Fall Foliage and Composting

Karen Cambre, Sharpe, Kenneth W.

News article for November 19, 2018:

Finally some cooler air. It would be nice if we could enjoy vivid fall color, but unfortunately we live a little too far south for the really splendid leaf display.I have noticed a few trees starting to turn, but our fall leaf color is in early December.

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The ideal weather for good fall color would be to have moderate daytime temperatures for several weeks in the 60-70 degree range. Night time temperatures must remain below 45˚F for 2-3 weeks and we need clear bright weather. Not exactly what we have experienced this fall.

Growing up I was told that Jack Frost painted the leaves starting up north and worked south. I assumed that he ran out of paint before he got to my house.

Now I know that the leaves have color in them all year long, but during the growing season the dominant color is green. The green color comes from chlorophyll which has the ability to capture sunlight and convert the energy to sugar and starches for food.This time of year the reduced daylight and lower temperatures slows food production and the tree uses the chlorophyll faster than it replaces it. This is what allows the pigments of yellow, brown, orange, red and purple to show.

Some plants just give us better color here in the warmer climate than others. I would suggest that as you drive around that you pay attention to which plants show the most color. Some of the trees that give use the best leaf color here each year would include: Chinese tallow (aka. Popcorn tree), Sweet Gum, Swamp Red Maple, Sumac, Crape Myrtle, Dogwood, and Bradford Pear.

Once those leaves turn color and fall to the ground, you will need to rake them up so they do not suffocate out your lawn grasses. The leaves are rich in plant nutrients and organic matter which is very beneficial to all types of lawn and garden plants.

If you are a gardener of vegetables, herbs or flowers, then you need a compost pile to help build up your soil. Composting is a great way to recycle and reduce that large volume of leaves to great gardening soil.

All that is needed for a compost pile is a structure to hold the leaves in place. Use whatever materials you already have available. It could be wire fencing, bricks, concrete blocks, wooden slats, etc. You will want to make a structure that is enclosed on three sides and has spaces left for air movement. The open side will be used to add organic matter and turn the pile.


Composting is a process that allows microorganisms (fungi and bacteria) to decompose the organic matter. As they work, the pile will heat up reaching temperatures of 140 -160˚F in the center.

Once the compost bin is built, spread an 8” layer of organic matter (such as leaves, grass clipping, etc) over the base of the pile. Spray water over the organic layer to moisten it, but do not soak.

Add fertilizer which will give the bacteria a source of nitrogen. You can use 13-13-13 at the rate of ¼ cup per 10 ft² of surface area.

Add a 1” layer of garden soil which will contain the microbes to help start the decomposition.

Repeat the process until you get the pile to a maximum of five feet high.

To help speed up the process turn the pile every couple of weeks initially then once a month.

Your compost will be ready when the volume is about half of what you originally put in the pile and it has an earthy smell. The length of time will vary with the source of organic matter. Live oak leaves will take a bit longer than grass clippings.

Adding compost to your native soil will increase organic matter, make clay soils easier to work, improve aeration, improve root and water penetration plus reduce crusting of the soil surface.

For more information on these or related topics contact Kenny at 225-686-3020 or visit our website at www.lsuagcenter.com/livingston.

11/19/2018 2:17:51 PM
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