Yes, I’m writing about leaves again. The shushing sounds you hear are leaves detaching from branches and falling to the ground. What are you going to do about that? I certainly hope you’ll get right out there and sweep them into the beds. Leaves are an important source of organic fibre that feeds worms and soil organisms, and eventually becomes nutrients for next year’s plants. Every kind of leaf has value when it’s returned to the earth, either as an amendment dug into planting holes and vegetable beds, or as a carpet of thick mulch over exposed soil. When leaves are cleaned off from the beds and taken away from the garden, what you have left are starving plants. You don’t want to be responsible for that, do you?
Being an enthusiast of autumn leaf collection, I’m fussy about customizing my leaf mulch to suit individual plant groups in designated beds. Birch leaves are thin and when thoroughly dry, they crumble into a golden, small-particle mulch for beds with low-growing, delicate plants. My method is to fill a garbage bag half full of thoroughly dry and crisp birch leaves (don’t seal the top), lay it on a hard surface (the driveway), and wearing soft-soled shoes or slippers, shuffle all over it. This sufficiently shatters the leaves into smaller pieces, and several bags of leaves processed in this way become the mulch for my bed of hellebores, ferns and cyclamen. I highly recommend this method for making small batches of fine mulch. (I hope you won’t mind if this attracts some attention from passersby.)
In the back garden are wide shrub borders, and for many years my neighbour’s mature locust tree provided generous mulch, falling directly onto the beds. Locust has compound leaflets suspended on a narrow and slightly bowed stem. These are just about the most perfect leaf for mulching purposes. (Leaves from mountain ash trees would also be similarly useful.) The small sections of leaf tissue are ideal for making a smooth mulch that won’t blow around in wind. Unfortunately, the tree has been taken down, causing a big shock for me and the garden, and now I’m seriously short of leaves. I’ve recently planted three English oaks (Quercus robur, Zone 5) with small leaves, but they aren’t producing enough yet. What to do?
Here’s my strategy: I’ve noticed a street in my neighbourhood that has been planted with a long line of locust trees. These are boulevard trees planted by the municipality, and their leaves fall on sidewalks, front lawns and driveways. I knocked on some doors and found kindly neighbours who will allow me to rake their lawns, and take whatever amount of leaves they don’t want. This took a bit of explaining, and when I get busy with my rake and bags, I expect to see faces peeking from behind the curtains. I hope, with this revelation, they’ll actually want to keep some of the leaves for their own beds. Next year, my neighbours may be wiser and not so generous with their leaves, which means I’ll have to look further afield.
Other posts by Judith this week:
Posts by Judith last week: