Low Maintenance Garden Part 2: Techniques

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 carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

.Magnolia kobus 'Wada's Memory'‘Wada’s Memory’ magnolia provides plenty of leaves for Michael’s leaf grinding efforts plus some gorgeous fall color.

My husband Michael and I have spent 30 years perfecting our gardening techniques at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens, and we are always happy to pass on what we have learned to our nursery customers.  In spring 2012, Michael developed a series of seminars to demonstrate our methods to our customers right here at the nursery.  This post is Part 2 of a two part series explaining what goes on at Michael’s seminars.  Part 1 detailed the tools that we recommend to make garden maintenance easy.  You can read it by clicking here.


DSCN3368Michael with a typical pile of leaves ready for grinding into mulch.

We believe that the most valuable asset on our property is the leaves that fall from our trees.  Leaves are what nature provides for free to protect and improve your soil.  Removing and disposing of your leaves outside your own property is the worst thing that you can do to your garden.  During his seminar, Michael demonstrates how we handle the massive quantity of leaves that fall from our 35 plus large deciduous trees.  Basically we leave them in place to decompose on their own, grind them on the lawn to help it grow, and grind them into mulch for our garden beds.


DSCN2935Michael demonstrates leaf grinding to seminar attendees.

For a step-by-step guide to grinding your leaves to use for mulch, please read my post Your Most Precious Garden Resource by clicking here.  For a video by Scotts Lawn Care showing how to grind leaves on your lawn, click here.  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.  For more information on how we handle leaves in our beds in the fall, click here.


DSCN2936Michael demonstrates how he uses the ground leaves for mulch in our gardens.


Our other secret weapon is compost, which we make ourselves and also get from the township.  No bed is created and no plant is planted without adding a large amount of this “black gold”.  Michael shows seminar attendees what good compost should look like and demonstrates how we go about composting.  For more information on how we use compost in our garden, read my post Powered by Compost by clicking here.


DSCN2933During the tool session at the beginning of the seminar, Michael talks about what an important tool compost is.


DSCN2943Every seminar includes a trip to our compost area and a demonstration of composting techniques.

Many other important gardening jobs are explained in detail with live demonstrations…..


DSCN7137Planting a perennial using a shovel or an auger attachment to a drill.


DSCN7138Edging beds to keep out weeds and present a manicured look.


DSCN2939 Planting a shrub, here Michael shows how it is important to loosen the roots on the outside of the rootball.


DSCN7141Every session ends with a question and answer period during which attendees can ask about any gardening task that interests them.


These are just some of the topics covered in a typical seminar.  Other subjects include deer management, invasive plant removal, winter interest, container planting, and many more.



Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 6b. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to carolynsshadegardens@verizon.net. Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Nursery Happenings: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is closed for the winter.  Please visit my Etsy Shop to purchase photo note cards suitable for all occasions by clicking here.  Look for the 2014 Snowdrop Catalogue in early January.

Facebook: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook Page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post. You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

28 Responses to “Low Maintenance Garden Part 2: Techniques”

  1. I have used a mulching mower from the time they came out and love what it does to replenish the soil and fertilize plants (grass too). I alternate leaving in place with bagging to add to the compost because “brown and green” make the best and fastest producing compost. I do get additional compost and manure (zebra and deer) from the farm too. I am sure your customers find the demonstrations valuable.

  2. It must be such a rewarding experience to teach people valuable lessons that will last a life time and odds are they’ll be spreading the word of composting to many others, Good work, Carolyn.

  3. I am always amazed when I see people diligently rake their leaves, only to put them in big plastic bags for trash pick-up. The next spring those same people spend good money on mulch in plastic bags! I do wish we had a leaf shredder, but our leaves break down pretty quickly, whether left in natural areas or put into the compost heap.

  4. You and Michael provide a valuable service Carolyn. I have been using a John Deere tractor with a mulcher deck for years…. most folks thought I was crazy but it really does a good job taking care of grass clippings and turns the leaves into minute segments once the grass mulching season has past. My biggest compost problem is that I am always adding sods to my pile that is presently over 20 feet long by about 15′ wide and seven feet tall. Despite all the other materials that I add from the gardens, it remains a heavier loamy material than I’d like, but is very rich indeed. I turn it with a full size bucket loader tractor from time to time. This spring I’ll be putting a lot of it to use as I develop raised planting areas for conifers…. I am still frustrated over how much amending and with what, I should do to meet the conifer’s need for good drainage… I’ve been known to overdo in this regard! Larry

  5. You’ve given me some ideas for a small gardening group here. I think some practical hands on experience would be really useful. In the UK they always say leaves need to be composted for 3 years, your method (and I’ve seen it in other blogs too) of griding the leaves seems such a sensible idea. I leave fallen leaves on the borders but remove them from paths to add to compost.

    • Christina, the ground leaves break down to compost in the beds by next fall so we are mulching and composting at the same time. I am not sure where the three years comes from but that is not my expeience. I leave the leaves in most beds and only remove them in the more refined areas. Carolyn

  6. Wonderful! I collect all the leaves my neighbor’s rake out to the curb.

  7. I’m glad to know I’m doing another thing right. I basically let the leaves stay where they fall except on the lawn. I rake most of the ones from the lawn onto tarps and spread them on the forest floor. They create a gentle carpet that slowly decomposes. The ones on the garden beds provide a warm blanket for my perennials. In the springtime, I rake some of them off for the compost pile, but leave most of them to decompose in place. The Oak leaves take a while to decompose, but they are very good mulch for the perennials. The soil under them is thick and rich and fertile. Thanks for the full descriptions and advice, Carolyn!

  8. Yes, we collect all our leaves, they’re invaluable at planting time, along with the compost we make. No matter how much leaf mould and compost we make, there never seems to be enough!

  9. Great tips Carolyn. We compost the leaves at the back of the garden but end up sending the ones by the street to be picked up by the city. Generally I keep the leaves that fall on the beds but remove those on the lawn.

  10. Could not agree more about the value of recycling leaves into compost. Nothing you can buy really beats the natural approach.

  11. Everybody should read this post. So many people still think of fallen leaves as a nuisance. I think they would change their mind if they saw your beautiful garden. I cut my leaves up with my hedge scissors. I have a very small garden 🙂

    • Denise, Somehow over the course of the 20th century practices changed from the sustainable methods of giving back to the earth to a consumer approach based largely on chemicals. It will take a total re-education of gardeners to understand that nature really provides what is needed for a healthy garden. Hedge shears are ideal because unlike lawnmowers, they don’t pollute. Carolyn

  12. We mow our leaves for use on the veg beds. The other leaves stay on the beds for now…and I have contemplated using edging to keep the grass out of the beds.

  13. Wonderful advice! You provide a great service for your customers. P. x

Leave a Reply to Larry Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: