With leaves all blown to a central spot, this young man uses an electric blower/shredder to vacuum up the collected leaves. A blade inside the blower shreds the leaves and pushes the leaves through a tube into a bag and large plastic drum. The shredded leaves can then be added to compost or used as garden mulch.
When leaves are left by the roadside for the town or village to collect, they often go into municipal composting operations. This very small property could never process the amount of leaves from several old maple trees, but what a shame to lose them. ANDREW MESSINGER
These maple leaves fall straight down from the maple above. There are probably too may for a mulching mower to handle, but if raked or blown into a pile they can easily be shredded. If left on the lawn the leaves will inevitably get wet, mat down and kill the grass. ANDREW MESSINGER
The rake on the left is a wooden tine leaf or lawn rake. The one on the right is a much wider plastic rake. Metal lawn rakes look similar to the wooden one but tend to be heavier. Remember, the wider the rake, the more weight you have to pull when raking the leaves. ANDREW MESSINGER
This tree flowered in May and set fruit during the summer, and now the fruit have ripened to a vibrant red offering contrasting and attractive fall color. Ah, but what tree has fruits like these? ANDREW MESSINGER
On the left, a small and lightweight 2-cycle leaf blower. The one on the right is a corded electric blower/shredder that cost less than a third of the gas blower, blows nearly as well but unlike the gas one the electric can shred the leaves it collects and it weighs 40 percent less. However, it’s only good for about 100 feet from your electric outlet. ANDREW MESSINGER
To some, leaves are merely a burden of garden residue that has to be gotten rid of just like grass clippings. To others though, the fallen leaves get recycled by adding them to compost piles, shredding them back into the lawn or using them as a light winter mulch. As the saying goes, leave the leaves. Well, kind of.
The best leaves to recycle or repurpose are the maples, ash, birch, beech and cherry as well as leaves from other fruit trees and nut trees with the possible exception of black walnuts. These leaves provide a balance of nutrients when they break down, and among them all, the maples are the best.
The leaves of our oaks, however, are more acidic than the others, and oak leaves tend to break down somewhat slowly. But they can and should be mixed in with our other leaves when composting or shredding. But a compost or shredding diet of oak leaves alone can be challenging.
On the other hand, in addition to black walnut foliage, the leaves from Magnolia and Ginkgo trees are usually left out of compost piles as these waxy and tough leaves decompose over years and not the weeks to a few months that, say, the maples take.
So, as they inevitably do, the leaves fall. Then what?
If you have a mower with mulching blades, it’s pretty simple. The best practice is to mow them (when dry) and allow the shredded leaves to work themselves back down into the grass where they decompose and become humus, one of the critical building blocks of great soil. This should be done in moderation, though, because you don’t want the shredded leaves to pile up and deprive the lawn of moisture and light.
It’s also a bad practice to allow leaves to fall on the lawn and get wet, layering to the point where decomposition becomes turtle slow and you end up killing the lawn. Once the leaves begin to fall, watch carefully. If they’re dry, try to mulch them or collect them at least on a weekly basis.
As for using a mulching mower or dedicated mulching machine, you may have heard or been told that this practice leads to layers of undecomposed organic matter the kills the grass. Well, for 25 years I managed a very large private estate and come leaf drop we simply slowed down our mowers (that all have shredding blades) and once or twice a week ran over the leaves, breaking them up into tiny pieces. No raking, no blowing, just mowing. The lawns always, always looked great, even the 6 acres of Kentucky bluegrass.
Inevitably, there are leaves that can’t be shredded into the lawn simply due to the volume. There are ones that accumulate in gutters, the ones from the driveway and walkways and the bushels (if you’re lucky) that blow down from the roof or from the neighbors’ trees. There’s gold in them there leaves, pure gold.
When I was a kid, my friends and I used to make some money by raking the leaves up on neighborhood lawns. You’ll be hard pressed to find a kid to do that these days, though you may do it yourself.
It’s great work for a brisk fall day (rake with the breeze and not against it) and all you need is a fan rake or lawn rake. Fan rakes can be plastic or metal, or have thin wooden tines, and they come in various widths. Wider ones make raking faster but harder as you’re pulling more weight with the wider fan. You’ll also find that there is a degree of flex in the tines, so when shopping pick them up and get a feel for the rakes before you make a decision.
From the rakes we move to mechanical devices. I haven’t seen leaf brooms in a while, but I know they’re still sold. These are cylindrical brushes that rotate against the leaves while you push the device. As the brushes rotate, they force the leaves into a rear catcher, not unlike a lawn-clipping catcher. They can be pushed and some can be pulled by a small garden tractor. They run about $150.
The second mechanical option is a gas-powered leaf blower. These are now restricted in some communities, especially the villages, but some towns have restrictions on them as well. They are noisy and pollute the air (and your lungs) but are very effective in moving leaves around or blowing then into piles and windrows. They can be expensive and heavy as well, but there are a few backpack types that weigh under 10 pounds and still do a good job.
The third option, and for many the best, is an electric (or battery) leaf blower. These are not as heavy as the gas blowers and not as noisy. If they’re the corded type, you need to be within 100 feet or so of an electrical outlet and have the appropriate extension cord. However, some of these can do a really neat and helpful trick. With the flip of a switch and a rigid tube attachment, they can not only blow leaves but suck the leaves into the motor housing, where a blade shreds the leaves into tiny pieces.
Some of these blowing/shredding machines can bag the shredded leaves, drop them in a large garbage can or make a pile. The best part is that many will reduce your leaf pile volume by a ratio of 10 to 1 or up to 15 to 1. The shredded leaves can then be easily added as layers to your compost pile or used as a mulch in the garden.
The blower/shredders that are battery operated claim as much as 90 minutes of runtime, but you have to consider the weight of these units as they are powered by large lithium batteries that aren’t light. One that you may be seeing advertised on TV weighs 12 pounds and does not have a shredding option. For nearly $300, that’s both heavy and lacking an important function. On the other hand, you can get a Toro corded blower/shredder for around $75 that only weighs 8 pounds and does a good job on both blowing and shredding.
Shop around for these and see if there’s one on display that you can handle and hold. One thing to look at in the specs is how many CFMs (cubic feet per minute) the unit puts out. More is better but 350 to 450 CFM should be ample for most. When using any of these units, always wear ear and eye protection.
Many of us are in the habit of simply blowing fallen leaves to the perimeter of our properties, especially if there’s a wood’s edge in back of the lawn. Some recently published research looked at these areas after leaves had been blown into piles or rows and found that in the fall, tick populations exploded at these leaf piles. The ticks are attracted to the warm and humid decaying piles (a favorite place for ticks) which also give them places where they can get up off the ground and closer to you or your pets as they pass by.
Don’t let your gardener or landscaper steal your leaves. This stuff is real garden gold in terms of mulch, and it’s carbon that can be added to your compost, which along with some nitrogen (lawn clippings) will make wonderful humus, a key building block for great soils.
For more information on what you can do with your leaves go here, leaveleavesalone.org. Keep growing.
No more feeding the roses. Feeding them now allows for soft new growth that is easily damaged in winter months.
Keep up on your garden sanitation. Remove dropped fruits and vegetables and get them into the compost pile. When leaves fall from fruit trees and roses, get them into a hot compost pile or get them off the property. The fruits and stems of many plants can harbor disease spores that will overwinter and be the source of infections next year.
Tulips should be in the ground by the third week in October. Get the daffodils in by early November at the latest.
Remember that it can take six to eight weeks to get a dormant Amaryllis to flower. If you have the bulbs and want them in flower around Christmas, they need to be brought out of dormancy in early November. For Thanksgiving blooms, you should have them started now.
Fall is the time for tree feeding. Most will have this done by a professional, though you can do your own. The big question you have to answer first is, do your trees really need it?
Get your garlic planted.
Get your plant wish list for next year’s garden started — or finished.
Now is a good time for broadleaf weed control and the last chance for overseeding and patching the lawn.
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