Fall is one of the most treasured times of year in the Adirondacks. As our lush, green mountains transition to brilliant hues of yellows and orange, eager visitors flock to the area to take in the incredible scenery. While fall foliage is certainly beautiful, the changing leaves also mark an important part of a tree’s seasonal cycle.
Leaves are the main way in which trees and other plants make their own food. Leaves appear green for most of the season due to the presence of chlorophyll, a pigment that allows plants to absorb sunlight and transform it into sugars in a process known as photosynthesis. To save energy and be able to survive winter, deciduous trees, like maples and oaks, drop their leaves during the colder months. Coniferous trees, in contrast, like pines and hemlocks, keep their needles year round. Colder, shorter days trigger the trees to stop producing chlorophyll, causing the green color to fade and allowing yellow, red, and orange colors to shine through. That’s right! Leaves are actually brightly colored all the time, but their color is masked by the green chlorophyll during spring and summer.
In addition to enjoying the brilliant leaf colors this season, you can help improve the health of Adirondack soils by leaving the leaves that fall in your yard rather than raking them. Doing so allows nutrients critical to soil health, like nitrogen, to cycle back into the ground, reducing the need for fertilization. It also serves as great compost, especially when mulched. Fallen leaves also create great habitat for ground-nesting animals and insects, like native bees, moths, and fireflies that overwinter in the Adirondacks. To learn more about how leaving leaves helps the environment, click here to read one of our previous conservation minutes.