Archive for fall clean-up

Your Most Precious Garden Resource

Posted in Fall, Fall Color, green gardening, How to, organic gardening, sustainable living with tags , , , , on October 25, 2012 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

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.

Yes, the sky is really this blue and the trees are really this red during fall in the northeastern US.

Fall in Pennsylvania (mid-Atlantic US) is a big picture time of year.  For a good two months, everywhere you go there are gorgeous vistas like the one above as the leaves change color before dropping.  The show is long-lasting because the leaves turn at different times, starting in my garden with the American hornbeam’s golden yellow hue, progressing through the bright red tones of maples and native dogwoods, and ending with the burgundy and orange of hydrangeas and viburnums.


The soil is deep and very fertile in my area, allowing trees to grow to gigantic size.  And after the color show, the leaves fall and create what I consider my most precious garden resource.  Those leaves are what nature supplies for free to protect and improve the soil year after year.  That is why it is so disturbing to see many area residents collecting their leaves and putting them by the side of the road to be removed by their municipality.


Here at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens we use every leaf that falls to improve our soil either by leaving them in the beds or by grinding them and using them as mulch.  A detailed description of our methods can be found in Shade Gardening in Fall: Fall Clean-up.  In addition, up to 18″ of leaves can be ground up and left on the lawn with beneficial results as described in Shade Gardening in Fall: Leaves on the Lawn.  There is a video by the Scott Lawn Care Company in the second post to show to your doubting spouse.

In early October, about 35 Carolyn’s Shade Gardens customers attended two Low Maintenance Gardening Seminars given by my husband Michael during which he demonstrated how to grind leaves for mulch.  For the benefit of my far flung readers  and in the hope of converting more gardeners to this practice, I thought I would show you step-by-step photographs of the process.  Michael is the reluctant star of the do-it-yourself guide below.

Step One:  Gather the leaves from an area where they can’t be left to decompose on their own.  Michael is removing leaves from the pine needle paths on our back hill using a tarp.  All leaves in the beds will remain in place as mulch and eventually compost.

Step Two:  Take the leaves to a level area like your lawn or driveway.  Our driveway is closest to the back hill so Michael took the leaves there for grinding.

As you can see in the photo, we use a standard lawnmower to grind our leaves.  We recommend wearing steel-toed footwear, ear protection (see photo below), and, if appropriate, eye protection when using a lawnmower.


Step Three:  Grind the leaves to the required consistency.  Michael usually goes over them twice, but you can make them as fine or as coarse as you want.


A large amount of leaves becomes a manageable pile after grinding.


Step Four:  Gather your free mulch into a container for easy transportation and application.  Michael is using a township recycling barrel.



Step Five:  Spread the mulch in your garden.  Here Michael uses it around the base of newly planted viburnums.

I hope I have made this process look as easy as it really is.  Once you try it and see the beneficial results for your soil, you too will be a convert.

Carolyn

 

Nursery Happenings:  Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is done for the fall.  Thanks for a great year.  See you in spring 2013.

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Shade Gardening in Fall: Fall Clean-up

Posted in Fall, How to, Shade Gardening with tags , , , on November 13, 2010 by Carolyn @ Carolyns Shade Gardens

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.

fern bench at Carolyn's Shade GardensI always feel a tension around the time of the first expected killing frost.  Everything in the garden is at its fall peak so I don’t want a frost to ruin it.  But I have a lot of work to do outside before it gets truly cold so I want a killing frost to take it all down.  First thing every morning I look out my bedroom window to see if the much dreaded, much desired frost has occurred.

I clean all my beds out in fall because I am too busy with nursery business to do it in spring.  Just like all my gardening, my fall clean-up has evolved from intensive interference to minimal maintenance.  There have been many epiphanies on this journey, but one of two quintessential ah-ha moments occurred during a 1995 visit to Montrose Nursery in NC (now closed).  They were raking the leaves out of their beds, grinding them up, and throwing them back in, even over the crowns of the perennials.

unground leaves at Carolyn's Shade GardensLeaves on my driveway awaiting grinding

ground leaves at Carolyn's Shade GardensLeaves after grinding with lawn mower

I always knew that my leaves were one of my most valuable garden assets.  I never put them out for the township to collect (I grew up in a family where my father collected other people’s leaves to use in his garden).  However, from 1995 on, I have ground my leaves and used them for mulch as nature intended.  The soil in my beds is incredible because of this practice.

I should mention that it’s actually my husband who grinds the leaves so my other great epiphany occurred last fall when he had shoulder surgery and only ground a small amount of leaves for mulch.  Where to use this precious commodity?

In solving this problem, I developed a priority list for fall clean-up. I no longer hand-clean and mulch all my beds, and my workload has been reduced by about 75%.

First Priority: Only the formal beds on the terraces outside my front door and around the back patio need intensive hand-cleaning and my precious mulch in fall.  Those are the beds closest to the house and the parts of the garden I view all winter from inside.

Patio beds at Carolyn's Shade GardensPatio beds before fall clean-up

patio bed at Carolyn's Shade GardensPatio beds after fall clean-up

Patio Area Carolyn's Shade Gardens Early SpringPatio beds in very early spring

Second priority: Beds near the formal areas are cleaned and mulched along the front only.  I remove old plants from the whole bed but no leaves, which are left to act as mulch and break down on their own.

Third priority: The majority of my garden (my woodland gardens, hosta and epimedium hillside, meadow, and the production beds where I grow plants to sell) receive little to no attention.  I merely rake the paths and cut back very noticeable plants like hostas.  The leaves in the beds are left as mulch.  In spring, I remove any still visible dead plants.

hosta hill at Carolyn's Shade GardensHosta Hill before fall clean-up

Hosta Hill at Carolyn's Shade GardensHosta Hill after fall clean-up

Hosta Hill in spring

Fourth and final priority:  Leaves on the lawn are ground up by the lawn mower and left in place.

Carolyn's Shade Gardens Fall 2010Tree cover at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

Lest you think this works because my leaf cover is light, you should know that I have 15 one-hundred-year-old London plane trees and many full-grown native black walnuts, ash,  sugar maples, tulip poplars, and oaks—just to mention the most numerous large trees (photo above).  The leaf drop is stupendous, but this system works.  Not only is it less labor intensive, but it’s better for the garden and it’s beautiful.

My favorite labor-saving device, my husband, Michael:

Fall at Carolyn's Shade Gardens

Carolyn

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