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The Garden Path

The Garden Path

Posted: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 10:18 pm
By: Jimmy Williams

  Boughs are daily rifled by the gusty thieves,

And the book of nature getteth short of leaves.


The late, great British garden writer Christopher Lloyd once remarked of autumn: “Leaves are the undertow of our autumn lives.”

And indeed they are. Even a lightly treed property generates what would seem to be an inordinate amount of leaves, and something must be done about them. In our climate, trees are a virtual necessity for their refreshing shade, and trees come with a cost. Part of that cost is those leaves.

Those obnoxious (and noxious) leaf blowers everyone uses these days are efficient in removing leaves when they aren’t too deep. Once they pile up beyond leaf blower capacity, they must be laboriously raked or else sucked up with a power vacuum.

Well, there is another possibility. Leaves can be mulched as they are mowed over. Special mulching blades are available for rotary mowers that dice leaves (and small sticks) into very fine particles and return them to the surface of the lawn. The litter is so small it will filter down through grass blades and eventually rot down to create topsoil, a commodity of rare proportions in these parts.

It so happens that just at the time we are mulching leaves with our mowers it is time to fertilize our cool-season lawns. Fall fertilization of fescue and bluegrass lawns is much more efficient than spring feeding. Then too, the fine mulch of shredded leaves can cause a temporary nitrogen depletion on the lawn surface, and this can easily be replaced with fertilizer.

I have found that my tractor mower with twin blades does a fair job of mulching leaves if a baffle is added to the mower expulsion void, preventing chopped leaves and clippings from exiting after just one pass of the blades. The pieces continue to be chopped ever finer as the blades cut them again and again until they finally fall away onto the grass.

This isn’t quite as efficient as the job mulching blades do, but it is close. I made my baffle out of a piece of fairly heavy gauge sheet metal.

Leaves, chopped or not, make excellent mulch for shrubs, particularly acid-loving ones such as azaleas. Whole leaves can simply be raked under the shrubs and left to rot down, just as nature intends. If they are chopped a bit, they will break down quicker, but otherwise whole leaves are just as good. Again, any time mulch of any kind is applied, a dose of fertilizer to replace lost nitrogen is a good idea.

Lloyd, in that same dispatch concerning leaves, told of an old grouch of a gardener he had who, one grand gardening year, could find nothing else to complain about, and who groused, “Terrible year for leaves.”


From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Count your leafy blessings.

Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 11.04.08

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