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The leaf problem

Over on the Homestead Gardens blog, Susan Harris again raises the whole issue of what to do with fallen leaves. For many British gardeners this is not a big issue – we Brits cut down most of our tress in the 1800s to build ships for the navy in a doomed attempt to hang on to our colonies – like America.

OakleavesAjuga14948 But it’s an issue in parks and some small gardens over in Britain while in North America what to do with dead leaves is a big issue in many towns, suburbs and rural areas – there are just so many more trees.

This is my simple take: it all depends on what you grow.

1. Get fallen leaves off the lawn. Leave them there and you’ll end up with bare patches – it’s that simple.

2. If you grow mainly shrubs, rake or blow them under the shrubs and forget about them. They’ll slowly rot down and if you usually smother the soil in bought-in cedar mulch you won’t need to bother.

3. If you have the time and energy to put them through a shredder first - or spread them on the lawn, mow them into pieces, and rake them up again - they’ll rot down more quickly and will be less likely to blow back where you raked them from in the first place.

4. If you grow small woodland plants like wood anemones, epimediums, corydalis and the like under and between your shrubs, or in shady borders under trees, do NOT simply dump freshly leaves on top of them. Their delicate shoots just won’t be able to penetrate and they will die. (In fact one of my upcoming jobs – after I’ve cleared the leaves out of the ditch alongside the drive so the rain and snowmelt runs off quickly - is to take the fallen leaves off some of the shade beds.) Even bugle (above, click to enlarge) will suffer is leaves are left to smother its leaves.

5. The best – and, needless to say, the most time consuming – answer is to shred the leaves and make a heap so they rot down; then use them as a mulch anywhere and everywhere or to improve the soil when planting. And the heap will often be a useful source of worms for fishing.

6. Finally, rake or leaf blower?  Clearly, blowers are noisy and emit all sorts of nasties. But if it only gets done if you use a blower there’s no argument really. Raking can just take too long. In densely planted beds use a hand fork or your fingers to get them out.

Leaves are valuable free resource – just do your best to make the most of them in the time you have.