Strip Trees (Bow-Chikka-Bow-Bow)

I love this time of year. Fall has always been my favorite. I enjoy the coming rains (we’ve got that dry-summer Mediterranean climate out here in Cali, after all), and the brief explosion of foliage color. Back East they get some crazy leaf color changes. Out here, we get an abbreviated version. It all happens in a couple of days, it seems. Green turns yellow then red then brown in short order. But it’s still pretty.

Layers of colors starting to appear as fall weather sets in a couple of weeks ago.

Layers of colors starting to appear as fall weather sets in a couple of weeks ago.

With the rains, the ground gets saturated. This time of year also tends to bring heavier winds than the sunny seasons. The leafy trees act like wind-catchers, making them susceptible to toppling in the wet, unstable soil. We just had a big bout of that last night around the Bay Area, with trees crushing cars and fences, and blocking roads all over the place. Another thing that happens this time of year is the trees themselves become more brittle. It’s partly the temperatures (though that’s not a factor in this part of the state), but also partly physiology: as the deciduous trees drop their leaves for winter, they withdraw the sugars and nutrients from the leaves (thus the color changes) and deeper into the thicker parts of the trees. This leaves branches more apt to snap if there’s heavy wind (or weight from ice or snow in areas that have to deal with that).

I was doing my regular weekly gardening gig today over in Cole Valley, right on the edge of Sutro Forest. We had a couple of biggish eucalyptus branches come into the garden, but nothing major. A few broken plants to cut cleanly here and there, but mostly just lots of leaves and twigs to clean up.

The colors of the maples, looking down from a higher terrace a couple of weeks ago.

The colors of the maples, looking down from a higher terrace a couple of weeks ago.

Many of the trees in this garden are Japanese maples. Real beauts, too. Yellows, reds, greens, short, tall, in-ground and in containers. It’s a lovely woodlandy kind of garden, with terraces stepping up the hillside from the client’s deck. Some of the maples are more exposed than others, taking the brunt of the wind, whereas others are well-sheltered. While they’re all deciduous, there are two different basic types. Some are fully deciduous (the leaves dry up and fall off). Others have leaves that are referred to as “persistent,” meaning they dry up but stay put on the branches all winter, until the spring leaves push them off. I don’t know for sure, but my own logic tells me that these varieties hail from more sheltered settings in their native habitats.

This brings me to the crux of my topic. Stripping. (Insert porn soundtrack here. Bow-chikka-bow-bow.) All the persistent leaves on the exposed trees in this garden leave them more vulnerable to uprooting or snapping. Today I put a little effort into stripping them by hand. It’s really an easy task, and quite fun, actually. Climbing around the trees, running my hands from trunk to tip on the branches to gather off the dried leaves. Makes some nice material for the compost pile, and also saves me the hassle of sweeping them up weekly as they get blasted off in small doses. Long story short, a little human manual effort on nature’s behalf helps keep the garden tidier, and helps prevent further damage in the coming winter storms…

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