Why do some leaves stay on the trees so much longer than others?


It’s mid-November and we have all started the process (or at least starting thinking about the process) of raking the leaves that have fallen in our yards.  In the interest of saving time it would, of course, be optimal to wait until all the leaves have fallen so we only have to do it one time, as it’s tedious, exhausting work.  So you keep waiting…and waiting…but those last few trees just don’t seem to want to shed their leaves.  How come?

First, it’s important to recognize why trees shed their leaves in the first place.  Well, trees are smart!  As the days get shorter and colder in the Northeast regions, deciduous trees (maple, oak, aspen, birch…to name a few) take note and “shedding leaves helps trees to conserve water and energy. As unfavorable weather approaches, hormones in the trees trigger the process of abscission whereby the leaves are actively cut-off of the tree by specialized cells. The word abscission shares the same Latin root word as that in scissors, scindere, which means “to cut.” At the start of the abscission process, trees reabsorb valuable nutrients from their leaves and store them for later use in their roots,” says Deanna Conners in Earth.  

However, in some trees (oak and beech, to name a few), the abscission layer forms later and the leaves hang on much longer, in some even until the Spring. There are several theories that suggest why this is so, “some believe that one reason might be to ward off foraging moose, deer and other animals. Animals will eat the bud bearing twigs from the lower parts of older trees and from nearly all parts of younger trees. One theory says that they don’t like the taste or texture of the dead leaves so they stay away from the trees, which means the buds stay safe and can grow on.  Another theory says that dead leaves clinging to the lower branches trap snow and ensure that the trees get plenty of water in the spring when it melts,” says New Hampshire Garden Solutions.

I guess the bottom line is not to wait until the last leaves come off the trees – the idea is to get the majority of leaves off your lawn, not every last one, before the snow flies.  Additionally, there are many important reasons to rake those leaves each year, and the importance of why we do this each Fall is discussed more in our blog here.  Not mentioned in that article, though, are two other important factors to get out there and rake those leaves:

  1.  It’s GREAT exercise!
  2. Everyone wants to feel like a kid again, and what better way to do it than to rake those leaves into a pile and JUMP IN (like my niece in the photo below)!


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