I attended a panel discussion by four Master Gardeners this week and listened to their take on the fall tuck in.
It’s so primal – the urge to tuck in one’s garden beds under a leafy blanket as winter looms. I see a lot of similarity between the down comforter I curl up under and the blanket of leaves I spread over the ground.
Every gardener has his or her own mulch madness.
Linda Brazil, garden writer and blogger (check her blog Each Little World ) does some fall mulching with her own leaves and also with leaf mulch she gets from Olbrich Botanical Gardens . When she wants to store some for spring, she uses Husky Contractor Clean Up Bags. They cost a little more but can be reused many seasons. “Make sure the leaves go in dry,” she said.
Lisa Johnson, Dane county UW Extension Horticulture Educator (and my Master Gardener Volunteer teacher – thank you, Lisa!) says she beds everything in with leaf for the winter, then rakes it up and composts it in the spring.
Ann Munson, a seasoned Dane County Master Gardener, says her favorite fall soil enricher is the muck she cleans out of the bottom of her fish pond each year at this time.
Tibi Light, garden designer, said that this year she is really getting a strong urge to bed everything in deep. Her own yard is too small to provide all the leaf she needs, “So I go along city streets and collect bags of leaves from the curb,” she said.” She is looking for maple leaves. “Maple leaves are high in sugar,” she added. “They are like worm candy.”
Maple leaves are also high in calcium and potassium, and break down easily. Oak leaves are beneficial to acid-loving plants, even though the composting process neutralizes the acidic nature, according to Ron Calhoun Michigan State University turf expert.
Conifer needles are another great mulch for acid-loving plants, such as rhododendrons, blueberries and strawberries. It is best to avoid cedar leaves; they have been shown to prevent the germination and growth of plants around them. And watch out for black walnut leaves. Black walnut is toxic to many other plants. Check out the details here.
It has always amazed me to see people bag their beautiful, valuable leaves and throw them away.
When I lived on a quarter acre that was 100 percent deeply shaded by oak canopy, I couldn’t really grow much of a garden, but I came to view the fall leaves as my harvest. I loved raking them up, listening to their whispery rattle, breathing in their earthy richness. Knowing they would be going back into the soil and giving it that fiber and microbial punch up that is the signature of good soil.
Doug and I rake up our leaves onto a big plastic tarp, haul them all to the back yard where we have our leaf shredder, Ollie. Ollie chews them up and spits them out as tiny bits. Then we spread it out like a lovely blanket. Any left over becomes the beginning of the winter compost pile.
Trees and shrubs thrive under a layer 3 to 6 inches deep. Annual flower beds benefit from a 2- to 3-inch blanket. In the veggie garden, a thick layer of mulch between rows, improves the soil, keeps down weeds and keeps mud off your shoes when it is wet out.
I again live under a pretty full canopy of oak branches, and get a good harvest of leaf for which I am very grateful. I love to shred those tough, brown leaves – each as different from each other as snow flakes are – into the springy, earthy substance that makes such a wonderful quilt for the winter, and then fresh, fibrous soil enhancer in the spring.