Leaf litter

leaf litter Throw leaves away? Perish the thought. I wish I could preserve fall’s leaves for color therapy sessions in the middle of winter. Right now I’m particularly taken with the changing colors on some of the shrubs and vines. I’ve never squinted at such a fluorescent color not in a highlighter marker as the redvein enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus). The Fothergilla gardenii is even prettier than a brand new box of 64 colors, and the Boston Ivy is as shiny and intensely red as fresh blood (who isn’t secretly enthralled by a bloody-gusher papercut?) What is your favorite shrub – or vine – for fall color?

Boston ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) Fothergilla gardeniiredvein enkianthus (Enkianthus campanulatus)Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba 'Ivory Halo')Itea 'Little Henry'

leaves on the cutting garden

Even if the colors will fade, the leaves are still worth keeping as the winter blanket and soil amendment that nature intended when she dropped them on the ground in the first place.

“Back in the day…” according to Gail, the Blithewold grounds crew vacuumed up all of the property’s leaves in mowers and dumped them in giant piles on the vegetable bed. Gail remembers spending blissful December days distributing the piles of shredded leaves and grass clippings (after walking on her knees three miles uphill in the snow to get here) throughout the Display Garden beds – and she doesn’t remember having to do nearly as much weeding in the spring as we (and by we, I really mean the volunteers) have done lately. This fall Gail’s wish for a return to the old-school method was granted, at least in part. If it ever stops raining, we’ll still be given a lofty pile or two of blown leaves to shred and use in the spring, but last week we were also given a few slightly grassy piles of pre-shredded leaves to spread immediately on the gardens. With any luck – so far the leaf layer hasn’t blown away – in spring we (again, the volunteers) will be able to plant the gardens without having to do major battle with the weeds first. On the down side, some of our volunteers – self-sowers, that is, such as emilia, poppies, talinum, snow-on-the-mountain, and blue spice basil – may be no-shows in the spring.

Do you cover your garden beds with leaves now or in the spring? Do you notice a difference in the amount of weeds or self-sowers?

5 thoughts on “Leaf litter

  1. I’ve been on an anti-raking campaign this fall. I’m letting the leaves that fell in the beds stay there. I mow without a bag on the mower and let the chopped bits of leaves and grass blow everywhere. I have been considering raking up the bounteous leaves on my neighbors’ properties and borrowing the super shredder to get the fine, leafy bits and spreading those around too for good measure. It’s beginning to sound like more work than just raking now that I read this. Hmmm…

    Susan, I understand the dilemma… The shredded leaves are lovely… and there’s a certain Zen to working at the machine… And yet… -kris

  2. My tiny garden is newly planted this year, but I put in some of my favs from my previous garden in NY. I put in two witchazels and have been saving a space for a fothergilla” Mount Airy”, that I finally found and,even though it is pretty small and young it has gorgeous fall color anyway, deep green-blue swirled with burgundy. Will mow/ mulch whatever few leaves I have, and let them stay on the grass.

    Jean, I can’t get over how pretty the fothergilla is… I’m glad you found the one you were after! (I have a very tiny one in my garden too…) Have you been as tempted as I have been to grab the neighbors’ bagged leaves? -kris

  3. A number of years back we planted witchhazel, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Luna’, which produces yellow flowers in late winter, and colorful fall foliage. For the past few years we’ve been distressed by the fact that it has chosen to bloom in the fall, and that the blossoms were almost unnoticeable because they were obscured by the yellow fall foliage. It was one of those “Uh duh” moments when we figured out that ‘Luna’ had been grafted onto H. virginiana, Native Witchazel, and the growth below the graft had overwhelmed little ‘Luna’. This fall, the leaves graciously fell off early and all at once to display a fall blooming witchhazel completely covered with spidery primrose yellow blossoms. And now that I’ve written this I should go out and take a picture.

    Kathy, I’ve that noticed one of ours – a ‘Diane’ maybe has sent up tell-tell fall blossoms from the root stock too. Uh-oh. Would it save Diane to cut that growth back like you would a rose that does the same thing? -kris

  4. That is my intent and all because of you, Gail and the rest at Blithewold. Usually I just compost the leaves first. Now, on the beds!

    Layanee, I hope you’ll report back about trying this come spring! -kris

  5. Interesting post. What would cause leaves to lessen the amount of weeds in spring? Leaves compost well and makes for good mulch, but is there something in them that prevents weeds from growing?

    TheGardenCloche.com | Quality Garden Cloches

    Jeff, a layer of leaves, like any mulch, just helps keep – or at least slows down – the really opportunistic sunshine-loving weeds seeds from germinating and forming their own instant groundcover in the spring. -kris

    Breaking news! Turns out that compounds in maple and oak leaves may actually suppress dandelions. The article about the study is here -kris.

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