Dear Minnesota Homeowner….It’s late October in the Twin Cities. What are you planning to do with all of those falling leaves now swirling around your grounds?
Most likely you’ll do what you’ve done as long as you have lived in your Twin City house…either rake the leaves up, or very loudly power blow them into a pile, bag them up and have them driven someplace to make them disappear.
I have lived on my Twin City western suburban property at the western dead end of a one block cul de sac for over forty years. I am not aware of a single bag of leaves ever leaving my property. On the contrary, I gather about 50 bags of leaves from friends for a variety of uses throughout my 27,000 square foot landscape garden. (I grow only about 160 square feet of mowed lawn.)
For my uses, I prefer most of the leaves to be chopped up for they decay into compost much more quickly. Not all leaves are equal, however.
Chopped oak leaves are my favorite residue leaf for landscape garden use. Unchopped oak leaves are my favorite among the unchopped regardless of the genus. Fallen oak leaves remain crisp throughout the winter. They entrap ‘closets’ of air created by their crisp and often slightly curled leaves creating layers of insulation around roots and crown of their harboring plants providing ‘blankets’ of protection from severe temperatures during Winter.
Many oaks, especially those of white oak heritage, usually hold their leaves throughout winter….often artistically a positive providing form to our usually formless urban winter “flatscapes” in and around the Twin Cities.
Sugar and Norway Maple leaves are not crisp, do not provide pockets of warmth, but stick tightly together as if glued by slime thereby forbidding aeration to keep stems and roots of many plants healthy. These leaves are particularly useful, however, in killing lawns or other non woody vegetation. They are useful, therefore, when piled as mulch to kill grasses, weedy non-woody greenery to open areas of ones ground as prelude to plantings of more beautiful, more inspiring, and/or useful landscape garden plantings.
For an example: Garden phlox can become a very dominating flowering perennial, that is weedy as some folks might say, in open ground seedable garden territories. I cherish them. These garden phlox seedlings can spread their seedlings in all sorts of directions of open ground territory in one gardened season. I, my landscape garden’s sole artist, then decide which flowering phlox I like best and cull the rest.
If Minnesotans never raked their lawns or flower beds amid Norway and/or Sugar Maple trees, in a couple of years there wouldn’t be much left of any desirable understory plantings, especially lawn grass. If you become tired mowing that part of your grounds, you may welcome a visual change toward the more beautiful.
I prefer conifers as the major tree features of my grounds. Most Minnesotans forget that Winter is Minnesota’s longest landscape season, equal to all other seasons combined. Winter home grounds are nearly universally ghastly bleak without these majestic EVERGREEN wonders.
In Spring of 1976 I bought ten second-year old seedlings of White Pine, Pinus strobus, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of our then democratic nation. They amounted to nine inches in length (height) per tree when planted. In this, their 40th year, seven are left….Two are already 100 feet tall, four others in their fifties, and one rather a runt. Three died within the first three years of the plantings.
To endure our northern winters, White Pines do drop old needles in fall as do all coniferous trees. They, too, are useful as a mulch, but better used for appearance than for weed control and decay.
Try never to mulch with plastics or other lifeless matter including stone chips, especially limestone unless necessary for some particular scene you, the artist, want to create. Boulders, as long as they are not lined up and the same size, can become neighborhood garden beauties as well as seating areas and climbing spots if well positioned.
HINTS: Artistically, it is better to bag, or otherwise group your tree leaves separately by species and without scrap foliage when placing them upon the grounds you want to clear. “Neatify” you work. Where ever you spread them, and if you spread the mulch thickly enough, these groupings will look more like carpets throughout the winter and the following growing season, than a dump for garbage.
Decaying plant material, otherwise known as ‘organic matter’ in this case autumn leaves, requires certain nutrients for the decaying process itself. By piling them a foot or more heat increases over a period of time hastening the decaying process which releases nutrients for ‘locals’ to absorb. Regular, reliable watering hastens the compost making process.
According to the landscape industry’s advertising declarations, the expected height for the Sunkist, (or Yellow Ribbon) Arborvitae is advertised as six to eight feet. I planted one about twenty years ago in my front side landscape. It is thirty feet tall. Two doors down the block, I planted one in a neighbor’s front grounds about twelve years ago. It is only six feet tall….but all the same, very attractive. The difference is in the soil, fertilizing and regular watering.