While oaks and young beeches always hold their leaves through the winter, providing a flutter of interest when a breeze riffles through the bare woods, maples don't typically do that. They usually color up, put on a fall spectacle, then drop their leaves before December.
The 'Bloodgood' Acer palmatum outside my window always followed that pattern. But not this year.
It started to bother me as December came on. Something was not right. Those brown leaves shouldn't be hanging on like that. It looked so wrong.
|The grass is still green, but this shot is actually from mid December, just before snow came.|
Those leaves should be long gone and I should be looking at the
curving artistic empty branches of this Japanese maple.
Here is what I learned:
When a plant goes dormant before the enzymes that cause leaf drop have completed their work, the message to drop its leaves gets scrambled. The ordered process of leaf dieback followed by abscission fails.
Why did that happen? Autumn in Connecticut was not terribly cold or harsh this year, but we had two very brief but very hard freezes in early October, way before our typical first frost date. A sharp, hard dip into the 20s (F) for just an hour or two overnight.
The annuals all immediately went to mush, and the leaves on a few of the trees turned brown. I lamented in an earlier post that fall color in some of my specimen trees was kaput this year. Brown dead leaves, and no fall color. And then the dry leaves blew off after Halloween.
It happened to the Japanese maple too, but the dried leaves never blew off. They never got the enzyme message to loosen their hold and drop. Oops.
|Bloodgood's best red color is actually in spring (here in April).|
Then the foliage turns purple in summer, before returning
to glowing red in autumn, or at least in a normal autumn.
|Here it is in mid summer when the leaves are a|
rich purple. As the weather gets hotter, the
purple washes out to a mahogany brown.
I don't think any harm is done, and eventually new foliage will push out the dead next spring. I hope.
In fact, after some snow and wind over Christmas, there are fewer leaves holding on now, although it still looks odd to see the brown crispy foliage that does remain against the white background.
Just when I think I know the seasonal patterns of my garden, a new wrinkle appears. I'm going to call this a garden "oops" --- not my fault, but clearly it is not what is supposed to happen. Epic enzyme fail.
You can read more garden oops posts at Joene's Garden. On the first of every month she sponsors Garden Oops (GOOPs) where we reveal the mistakes that happen (and that we cause) in the chaotic and unpredictable world we try to control outside.