Category Archives: plants

Pennsylvania leaves change color in Fall.

Fall is the perfect time to watch the foliage around us explode in color. Deep reds, bright yellows and cozy oranges shimmer in the wind for just a few weeks before the branches are once again bare and the cold weather ensues.

But why do leaves change color in the fall, and while we’re at it, why do they fall off their trees at all? 

Why do leaves change color and fall?

What leaves do for a tree

In a nutshell, leaves make food for the plant they are attached to, whether that be a tree, a shrub or a flower. Leaves are connected to its plant through a vascular system that carries these nutrients around the plant, similar to how our human vascular system carries blood around our body. They do this all through a process called photosynthesis, a system you probably remember learning about way back in middle school. 

During the warmer months that make up spring and summer, leaves work constantly to convert sunlight into nutrients for the plant. Chlorophyll, the chemical that gives leaves that green color, absorbs light energy and contains it in the leaf, which then interacts with the natural enzymes found in plant cells found in the leaf. That reaction between the light energy and the enzymes helps to break down the chemical components in the water (supplied to the plant from the roots), breaking it down into oxygen and hydrogen. 

The hydrogen reacts with the carbon dioxide found in the plant enzymes to create a form of sugar, and that sugar is what’s funneled through the plant’s vascular system to provide the nutrients the tree needs to grow. Any remaining oxygen is released through miniscule pores found on the leaf’s surface. 

A forest road covered in fallen autumn leaves that are green orange yellow red and brown

Leaves are falling all around…

Not all trees are able to handle the colder weather later in the year, so they drop their leaves until spring peaks its sunny head around the corner a few months later. 

Interestingly enough, leaves don’t just fall off with a strong breeze or a cold wind; the trees actually shove the leaves off! If anything, this season should be called “Push” rather than “Fall,” if we want to be scientifically accurate. But anyway… 

If we think of leaves as solar-powered cooks, then during the summer months these tiny cooks are working all day every day to make the most of that bright sunlight, all the while depositing an abundance of food and nutrients into the plant. It’s a great system, and those leaves make it well-worth the effort of keeping them around full-time.

In the colder months, though, the days are much shorter and the sun is not nearly as direct. The quality and quantity of sunlight decreases with each passing day, and the tree has to decide if it wants to keep its staff of full-time chefs all winter long, or if it wants a break. It takes a lot of nutrients to keep leaves alive, and if the leaves themselves aren’t able to make a lot of nutrients in the first place, then the tree can be quickly sapped of its reserve. Plus, if the water in those leaves gets cold enough to freeze, then the leaves could die completely and damage the tree’s vascular system.

For these trees, then, it makes more sense to get rid of its leaves and go dormant over winter, rather than hang onto the leaves and run the risk of a bad freeze. 

The process by which trees drop their leaves is a fascinating one, and it all starts with the decreasing sunlight.

Hormones inside the leaves can sense when there is less sunlight and lower temperatures, so those hormones will activate a process called abscission that starts to shut down the production process. This means that the chlorophyll stops working, changing the leaf’s color back to its natural state of yellow, orange or red (yes, leaves are not naturally green!). It also means that tiny cells begin building a wall between the leaf and the twig it’s attached to, slowly cutting off the flow of nutrients and water from the leaf. 

These abscission cells eventually grow thick enough that the leaf is shoved completely off the twig with just the slightest of breezes, falling to the ground in that magnificent display that we just love to watch. And, because those cells formed such a thick wall, there is no open wound on the branch where the twig was, and the scab of plant cells keeps the twig protected all through winter as the tree lies dormant.

This process is purely self-preservation, and we see this happening in other adverse conditions, too. When faced with a particularly horrific drought, the tree may cut off nutrients to leaves or branches in order to strengthen the more vital parts of the tree. The tree will reactivate these dormant pieces when there are enough nutrients available, and the process starts all over again!

Food for spring

Wading through a forest full of fallen leaves can feel like trudging through snow, as there are just so many leaves! Yet when we return in spring, those blankets of leaves are gone! Where do they go?

Fallen leaves decay through natural processes, as fungus, bacteria and invertebrates cover the forest floor and provide the vital processes of decay and deconstruction that keeps the circle of life running smoothly. 

Webs of fungus called mycelium send tiny strands of hyphae into organic matter around them, where those hyphae secrete enzymes that break down the chemical structure of the fallen leaves. The nutrients extracted from those leaves are transported through the mycelium to the trees and plants all around it, feeding and strengthening the forest through this massive underground web. 

Finally, small critters and bacteria eat through the remaining leaves, breaking down the physical structure and secreting even more nutrients into the soil via their waste. 

In the end, all the nutrients stored in those bright green leaves returned right back to the ground, where they will feed the tree yet again come spring. Then, the cycle continues once again.

Fall is a magical time for many reasons, but seeing how this brief interval of time can so drastically affect the livelihoods of deciduous trees makes it all the more fascinating.

Enjoy the beauty of the changing color of the leaves. Take a short rode from your home at to the Laurel Highlands this weekend.

Happy Fall! Best, Janet.

Plants at your Starloft home!

Having a green thumb right away would be nice, but that’s not always the case for most folks, and it certainly wasn’t the case for me. During the pandemic, I started gravitating towards plants. But sadly, plant after plant in my care would reach their ultimate doom, sometimes less than a month after bringing them home. This made me question if plants were really right for me. What was I doing wrong? Why were my plants wilting and dropping leaves so frequently? Ultimately, it had less to do with me having a green thumb and more to do with researching and understanding various plants and the environments they thrive in. It hadn’t occurred to me that, maybe, just maybe, every plant has different needs. So, while I didn’t have a green thumb immediately after bringing my first plants home, I read up on them, talked to them, and figured out all their plant necessities. Now my house is a thriving plant mecca filled with good vibes, fresh air, and lush greenery. My advice is not to be discouraged or throw away that wilting plant just yet; you have a chance to turn it around. A green thumb is on the horizon!


Plants are not only beautiful decor for your apartment, but they liven up your living space. Not to mention, they’re proven to have some pretty amazing health benefits. The fact is that we have a strong connection to nature. It has been scientifically proven that being out in nature around trees and letting the sun’s rays warm your skin can reduce stress and even boost your mood. While most of us don’t live in a tropical paradise, we can still bring a little bit of paradise into our homes. Multiple studies have shown that indoor plants keep owners healthier and happier, offering an array of physical and psychological health benefits that include: 

  • Reduce Stress
  • Brighten mood / reduce fatigue
  • Sharpen attention/ boost productivity
  • Therapeutic (horticultural therapy)
  • Improve indoor air quality

Important to note: All plants mentioned are pet-friendly and not toxic to cats or dogs. For more information about toxic and non-toxic plants, visit the ASPCA


Are you not quite sure what plant to start with? Well, beginners, you are in luck! These plants require little maintenance and won’t take up too much of your time. So, if you’re constantly on the go, traveling for work or pleasure, these starter plants may work best for your lifestyle.

Some Succulents

There is a large variety of succulents like echeverias or hens and chicks that are pet-friendly. These small babies do best in bright light and only need watering every couple of weeks, perfect for renters on the go. Just be mindful not to overwater these drought-tolerant plants or root rot will occur, ultimately killing the plant. 

Spider plant aka Chlorophytum comosum

Spider plant is a very adaptable plant that thrives in indirect light. It’s said to be one of the easiest-to-grow houseplants. This spiderlike plant quickly produces other plants that dangle from the “momma spider” plant like a spiderweb. Give them well-drained soil and bright or indirect light, and they’ll grow long and luscious. 

African violet aka Saintpaulia

These lovely plants come in a variety of pink and purple hues and require low maintenance. African violets are sure to brighten up your space with their blooms that typically last year-round. For a happy plant, place these beauties in bright indirect sunlight and keep the soil moderately moist. 

Friendship Plant aka Pilea involucrata 

This propagation-friendly plant is — like the name suggests — perfect for sharing with friends. They grow well in medium to low light and typically don’t grow taller than 12 inches. They prefer humid environments, but a humidifier will help with that. This low-maintenance, velvet-like plant appreciates moist soil and six to eight hours of light (not direct sun).


Renters in big cities may have less window space or less lighting. If your apartment lacks windows, no worries; there are plenty of plants out there that thrive in little to low light environments. 

Chinese Evergreen aka Aglaonema

Chinese evergreen does amazing in low light and only needs to be fertilized twice a year. Be sure to let the soil dry out between watering so that you won’t drown this beauty. Ideally, you can place these plants on tabletops or put them in a plant stand in your bedroom or living area. 


Lucky bamboo is said to bring good energy and fortune into your home — who wouldn’t want that? Bamboo can grow in indirect light, and certainly, some species of bamboo do well in low light as well. You have the choice of using water or soil as their growing medium, so go with whichever aesthetic fits your apartment decor. This stocky plant is ideal for desks or coffee tables, as they won’t take up much space. Your guest will love this nice accent piece. 

Prayer Plant aka Maranta leuconeura

These glossy dark-green plants can grow up to 10-12 inches and do exceptionally well in low-light environments. As the name suggests, these plants will fold up like praying hands at night and return to lying flat during the daytime. They flourish in humid environments and love lots of fertilizer and moist soil. 

Parlor Palm aka Chamaedorea elegans

These beautiful, tropical plants can grow up to six feet tall. They have bamboo-like stems that thrive in medium to bright indirect light but can easily tolerate low light. Water them every one to two weeks, making sure the soil dries out between watering. Place these luscious plants in the corner of your living room with some indirect sunlight and watch them grow. 

Rabbit Foot Fern aka Davallia griffithianaa 

Rabbit foot are trendy plants that are perfect for hanging. These plants prefer environments with high humidity. A quick fix would be to invest in a humidifier to keep this plant flourishing. Just remember to keep their soil moist, mist the leaves daily to add humidity, and they’ll thrive. Place these quirky plants in a hanging pot in your bathroom, kitchen, or living room and they’ll be happy.


Zebra Plants aka Aphelandra squarros

Zebra plants are known for their shiny leaves and dark green foliage. Their striped foliage prefers humid environments due to their tropical nature. Renters with small apartments will love these pretty plants. Have some potting soil that drains well and keep the soil moist for a happier plant. They usually only get up to two feet tall, which is ideal for smaller apartments. They will add some fun and bright decor to any small space.

Lace Flower Vine aka Alsobia dianthiflora

These vine-like plants can be tempting to pets, so they are best to house in a hanging planter out of the way of mischief. Place them in bright, indirect light and be sure to water them whenever the soil starts to feel dry. The stems will grow about three feet long, but you can easily cut stems to maintain them. Sit back, relax, and watch their vines add character to small apartments.

Polka Dot Plant

For renters who want to add some color into their space, the polka dot plant may be a great fit for you. These colorful guys can grow up to three feet and typically stay on the smaller side. Make sure they stay in bright, indirect light with their soil remaining moist. Treat them with lots of love and care, and their white or pink polka dots will continue to shine and brighten up your mood.


If you’re tired of constantly getting herbs from the local grocery store, we’d recommend giving a kitchen garden a shot. Chefs and foodies will love having their own herbs at their fingertips. These are the easiest plants to grow on a windowsill in your kitchen or living room: 


Basil is a fragrant plant that thrives in warm weather. Place them near a warm window with plenty of direct light. They prefer moist soil, so try not to let them dry out.


These fragrant plants grow well with bright light and will thrive in south-facing windows. You can also grow them under artificial light. Allow the soil to become slightly dry between watering.


This aromatic plant is said to be the easiest herb to grow. Thyme needs plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil. Allow soil to dry before watering, and be sure to fertilize every two weeks for the best results.


Oregano loves warm environments, needing six to eight hours of sun daily. Place them near a south-facing window that gets plenty of light. Be sure to let the soil dry out between watering to avoid root rot.


These flavorful plants need direct sunlight for four to five hours per day. Make sure they are potted with suitable drainage holes. Check the soil to make sure it’s dry before watering again.  

Catnip (for the kitties)

Catnip needs up to five hours of sunlight daily. They prefer medium moisture and require a pot that has the proper drainage to avoid root rot. 


While some of these plants are pretty popular, they are highly toxic to pets. If you have a cat or dog constantly getting into things, please avoid these plants at all costs. 

  • Aloe
  • Alocasia
  • Pothos aka Devil’s Ivy
  • Peace lily / Lilies
  • ZZ plants

Plants are a great addition to your rental space and are sure to brighten up your mood and apartment. Remember, a green thumb may not happen overnight, but with some patience and a bit of research, you’ll have your own lush green living space in no time.