Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Colorful Leaves in the South

  Ok, I was wrong. We have as beautiful leaves here as anywhere . It's just that ours are so much later. This past week has been the peak of leaf color here, and it has been every bit as wonderful as the picture I sent, every bit as beautiful as Chattanooga. Maples are the trees that consistently produce those vibrant reds, yellows, oranges, along with some green sometime, and because we do not have full forests of maples, they seem to stand out even more. But maples do have some marks against them. For instance the leaves are thin and when they fall in the damp, they track readily into the house. Our native swamp maples have hard wood, but they split terribly. After they get to be a certain size, the rain of limbs and even huge hunks of the tree become a reality that has to be reckoned with (don't park under one). They are as bad to split as Bradford pears. Further, do not even think that you can grow anything to a healthly size under a maple tree. They are greedy feeders with roots close to the surface and they take all the water and fertilizer. Additionally, they make so many seed that come up everywhere that it is a wonder to me they have not taken over the whole eco-system. Maybe their propensity to split keeps them in check. But enough criticizing maples. They have beautiful fall leaves, even when those leaves come in mid-November.
 Sweet gums (Liquidamber styraciflua -isn't that a beautiful name!) are beautiful now with those deep purpley-black leaves, but every now and then there is orange, red, and even yellow. Many times I have picked gorgeous bouquets of them for Thanksgiving. Now don't start carping about those sticky balls. You know good and well it is a southern tradition to stray paint them white and/or gold and use them for Christmas decorations. They are wonderful in any dried arrangement and look splendid in wreaths and as an accent with a ribbon on packages. Anyway if you grew up in the south, you know better than to walk under a sweet gum barefooted. Who goes barefoot any more anyhow?
  The dogwoods have passed their peak, but the hickories have just arrived at their golden splendor. They seem to glow in the sun. I have lots of them around my house and I know when I see them turning that Jack Frost will soon take us in his grasp. They are the last large trees with color in our native landscape. They also have delicious nuts but you would starve trying to pick them out unless you are a squirrel.
  My pawpaw is the brightest yellow you can imagine and the bottlebrush buckeye is a luscious yellow. This has been a great year for crepe myrtle foliage, maybe the best red foliage of all. This year it is as good as red Japanese Maple foliage. In Lowe's yesterday I bought a marked down Itea because it's foliage was a beautiful red.
 Well, I could keep going on, but I guess you see my point. We are so lucky to have beautiful leaves this late in the year. And, after the oaks drop their brown leaves without much fanfare, they make a wonderful rustling when you drag your feet through them.
  Now don't get all excited and rush outside with your rake. That is a waste of time and effort. By spring, God and the wind will have raked them for you and put them where they should go.(Except for those nasty pecan leaves that stick to your feet all winter.) They will catch under shrubs and snag in the stubble of perennials. In the spring there will be a nice mulch just where you would like it and without any effort on your part and the grass will be free of leaves.

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