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Special Topics

Leaves Aren't Trash

It's About Light and Water

Did you know that the maple syrup, corn syrup and sugar in your kitchen is actually condensed and/or dehydrated plant food?

Thatís right! All green plants make their food through the process of photosynthesis. A simplified explanation of photosynthesis is that the physical energy from sunlight drives the chemical binding of six molecules of water and six molecules of carbon dioxide to produce one molecule of sugar (that's plant food, remember) plus six molecules of oxygen.

Is this bringing back nightmares of your high school science class? I hope not, because here comes the explanation for why it can be so hard to get grass to grow under the trees in your yard.

A lack of light and water makes it difficult, if not impossible to grow grass under large trees. As sunlight passes through the trees in your yard, almost all of the photosynthetically active radiation (those wavelengths of light energy that drive photosynthesis) is absorbed by their leaves. While this is good for the trees, itís bad for the grass under the trees. This is because there isnít enough light energy left to drive photosynthesis within the grass blades by the time sunlight reaches the ground. The result is that grass plants under many trees, quite literally, starve to death because there are not enough simple sugars being made within their leaf blades (photo at left, above).

Adding insult to injury, the leaves of many trees - like those of the wildly popular `Crimson Kingí Norway maple, deflect rainfall toward the `dripline,í just like the shingles on a roof. Thatís why after a relatively heavy summer shower, the soil under many large trees often remains completely dry. Ultimately, this lack of light and water prevents grass from growing, resulting in bare spots that you reseed over, and over, and over.

So, what does any of this have to do with the leaves dropping from your trees?

The point is that itís always going to be a struggle to grow a nice lawn under the trees in your yard because their leaves prevent sunlight from reaching the ground. So why bother?

Now, I doubt that Iíll convince you to stop trying to grow grass where itís simply not going to grow well. But, at least let me offer you some options for managing your tree's leaves by clicking on the links at right.