November! A month of holiday food, colder weather and autumn colors.

November! A month of holiday food, colder weather and autumn colors.

Leaf peeping, they refer to it in New England. Others participate in fall foliage tours. The autumn color this year is arriving later due to heavier rains and a warming trend through September. The shutting down of food production in tree leaves for the winter is triggered by hours of daylight and darkness (photoperiodism), temperature and, to some degree, moisture. Usually chlorophyll green is the color associated with leaves throughout their growing season, but that green actually masks other colors. Orange carotenoids, red and purple anthocyanins and yellow xanthophylls make up the four primary colors in a leaf. Our eyes detect the green because chlorophyll best utilizes red and blue wavelengths of light, but absorbs little green. Green is reflected and the color we see. When time comes, chlorophyll breaks down and, voila, new colors appear.

Autumn demonstrates winter adaptation survival skills of deciduous trees. Holding onto leaves while attempting to maintain food production in freezing temps, snow, ice and strong north winds would overstress the hardiest of these temperate plants. As autumn deepens, fluids stop entering the leaves and the leaf stems seal within so the tree begins to conserve water before the leaves fall away. The tree sap within the branches and trunk is higher in sugar and acts as an anti-freeze. Most sap is stored in the extensive root system. After leaf fall, the trees are now winterized. Winter is a good time to study tree frames and silhouettes.

Before you start your peeping tour to see the woods in their splendid autumn dress, here is a list of trees and their respective peak fall colors. Hickory—bronze. Bald cypress—coppery bronze. Ash, birch,

poplars and elms—different intensities of yellow. Ginkgo—golden yellow. Red maples—scarlet red. Sugar maples—orange reds. Oaks—greenish yellow to brown, red or russet. Witch hazel—purple. Dogwood—purple red. Sumacs—bright red. Sycamores—yellow transcending rapidly to crispy brown. Persimmon—bright yellow to orangish red. The noxious Bradford pear—dazzling oranges and reds. Sweet gums cover the spectrum with their star-shaped leaves of yellow, orange, red and purple.

The leaf colors in Maine have come and gone. Ohio was reported to have burst into color mid-October. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, the colors were more muted this year at 4,000 feet and the peak has past, but lower elevations are now vibrant. In Arkansas the Ozarks peaked in mid-October, but oranges, reds and golds continue to appear in early November through the rest of the state.

If you are a fan of the Talimena National Scenic ByWay, or Skyline Drive as some of us call it, the colors will peak next week. Drive the 54 miles of up and down and all- around splendor between Mena Arkansas and Talihina Oklahoma. Stop at the remodeled Queen Wilhelmina Lodge for a meal and beautiful mountain top views. Ready for an extended road trip to see the color in the Pacific Northwest? Too late. Color peaked the end of October. Same for the northern California but continue south to see autumn brilliance in state parks and preserves. The Gulf of Mexico states will experience the final blast of peak color by turkey day.

My mother searched for the most brilliant of autumn leaves to preserve for Thanksgiving. She would melt paraffin (wax), dip the leaves into the liquid and lay them on wax paper to dry. Use a disposable pan to melt wax. Leaves hold shape and color for some time.

Another option is to place dry leaves between sheets of wax paper that is put between 2 pieces of typing paper, brown paper bag or other thick paper making sure no wax paper is showing. Press with iron on dry medium-hot setting, moving iron constantly, for about 3 minutes. Flip paper and repeat. Cut away the wax paper but leave a small sealed edge around the leaf perimeter.

Try Martha Stewarts’s glycerin bath recipe. Pour one part glycerin and two

parts water into a shallow dish. Place the leaves in a single layer in the solution, making sure all parts are submerged. Leave three to five days (Martha says at least one day) then dry on paper towels.

White glue painted over leaves will dry clear. Paint one side and let dry before flipping leaf to paint other side. Decoupage can also be used which also dries clear. Apply with foam brush to one side, let dry on newspaper and paint other side. Decoupage preserves leaves for an extended period of time.

Moist, fresh leaves can be inserted between two sheets of thick paper and pressed with a heavy book for a week. Faster: place leaves between paper towels and microwave for 30 seconds until they are dry. Let sit overnight. Next day spray with a clear acrylic aerosol sealer designed for arts and crafts.

Through November add spots of color using leaves. Arrange pretty ones as centerpieces on tables, tuck around pictures, give as gifts in baskets of seasonal goodies, send in cards to your nearest and dearest, or place in floral arrangements with dried flowers and grasses you have collected.

And what about the rest of the leaves laying on sidewalks, driveways, piled under trees and along fences and buildings? Make leaf mulch fertilizer by mowing leaves with the lawnmower to chop them into smaller bits that fall between the grass blades. Collect the leaves in a bag attached to the lawnmower and put the shredded pieces in flower beds, gardens and around trees. Dump leaves into a compost bin to eventually become organic compost. Till leaves directly into garden soil.

Or….make a Lasagna Garden. Begin with a raised bed structure of your choice. Put a layer of cardboard on the bottom (stops weeds and conserves moisture). Lay small twigs and branches to a depth of 4 inches over the cardboard base (drainage). Add at least eight inches deep a layer of leaves. Water. Now add 2 inches of manure or compost and top with 4 inches of edible kitchen waste such as coffee grounds, veggie and fruit clippings. Cover with another 8 inch layer of leaves. Make as many layers as needed to fill the raised bed. Water. Leave to break down through the winter. When it is time to plant in the spring, top with 6 inches of good rich soil.

Mother Nature gives you what you need, be it for the body, mind or spirit. Go play in the leaves!

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at