For ornamental garden beds the best mulch you can use is leaf mold. It’s not mold. I’ve written about leaf mold before. Do a search for leaf mold of this blog for the other articles. Leaf mold is simply decomposing or fully decomposed fall leaves (once they’ve fallen off the trees). They make wonderful mulch. It is what Mother Nature uses in her forest. You don’t see her putting down compost or bark chips or straw or using weed barrier fabric, do you? Of course not.
She designed her system so elegantly. Deciduous plants have leaves that feed the plant throughout the growing season. Then in the fall, the plant begins to prepare for its dormant period by retaining nutrients in the trunk into the root system. Then the leaves turn colors and are shed from the tree/shrub. That they fall below the plant, is by design, and Mother Nature prefers they be left there. They are important to the soil food web (all the critters that live in the soil that make it vital and healthy for plants, the watershed, and humans).
Lazy gardeners like me like to leave their leaves just lay where they are in the main bed areas. But sometimes, leaves fall onto lawn grass. It is not good for them to stay on lawn grass unless they are shredded and mulched in. And if you’re going to do that, not more than 1/2″ is plenty. You don’t want to smother the lawn. So if you have too many leaves on your lawn — too many to mulch them into the grass — what do you do?
Well, you can mow and bag them then carry them to other parts of your yard that aren’t covered by deciduous trees and shrubs. That is what I have just finished doing these past few days. In fact, I didn’t have nearly enough leaves this fall. I never do. There are only 3 trees in this rental property yard, and they really don’t make a lot of leaves—surprisingly. So what is a girl to do?
Well, I have sweet-talked my neighbor to give me his leaves. Ha! I think I’ve mentioned that before. My neighbors prefer to buy leaf mold/compost in the spring. They like it’s uniform texture. Yeah, it’s good stuff. And in truth, they don’t have a great place to have a mountain of leaves to make mulch like I have. So the first fall I was here, upon hearing he wasn’t looking forward to bagging the leaves to put by the curb, I said, “give them to me!” He looked at me oddly, but then hauled his leaves over to an area I had designated in my yard. And what a lovely mountain of leaves I get from him each fall. YES! Win/Win situation.
But this year, I knew I’d need more leaves that my trees and his trees could provide. What to do? Well, I did what any self-respecting gardener would do. I drove up and down the streets of my neighborhood on leaf collection day looking for bags by the curb. At right are 3 bags I got, found, borrowed, (stole?) But it seemed that everyone else put their leaves in bins. Can’t really steal their bins. That wouldn’t be right.
But then— SCORE! There across the street as I drove was the truck of my landscape maintenance buddy, Tom Harmon. He did the mowing at the last rental house we lived in, and he brought me leaves then. So I stopped to visit with him and beg leaves again. And he was more than happy to comply. Later that day, this (below) is what I found in my back yard.
Some of the leaves are from Tom. Some are from my neighbor. I had asked them to drop them on the lawn because I thought I’d just mow them up lickety split and be done with it. Well, it was not a quick job. Not at all. Luckily, I had a beautiful fall day to do the work. Mowing, bagging, lugging, emptying. Repeat. Over and over and over and over again. No, gardeners rarely need gym memberships. :-)
But I finally got the long pile of leaves taken care of, and yeah, because it was a bit wet, it made a mess of the lawn grass. That will recover. And the top photo of this post and the one to the right show what I did with all of the leaves. This load of leaves was enough leaves to cover about 4″ deep the garden beds on 2 sides of the entire house, and about half of the back fence line below the arborvitaes.
I have requested more leaves from both of my suppliers. Ha! I’m going to be renovating the last garden bed on this lot—the one at the front yard curb. It has weed barrier fabric which I talked about in a previous post. The past 2 seasons that bed has had more weeds than ANY other bed in this yard. All the other beds are covered with fall leaves (which are decaying into lovely leaf mold) or straw which is around my veggie beds. Almost no weeds in those areas. So I’m going to remove the weed barrier in that front bed and then cover the area with 4″ of leaves. I will leave them whole so it will be an impenetrable layer and slower to decay than ground up leaves would do. I’ll try to remember to document the progress of that project.
But once that is done, this entire rental property will have all ornamental beds mulched with leaves—as Mother Nature prefers. And next growing season I will be doing a LOT less weeding. Ahhhhh! I can’t wait! If you really want to do less work in your landscape, you need to work with Mother Nature. It’s easier than many people think. Just use what she provides and learn to appreciate her idea of beauty.
Now go mulch your garden beds—with leaves!