Archive for using leaves for mulch

Low Maintenance Garden Part 2: Techniques

Posted in How to, my garden, sustainable living with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 1, 2013 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.

.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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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…..

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

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

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

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

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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

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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.

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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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