Sometimes people are unsure on how to tell the difference between a maple and an oak.

The easiest way is to look at how the leaves are arranged on the stem. Maples are opposite leaved, and oaks are alternate.

Opposite leaved plants like maples and ash have leaves directly across from one another on the stem. Alternate leaved plants have leaves alternating up the stem; one on one side, and the next, further up the stem, on the other side.

Tree leaves and turf

It's that time of year again. Leaves are rapidly falling from deciduous trees, so it's a good time to stop and think about options for handling the litter. Although a scattering of leaves wont harm the lawn, excessive cover prevents sunlight from reaching turfgrass plants.

Turf left in this state for an extended period will be unable to make the carbohydrates needed to carry it through the winter. There are options for dealing with the fallen leaves other than bagging them up and putting them out for the trash collector. Composting is a great way to handle the refuse. Compost can be used in the vegetable garden and flowerbeds. If you do not compost, you can mow leaves with a mulching mower and let shredded leaves filter into the turf canopy. (A side-discharge mower also will work, but it won't shred the leaves as thoroughly.)

This method will be most effective if you do it often enough that leaf litter doesn't become too thick. Mow while you can still see grass peeking through the leaves.

You may wonder whether this practice will be detrimental to the lawn in the long run. Research at Michigan State University in which they used a mulching mower to shred up to about one pound of leaves per square yard of lawn (one pound is equal to about six inches of leaves piled on the grass) for five consecutive years, found no long-term effects of the shredded leaves on turf quality, thatch thickness, organic content of the thatch, or soil test results (pH, nutrients, etc.).

If you mow leaves and have a cool-season lawn, it makes sense to be on a fall nitrogen fertilization program and core-aerate in the fall (things you should be doing anyway).

If you have a warm-season lawn, you still can use this technique, but wait to fertilize and core-aerate until next late May or early June. Another method is using the side discharge mower. Since leaves make an excellent mulch around the base of trees and in the shrub border, consider mowing the lawn area from the center, blowing the leaves toward the outer edge and then into the shrub borders.

With a little raking, the leaves are easily distributed around the shrubs and annuals. This will provide an excellent insulation that will eventually deteriorate by spring, thus enriching the soil with valuable nutrients.

Perennial garden cleanup

Fall is traditionally a time for cleaning up gardens. Normally, we recommend clear-cutting dead stems to help control insect and disease problems. But just as the crop farmers recognize the value of crop residue for erosion control and moisture retention, gardeners also need to take note of alternative practices. However, with herbaceous perennials that have been pest free, you might want to consider leaving some to provide structure, form and color to the winter garden. For example, ornamental grasses can be attractive even during the winter months. But those near structures should be cut to the ground because they can be a fire hazard. Perennials with evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage can provide color. Of course, some perennials are naturally messy after dormancy and should be cut back in the fall.

Foliage may be left for other reasons. For example, foliage left on marginally hardy plants like tender ferns help ensure overwintering of plant crowns. Also, seed heads on some perennial plants can provide seed for birds.

As you close out the gardening season, now is the time to take notes and consider changes or additions to next year's plant selections. Fall and winter don't have to barren or drab. Retaining plants that have unique structural characteristics in the fall really can add to your outdoor enjoyment for several more months. The Extension office has several publications that can help you. Also, if youve experienced failures with some plants, perhaps I can offer suggestions that may give ideas for changes to consider next year.

Council elections Tuesday

The Finney County Extension Council annual elections will be 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Finney County Extension Office. All residents of Finney County who are 18 and older are eligible voters. Three representatives shall be elected for each of the Program Development Committees. Information about each candidate will be available the day of the election.

The candidates are: Agriculture Committee: Michael Burch, Dan Harms, Bill McNeill, Jake Price; Family Consumer Science Committee: Mary Adam, Alice Banning, Carol Deaver, Brenda Drees, Diana Machotka; 4-H Youth Development Committee: Ann Bilberry, Lisa Currie, Amanda Hands, Karen Murrell; Economic Development Committee: Michelle Komlofske, Lora Norquest, Dean Zemp.