Imagine you’re a leaf on a deciduous tree. In Spring, you emerge and are blemish-free. You experience the first rays of light. You’ve never existed before. You begin to photosynthesize. This is what green leaves do. You’re normal.
The first windstorm occurs in April, blowing you into other leaves, branches and stems. You sustain a puncture wound. Trees don’t heal, so any damage is permanent.
In May, a small population of aphids dines on the tree’s leaves. Ladybugs consume most of the aphids, and a blowing rain dislodges the remaining few.
During the extended hot, dry weather of June and July, the tree’s owner is not watering properly and the tree begins dropping leaves. This is a normal process in many tree species during periods with insufficient moisture.
But you stay firmly attached.
The tree’s owner overdoes it in fertilizing his lawn and burns some of the tree’s leaves as a result. Most tree roots are shallow, having access to lawn fertilizer. Your leaf margin is brown and crisp as a result.
In August, you’re exposed to direct sunlight all day, partly because of the longer day length and partly because of the loss of other leaves that once shaded you.
In September, the tree’s owner applies weed ad feed to his lawn. Tree roots growing in the lawn pull up some of the herbicide.
Tree roots grow two to three times beyond the branches, having access to herbicides applied to adjacent lawn areas. The herbicide injures many of leaves, including you.
Shorter days and cooler temperatures of fall bring on changes in your physiology. The green pigment chlorophyll that has allowed you to produce sugars through photosynthesis since you first emerged is now breaking down.
As a result, your green color fades and fungal spots, sun scorch and the puncture wound from spring become visible.
During October and November, many neighboring leaves are turning loose and falling to the ground. This is part of the normal senescence process on deciduous trees.
Before you fall, the tree’s owner notices that you don’t look so good and becomes concerned about your brown spots instead of the uniform green color you had in spring. He has visions of another dead tree and rushes to his County Extension Office carrying you in hand.
A master gardener explains to the tree’s owner that the spots are a natural part of the senescence process. The leaf is at the end of its life.
The tree’s owner is provided information on proper tree care.
The following spring, the tree produces new, healthy leaves and is provided better care.