond with the leaf and it falls away.
Now that the leaves have fallen, what the heck can you do with them? A few big maples can bury everything in a yard in several inches of leaves that are pretty at first but quickly turn into a soggy mess with the rains. And then there are Ponderosa pine needles.
The first rule of timely leaf removal is to do it before they get soggy. Consider it a trip to the gym for a cardio workout. Dig them out of flower beds and crevices with a rake or even a blower first. Then rake them into small, easily managed piles around the yard. Try using a 10-by-12-foot tarp to gather them up. It can hold a whole lot more leaves than a wheelbarrow, and with a few helpers it’s easy to load in a truck or the Clean Green bin. Don’t dump them in the street; the city frowns on that.
Some people in the area are jealous of those of you who have too much of a good thing. We don’t have leaves to make compost and garden mulch, and that means this time of year we are cruising neighborhoods looking for available leaf piles.
One group that is in particular need of leaves this year is the Pine Meadow Farm Center (the old PEACH farm), in Cheney. They need all the leaves they can get to shred and add to their vegetable field as a soil amendment. This is the time of year they till in all kinds of organic matter so it can break down over the winter and help create deep, rich soil for planting next spring. The farm already has no shortage of pine needles, so they can’t really use those.
Instead of hauling those loads of leaves to the Waste-to-Energy Plant or leaving them for the garbage pick-up, make a short detour to the farm and drop them off. The farm is at 10425 S. Andrus Road between Cheney and Spokane. They ask that you call or email first, but someone is always around during the day. Leaves can be delivered in bag or loose; unfortunately, they can’t pick them up from you at this time.