Shade Gardening in Fall: Leaves on the Lawn

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

leaves after storm at Carolyn's Shade Gardens

The wind blew so hard here the other night that I felt like Dorothy whirling towards Oz.  All the remaining leaves came down and covered the gardens in a blanket of fall colors. The lawn is especially thick with leaves because it surrounds a huge red oak, which always holds its foliage to the end. In my recent article on fall clean-up, my fourth clean-up priority was grinding the leaves on the lawn with the mower and leaving them in place.  I want to elaborate on that in response to readers’ questions.

I subscribe to a blog by TheGardenLady, where I often find practical advice I can apply in my own gardens.  According to a video by Scotts Lawn Care  posted on TheGardenLady blog, a recent Michigan State University study has shown that grinding up to 18″ of leaves on your lawn and leaving them there is beneficial to your lawn.  I have been doing this for years, but now this practice has an official stamp of approval and scientific research behind it.  However, I garden completely organically and do not put chemicals on my lawn.  The compost produced by the leaves as they break down is enough, no further fertilizer is required.

I hope you will try this new method of fall leaf clean up this weekend when you are dealing with the results of our storm.


18 Responses to “Shade Gardening in Fall: Leaves on the Lawn”

  1. Informative post! Now if only I can convince my husband of this!

    • Just show him the video–it’s sure to convince him. Your blog has beautiful pictures of fall color on so many different trees. Anyone reading this reply should check it out by clicking on Garden Sense above. Carolyn

      • anne pearlman Says:

        Thanks for the “Fall Clean-up Tips.” I enjoy hearing from you. So many leaves came down this year! Sorry to say that many people on our street cut down many trees rather than have to deal with the leaves again next year.

      • Hi Anne. I am very sad to hear that. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that trees are one of the keystones to life on our planet. We need to be planting more, not cutting them down. Everyone (and I mean that literally) should read Doug Tallamy’s book, Bringing Nature Home, in which he explains simply, coherently, and without hype how Americans are destroying our environment and what we can do about it. I will add a link to the book on my sidebar. Thanks for giving me a chance to talk about this issue. Carolyn

  2. GREAT article – Speaking of Fall prep work.. We have Lace Cap Hydrangeas (NOT ever blooming) and Annabelles – When should we prune these? And I want to relocate the Lace Caps – can I do that now or when should I ? Thanks!

    • Thanks. Here is an article that gives a very complete description of when to prune hydrangeas. However, I prune everything whenever I have time to do it, even if it’s not the correct time. If I don’t, then I never get around to it. It is fine, and even desirable, to move shrubs in the fall because they don’t have to suffer through the summer while getting established. But my cut off is the middle to end of October. Later would be fine if you knew for sure what kind of winter we are going to have. But since our winters are unpredictable, I wouldn’t want to take the chance that newly moved shrubs would face unusually freezing temperatures and no snow cover if that’s what happens. I would wait until the ground can be worked in the spring. Hope that helped. Carolyn

  3. Would you do this on areas that do not have lawn? Currently I have a
    large area that is just mulch- I am working on filling it up bit by bit
    with the great perennials I buy from you. Could I just mulch the leaves
    that fell on it and leave them too?

    Thanks for giving me advice!

    • Hi Rebecca. Did you see the article I did covering fall clean-up in more detail? Here’s a link. I grind the leaves and put them back into the beds as mulch or, in many cases, just leave then in the beds to break down. Carolyn

  4. Lovely pictures, and I like the Garden Lady too!

  5. Brucie Rapoport Says:

    I love your blog, Carolyn! Thanks so much for the great fall clean-up tips, and just in time. I’m heading out today to plant bulbs and start to rake. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have “professional approval” to not schlepp all the leaves to the street for pickup! The ground-up leaves will make a perfect winter cover for the moss garden I started this summer by making “moss shakes” with buttermilk and moss, and then spreading the mixture over the desired shady areas in my yard.
    All the plants I’ve purchased from you are thriving. The hellebores are the delight of late winter and the harbingers of spring.

    • Thanks Brucie. Spread the word about using leaves to your neighbors. Please give us more details on the moss shakes–I have read about this but never tried it. What’s the recipe? Did it work? Where did you pour it? How did it survive our summer? Carolyn

  6. Brucie Rapoport Says:

    I wanted to increase the existing moss coverage under my Japanese cherry tree. The moss milkshake method is working, but it’s not a fast result, and it requires keeping the area moist, which means I had to water it almost every day after the application. I mixed moss with buttermilk in my blender, then I poured and spread it in the desired location (be sure to get off as much dirt from the moss as possible before blending it). I hope I will see even more moss next spring. I’ll keep you posted! I figured this method was worth a try since it’s a lot less expensive than buying moss.

  7. Catherine Mitchell Says:

    I live right IN the city, 1 block from Rittenhouse Sq. and have a postage stamp sized garden that includes one Japanese (non-native 😦 ) maple tree. It gives me a nice coating of leaves this time of year. I have no lawn and no mower, so if I wanted to shred the leaves to make a better mulch, how would I do it? Does there exist a hand-cranked shredder?? Or should I just spread the leaves around and not worry about shredding them? thanks! BTW I love your blog — it is the only one I read!

    • Hi Catherine, Thanks for your kind words. I don’t shred my Japanese maple leaves because they are so fine to begin with. I just use them as mulch on my terraces as they are–straight from the grass to the beds. Whenever you can use the leaves whole instead of grinding, it is better for the environment. Have fun, Carolyn

  8. Your leaves with the hellebores are a sight! Such pretty colors and such a contrast.

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