Mow Your Leaves and Pamper Your Plants

– Posted in: Garden chores

We are blessed to have a couple of hundred-year-old trees in our front yard. For the past two years, I have asked the family member in charge of mowing the front yard to use the bag attachment on the lawn mower for the final mowing, so that the leaves are shredded and collected by the mower.

Caleb mowing

My teenaged son started at the edges and gradually mowed his way to the center. He had to empty his bag after each circuit.

The bag is emptied into cart or wheelbarrow and I then distribute the leaves over key garden areas as fast as I can, so as to have said cart or barrow empty in time to be filled again, which happens pretty quickly.
Leaves in cart

I paused to take a photo, and got behind in my emptying!

Some of the leaves are shredded quite nicely, while others seem to emerge from the bag unscathed. No matter. They will still do the job, which is to provide insulation through the winter and then improve the soil. I used the first several bagfuls to insulate potted plants that I am wintering over. One year I wintered over four dozen plants this way. This year it was merely four.
The leaves insulate the plants in pots from winter's cold.

The leaves completely cover the plants in pots, insulating them from the worst of the cold.

The leaves are packed in tightly on all four sides, and then mounded on top. This is to protect the roots, which would normally have a much greater volume of soil insulating them from the cold.
Evans garlic bed

Then the garlic bed was mulched by the garlic sower (another member of the family).

Mulching the garlic not only keeps it from getting too cold in winter, but from warming up too fast in spring. Sometimes an early warm spell fools the plants that winter is over, and you don’t want the cloves sprouting before all hard freezes are done.

The remaining leaves were used to pamper the big leaf hydrangeas (H. macrophylla). These are the hydrangeas that will bloom pink or blue depending on the pH of your soil. Once upon a time, they were not considered worth growing in really cold climates, because the flower buds formed before winter (ie, on old wood) and they would get killed by the cold. Endless Summer® was the first of many big leaf hydrangeas that supposedly made flower buds after winter as well as before, blooming on “new wood” as well as old. Well, if you don’t stuff leaves into the heart of the shrub, insulating it from the worst of the cold surprise spring cold snaps, you still don’t have any “old wood” blooms and have to wait all summer for the blooms from new wood–if you get any at all.

leaves stuffed in hydrangea

Hopefully, the leaves stuffed into the base of this shrub will enable it to bloom sooner next year. Hopefully.

But these shrubs really like more heat than they get in our northern summers, and compared to H. arborescens and H. paniculata cultivars, bloom has always been stingy-to-non-existent for me, even with the leaf mulch. I kind of resent the pampering, especially since it doesn’t seem to yield satisfactory results. However, growers keep sending me samples, and I keep trying them, partly so I can share the results with you, and partly because my grandma grew blue-flowered hydrangeas and I want to because she did. This spring I was sent BloomStruck®, promoted as having exceptional bud hardiness, early bud formation, and a heavy bud count.
Bloomstruck hydrangea

Bloomstruck® bloomed pink this year, but under more acid conditions should bloom violet.

To really put it to the test, I am not stuffing Bloomstruck® with leaves. Let’s see how it does with the full assault of winter and the vagaries of mud season. I would really like to find a big leaf hydrangea that I didn’t have to pamper. Instead of stuffing leaves down into shrubs, I could just stockpile the shredded leaves for soil amendment or mulch. And I could keep up with the lawn mower more easily.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

If winter is slumber and spring is birth, and summer is life, then autumn rounds out to be reflection. It’s a time of year when the leaves are down and the harvest is in and the perennials are gone. Mother Earth just closed up the drapes on another year and it’s time to reflect on what’s come before.

~Mitchell Burgess in Northern Exposure

Comments on this entry are closed.

Patricia Bick October 26, 2015, 10:14 am

I double mulch my leaves. The lawn tractor does the first mulching then I go over them again with the push mower/mulcher with a bag attachment. This way all the leaves are shredded. Then I spread them on my perennial beds.

Kathy Purdy October 26, 2015, 10:15 am

Sounds like a good way to do it.

AmyO October 25, 2015, 6:18 pm

I will be mowing our leaves & pine needles tomorrow. It’s the best mulch for sure! And at the nursery where I work we now call Endless summer Hydrangeas ‘Endless Bummer’ because they rarely bloom.

Kathy Purdy October 25, 2015, 7:20 pm

Yes, I have heard that moniker before. I have written about the disappointing performance about these big leaf hydrangeas before. A list of hydrangea posts can be found here. Meanwhile, the arborescens and paniculata cultivars get more and more varied, many with pink blooms (no blue, though). And they are tough as nails. But in gardening, as in life, it seems we always want what we can’t have.

Donna@Gardens Eye View October 25, 2015, 11:24 am

We do mow up our leaves and use them as mulch on the veg beds, garlic bed and let them overwinter in the perennial beds making the plants and insects nice and toasty.

kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern October 25, 2015, 9:07 am

I am so happy to finally have some leaves of my own as my garden matures (grows out of control). I never leave leaves at the curb! I always rake them back into the beds. Sometimes they are not even chopped and I’ve read that’s not good as they can become matted but I figure no ones chopping them in the forest but worms and I haven’t had a problem (so far). They make the best mulch and the mulch is much more aesthetically pleasing than the bagged kind. I am envious of your leaf chopper!

Jane / Mulchmaid October 25, 2015, 6:59 am

Our last house had a huge Liriodendron tree and the leaves from that tree made wonderful mulching material each fall. Our current house has an excess of neighboring pin oak trees: their leaves are much less suitable for mulch as they take seemingly years to break down. That’s probably why I see squirrels using them for their winter nests.

Kathy Purdy October 24, 2015, 3:50 pm

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