Tag Archives: killing frost

Autumn Leaf Rain

Late autumn leaf rain in the Ozarks isn’t what you think of when you hear the word rain. It isn’t water.

Frost arrives and the leaves turn color. This year many of them turned brown. Some turned yellow, purple or orange.

Regular rain did go through when the color was peaking on the hills. Heavy stratus clouds blanketed the sky and kept the days dim dulling the colors.

goldfinch eating seeds
The giant ragweed and other plants are dead sticks now with food attached. Goldfinches, sparrows, juncos and cardinals are reaping the seeds.

Peak color often holds for several days. It did hold this year for two or three dull days.

Finally the clouds moved on one afternoon letting the sunlight make the hill colors glow. Wind made some leaves fall.

The next morning was about twenty degrees. This is frost flower temperature.

These delicate ice curls only happen one or two mornings each year. I go up on the hill to where the dittany grows to look for them.

autumn leaf rain
The first big killing frost signals the beginning of the autumn leaf rain and the end of fall colors. Any hint of a breeze brings down clouds of colorful leaves to blanket the ground. It continues until the trees are bare for the winter.

As I crossed the bridge, I found I was in the middle of the autumn leaf rain. Every tree was raining its leaves.

Most deciduous trees have s special layer form between their leaves and stems when the leaves change color. This double layer of cells is where the leaf will break free when it falls.

Like the color change, temperature determines when most leaves fall. A deep killing frost like twenty degrees does it.

Under foot the ground was paved with color. Leaves drifted down on the wind making me look for birds and finding only leaves.

ice edged leaves
Spikes of ice create a lacy effect on pasture plants. This takes temperatures in the twenties or below. These spikes vanish when the sun touches them.

The pastures were white with frost. Birds were everywhere. The juncos or snowbirds and sparrows have arrived for the winter. They are eating seeds on the various plants such as giant ragweed, daisy fleabane and grasses.

The hillside hadn’t gotten cold enough for frost flowers. The dittany even had green leaves on its stems. The trees were the attraction with their autumn leaf rain.

Admire the Ozark hills more in “My Ozark Home.”

Leaves Change Into Fall Colors

Leaves have a color for every season of the year. With the coming of killing frost the leaves change into fall colors.

Spring brings a delicate light green. The green darkens over the summer. About mid August yellow creeps into the green.

green hills

Fall has limped along with many warm days. The trees stayed green, waiting.

Over the week after killing frost, especially if there is another one or two frosts, that yellow spreads. Reds begin to appear. Length of day may trigger the changes, but frost makes the leaves change into fall colors.

One interesting experiment in my science classes was the chromatography of leaf pigments. It isn’t hard to do.

Take an eight inch or more long strip about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide from a filter. A finer grained one is best and some coffee filters are like that.

leaves change into fall colors

A week after killing frost the change is dramatic. The green hill is now shades of orange.

Have a tall jar so the strip barely touches the bottom and folds a little over the top. Tape the fold onto a pencil so the strip will dangle down from the pencil into the jar.

Draw a line in pencil (it must be pencil) across the strip 1 1/2 inches above the end.

Gather a couple of leaves. These can’t be dried out These can be spring, summer or fall leaves.

Place the leaf over the line and rub it with the side of a penny. You may have to move the leaf and repeat the rubbing to get a dark spot on or barely over the line.

Pour isopropyl or rubbing alcohol in the jar an inch deep. Hang the strip into the jar and wait. You will see the alcohol move up the strip. When the alcohol reaches the top of the strip, take it out and look what happened to the leaf spot.

The alcohol pulls the spot up the strip with it. But not all of the spot moves the same. There should be darker spots of slightly to very different colors in a line over the spot. These spots will fade as the strip dries so look quickly.

leaves change into fall colors

Approaching sunset turns the oranges into fire. The color will peak in about another week, but lose depth as many leaves begin to fall. Soon the hills will be bare for winter.

Using acetone or ethanol works too and can give slightly different spot arrangements. Each likes different parts of the leaf pigments better than others and carries them farther.

The striking thing for many students was that green leaves could have more than one green and colors other than green in them. The colors weren’t always the colors they saw. In class we discussed what the different chlorophylls and anthocyanins were and did.

Now I stand and watch as the leaves change into fall colors.

My Fall Garden Survives

Winter walked through my garden leaving a white coating that turned to black in the morning sun. The summer garden ended. The fall garden remains – for now.

Killing frost is rarely a surprise. Average dates are given for my Ozark area about October 17. The days are warm. The nights cool to cold.

fall garden garlic

Garlic planted in the fall will be ready to pull in late spring. In the Ozarks garlic does the best when planted in the fall. I put down a good four inches of mulch, burrow holes through to put in the cloves and watch it grow. It stays green most of the winter.

Already the peppers are harvested. These summer plants like hot days and warm nights. Fall temperatures leave the peppers hanging on slowly ripening. They will ripen as fast in the pantry.

Tomatoes are another summer crop loving hot days and warm nights. Green tomatoes will hang on the vines waiting for the temperatures to go up. In the pantry they will turn red. The flavor isn’t as good as summer sun ripened ones, but not bad.

fall garden cabbage

Cabbage will take a hard frost. It slows down, hunkers down, but keeps growing. The good thing is that the cabbage worms don’t survive.

Squash plants too are summer crops. By fall the squash bugs are killing the vines starting with the summer varieties and moving to the winter varieties. The winter squashes are putting on their thick rinds.

My pantry was filled with sacks of peppers, tomatoes and squash.

Frost can form pretty patterns and edgings on plants. It freezes the water inside the summer plants destroying their cells and killing them.

The morning after killing frost is so depressing. The tomatoes were towering over my head with vines heavy with fruit. Now the vines are limp and dark.

fall garden turnips

Turnips like cool weather. They don’t mind a good frost. I never seem to plant them thin enough, but the extras make good greens. A good mulch along the rows keeps them growing better.

In the beds nearby the fall garden is still green. Cabbage, broccoli, turnips and garlic hang their leaves in the frost.

Once the frost melts, the leaves stand up still fresh and green. All but the garlic will slowly produce their crops in the warm days of Indian summer.

Another fall garden crop is chickweed. This sprouts in the fall growing green and lush with the cool temperatures and moisture. It like the garlic will overwinter.

By November most of the fall crops will succumb to winter’s cold blasts. Until then, they are a welcome bit of green in the garden.

Fall Frost Flowers

Fall is not my favorite time of year. Yes, the leaves are beautiful in their many hues. Yes, the cooler temperatures are a welcome respite from summer heat. Fall frost warns of cold moving in.
For me fall makes it hard to enjoy walking in the woods. I love the green plants and colorful flowers. I love warm air and not wearing layers of clothing plus a coat.

frosted gallium leaves

This gallium plant has its leaves edged in white frost lace.

Frost means dead plants, bare trees and slippery paths covered with dead leaves. Definitely a time to sit inside near the wood stove.
But frost has its attractions too. Killing frost has a special attraction.

leaf edged in frost

Each delicate lacy leaf lobe has its frost edging.

Hard frost freezes the dew on anything. In freezing the dew becomes little spikes edging leaves and leaf veins. They form delicate traceries on plant stalks.
Such frost pictures are common all winter. One isn’t.

seed head with ice spikes

Ice spikes fuzz out from the beggar lice in this Queen Anne’s Lace seed head.

The first real killing frost, the one down in the low to mid twenties, brings out the frost flowers.
The wild mint dittany is a reliable plant to make frost flowers. White crownbeard does too but grows along the road where the sun shines early in the day. Dittany is up in the woods.
Frost flowers last only a short time. The air must be cold. No hint of sun must touch these ice creations. No wind must go through to break their delicate ribbons.

frost flower

Dittany stems still have water in them when killing frost hits the Ozark hills. The water freezes splitting the stem allowing the ice to ooze out in an ice ribbon forming a frost flower.

The temperature was twenty-five degrees at dawn. Perfect.
Frost laid heavy on the ground so there was no wind. Perfect.
The sun was peaking over the hill but still hidden behind the trees. The world was light enough to see easily. Perfect.
The frost flowers were out in abundance on the hills.

Finding Frost Flowers

Killing frost is often thought of only for the damage it does. The gardens devastated. The fall leaves tumbling to the ground. But killing frost, at least the first big one, can bring a special treat for those who go out to look.

There have been several mornings in the mid twenties. These weren’t cold enough for these flowers. Then there came a thirteen degree morning. This was it.

I struggled into the coveralls and jacket, finished the milking and headed for the woods. There among the dry brown fallen leaves I found the frost flowers.

Frost flowers are not really flowers. They are sheets of ice erupting from plant stems in long ribbons that curl and cling to the stems.

frost flower

These ice ribbons are long.

Frost flowers are extremely delicate. They last only as long as the temperature stays below freezing and the sun doesn’t hit them. Often they appear a single morning of a fall.

frost flower

Notice how the ice pushes out from the stem

Only a few plants produce frost flowers. A stem has to have plenty of water in it. Most stems have dried out. Dittany is fairly reliable for frost flowers.

frost flower

Dittany is a wild mint. It grows scattered in open woods. Lovely groups of tubular lavender flowers appear around August and last into the fall.

Here dittany prefers a west facing slope. It seems to prefer drier areas of the hills. It likes growing near oaks and hickories.

frost flower

The ice ribbon varies in thickness so each ribbon is banded.

Dittany will grow in flower gardens as I know someone who had a plant appear one year. She enjoys the lovely plant.

This is a lovely plant. It can reach a foot high with numerous branches. All the branches are thin and wiry. Light green opposite leaves are wide and round at the base tapering to a point in an inch. Like many mints, the plant has a spicy pleasant odor.

In the fall when other plants are busy putting their moisture reserves down into their roots or are dying leaving their stems to dry out, dittany keeps trying to grow with juicy stems. A perfect recipe for frost flowers.

frost flower

Wooded slopes don’t seem to get as cold as the pastures so those killing frosts don’t do much damage there. When the temperature drops to the teens, the slopes freeze.

Water expands when it freezes. The water in those juicy stems starts to freeze and splits the stems. Ice pushes its way out in ribbons of varying width.

frost flower

Walking over the hills in search of frost flowers, I scan the area for the dittany plants. As I near a plant I peer down to the stem base often hidden under dry leaves for a gleam of white.

Once a frost flower is spotted, I remove the dry leaves carefully. Hitting the flower will shatter it. The ice is rarely attached to the overlying leaves.

frost flower

Taking pictures of frost flowers can be challenging. Ice is very reflective and will glare. I underexpose and try to keep the frost flowers in the shade.

These delicate treats of fall may appear once more on another frosty morning. There won’t be as many, if they do appear.

frost flower

A touch of sun and frost flowers begin to disappear.

For those who miss them this year, take some time to look for dittany late next summer. Then you will know where to go look for frost flowers when that first really cold fall morning arrives.