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Leaves act as solar panels on all growing things

Leaves and blooms add to the energy level of various plants in the landscape. John Zvirovski / The Sun

Seems like we had spring for one month and right away summer moved in to the area. Yes, winter really was too long this season, but we all made it through just fine. Some of the plants have been delayed, but they are quickly catching up to where they need to be. We also finally got some good rain and that is making a big difference in how everything grows. It is that kick start that everything needs in order to flourish!

This week the higher temperatures return and everything is going to fill in nicely. The trees have really spread their leaves quickly, and this is a sign that they are gathering the energy from the sun to strengthen their vigor and health for the season to come.

Leaves on the trees are the energy gatherers to make the rest of the plant thrive. They are like solar panels gathering their energy from the sun’s rays. The leaves are filled with a chemical called chlorophyll, which gives them their green color.

As the leaves grow and expand, their surface area to gather the sun’s rays increases creating more and more energy. Chlorophyll is to plants as food is to humans.

The spring and summer season are the time period in which the tree, bush, bulb and perennial acquires their energy. This energy will cause them to grow and expand and prepare them for the fall and winter months in which they remain dormant. It is during this time that their systems slow down due to the cold and they retain all the element that keep them alive in weather that can get as cold as minus 40 in rare cases.

Plants create a similar level of chlorophyll regardless of the species and leaf color as the process is the same for all plant types. Some with deeper green colors just have less color genes than say a variegated selection or one that has lighter or a yellow color. Leaves in fall lose their green color as the energy process halts and the remaining color cells in the leaves become apparent. These color cells are there throughout the summer months, but are masked by the green of chlorophyll. As this green fades from the leaves themselves, we see the remaining colors of yellow, orange, red and brown.

Plants that have iron chlorosis (that is where the leaves are light yellow with deep green veins) is a different type of yellow. They are not creating the energy needed as their systems are not working properly. Years of this iron deficiency can eventually cause the demise of that plant as it doesn’t gather the necessary energy needed to thrive. This would be the exception to the rule of a true yellow species such as some hosta, spirea, ninebark and willow species.

Young plants grow faster than older ones as they need to create more of a canopy to gather this energy. As the plant ages in time, it has enough of a canopy to support the future health of the plant. This is greatly noticeable in trees over any other plant. As a seedling, they will sprout and have a few leaves in the first season. In the years to come, many can grow from 2 to 5 feet a year to gain size and a broad leafing structure. As they hit 10 to 15 years old, this growth pattern begins to slow as it has created the canopy necessary to support its structure from that point forward.

Nature has an amazing way of creating what it needs for a sustainable life. Halt this natural process and you will see stress, disease and eventual death in any type of plant form.

There is a very scientific explanation of chlorophyll, but to most people gardening is not so much about science as it is about fun and experimentation. As long as we know the basics, the fun continues from there.

In the weeks to come, take a journey through the yard and garden and watch how things grow. Watch their leaf coloring and how the stems elongate and become larger. The month of June shows this process better than any other month of the year. I just love to take it simply and see all the changes and sit back to experience nature at work due to no help of our own.

Have a beautiful and safe Memorial Day weekend full of new explorations.