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Keeping mulch but removing leaves - best method?

annkathryn
9 years ago

I've just landscaped my yard and have spread mulch under and around the new & existing plants. I have no grass, just mulch and plants that will eventually grow to somewhat fill in the space. The plants are a mix of drought-tolerant and succulents. The mulch I used is a fine bark. How can I keep the mulch looking good as leaves and small branches drift down from the trees? In the spring/summer this is only a minor issue as there aren't many leaves, but in the fall I have two large trees that dump leaves continually for many months.

DH bought a small electric blower and I set it on its lowest setting to see if I could blow leaves but not mulch. It was problematic at best. I've tried raking as well but still pick up a fair amount of mulch.

Suggestions?

Comments (65)

  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)
    8 years ago

    LOL!! I have never seen a rock mulched garden that looks 'pristine'. In fact, most of the time they look much worse than those mulched with an organic material. Leaves are relatively easy to get rid of........it's all the other debris that blows in and finds it way in between the rocks that's the problem. Conifer needles, petals from various flowers that are aging, even road dust. And it is easy for weeds to sprout in this stuff and harder to remove than from a loose wood-based mulch.

    btw, the idea that a wood mulch somehow leaches nitrogen is incorrect. It doesn't, unless you inadvertently mix the mulch into the soil. And a compost mulch ADDS a lot of nutrients to the soil.

    Organic mulches like bark, wood chips or compost should be refreshed annually.

  • FrancoiseFromAix
    8 years ago

    Ken,

    Do your 2 kids know how lucky they are to have such a funny dad ?

    I hope they appreciate !

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  • pattyokie
    8 years ago

    AnnKathryn, I want to live in your town! Free mulch & free compost sounds great.

    I think there's no way to avoid just the labor of raking it, but I use a snow shovel when I rake to act as a "dust pan". I kind of rake onto it, then hold the pile together with the rake on top of the full shovel. Where we live we don't get much snow, but my snow shovel gets used plenty.

  • ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5
    8 years ago

    Do your 2 kids know how lucky they are==>>

    no ..

    they are teenagers .. one copes with me.. the other hates me ...

    but.. they used to .. so i have my memories ...

    maybe someday.. they will grow the heck up ... and come realize such .....hopefully i wont be dead by then ...

    crikey .. i sound suicidal ... lol

    ken

  • FrancoiseFromAix
    8 years ago

    Ken,

    I wouldn't want to destroy your hope and optimism, but my kid who started hating me round 15 still hates me 10 years later :-)) It seems that every decision she makes is just the one she knows will bug me. For example of all the more or less acceptable boyfriends she brought home, she settled with the worst one a total loser lazy and stupid and rude and uninterested in anything but video games !
    To stay on topic if you guys know of a blower that could blow away this total loser without blowing away my compost piles I would joyfully invest some euros ;-)

  • toxcrusadr
    8 years ago

    After reading this thread, another solution comes to mind for the problem of leaves on top of mulch not looking nice. One could, after all, change one's expectations of 'nice.' :-]

  • grossepointe
    8 years ago

    Hi AnnKathryn - I know we are in different zones (I'm in SE Michigan) and I have no succulents. But boy, do I have leaves - all oak leaves. My backyard is all garden - I eliminated all the grass. I clearly remember my thought process when I developed the garden and thinking about mulch. I love finely shredded bark as mulch - think it's pretty, but it's pricey and then....what about the leaves in the fall?
    So I decided to go with what I have - which is leaves - rather than fight it. I bought a wonderful mulcher - it takes time and labor, but I'm retired and love to be in my garden. I use no other mulch other than my mulched oak leaves and my soil is like black gold and virtually weed free!! I like the look. It's thick in late fall (after the first hard frost) but by mid to late summer, it's barely there - it's decomposed beautifully.
    But you have to make yourself happy - I don't think there is any cheap and a minimal labor way to get a pristine garden with your type of mulch and then to deal with the leaves. But you will eventually find a method that works for you. You'll either change the way you mulch or you'll get those leaves off somehow or other. But they are free mulch!! Good luck!

  • annkathryn
    Original Author
    8 years ago

    Hi everyone,
    Funny to see this post pop back up after a year and a half. Thanks for all your comments and suggestions. I've implemented a combination of them. Here's what DH and I do now:

    1) I go over all the mulched areas around the plants with a rake like the blue one in plaidbird's photo. I rake lightly and gently to try to get mostly leaves and not mulch. Those leaves I pile into a tarp and toss them into my town's organics bin (the ultimate source of more free mulch).
    2) I've left the area under the tulip magnolia bare of mulch - it's just dirt. I rake the leaves there and put them into the organics bin. Some go into my own compost bin.
    3) I pick up the leaves in my little slate garden/succulent area by hand. My cats help. I haven't done this recently as you can see in the photo.
    4) DH brings a step stool out when he's in need of a meditative moment and pulls the remaining leaves out of the plants by hand.
    5) I've redefined 'nice' as toxcursadr suggests. I'm very chill about all the leaves at this point.

    The plants have mostly filled in very well and so there's a high plant-to-bare ground ratio, which also helps to keep things looking good.

  • annkathryn
    Original Author
    8 years ago

    The tulip magnolia is in the background.

    I forgot to mention that the blower is completely useless for blowing leaves, it just picks up all the mulch with it. I use it for the driveway but that's it.

    And I sweep the rock path with a broom.

  • toxcrusadr
    8 years ago

    Very nice! Great that you have cats to help in the garden. We had a garden helper too and hope to find another some day. They are great companions and support human productivity (when they are not lying on your lap preventing any work at all). Unless yours are very unusual, from experience I am skeptical about their actual productivity. :-D

    I never noticed this was a 'zombie' thread, but it's great to hear how things are going for you!

  • terrene
    8 years ago

    I have a small aluminum rake for "delicate" raking situations. The handle and tines are adjustable. Not this exact model, but it looks something like this:

  • terrene
    8 years ago

    But I don't use that rake much, my lot is over an acre, I have many large trees, and generally don't mind the leaves in the gardens. Even the most formal bed, the "front garden", always has a few leaves (or a few pine cones, etc).

    The back garden is mulched mostly with leaves. The privacy borders, which are mixed shrub/tree borders on both sides of the property, are mulched mostly with leaves. They make a wonderful mulch and I think they're attractive, shredded leaves are even moreso. And they're beneficial for the plants and provide habitat for other species.

    I had a flock of turkeys that lived in the yard this summer for about 6 weeks. They were constantly scratching in the leaves in the side borders, looking for bugs. It was pretty cool, although sometimes they did things that were annoying, like commandeer the annual bed to make dust baths.

  • old_dirt 6a
    8 years ago

    Chiming in a little late here and didn't read all the replies so maybe this has already been addressed.

    Many leaf blowers also double as a vacuum / shredder, with a small bagger. I have done exactly what you are talking about with mine. You just have to get a feel for how far from the leaves to hold the vacuum so it doesn't also pick up the mulch. It works best if you do it when the leaves are the driest.

    One benefit is the leaves are chopped up and ready for compost or making leaf mold. A draw back is the capacity of the bag. If you have lots of leaves you will be emptying it quite often.

  • annkathryn
    Original Author
    8 years ago

    Terrine that looks like a useful rake, I'll try to find one like it and see how it goes.

    old_dirt my blower is a very low-end model, no bagger. I purposely got a low-powered one because I thought the high power would blow mulch everywhere. As it is, I guess I haven't sufficiently mastered the technique but I can't use it at all on my mulched areas.

    The kitties are a bonded pair of semi-ferals who keep the mouse population under control. They're wonderful - the male lets me pet him but the female is still pretty hissy after almost 2 years of being in my yard.

  • FrancoiseFromAix
    8 years ago

    Annkathryn, your cats seem to have a very hard life ! They really look stressed and underfed and unhappy ! Apparently, some leaves on the mulch is great worry for them ;-)

  • Bestleafscoops
    7 years ago

    Hi Guys,

    This is a great article and I would love to offer you all a pre-spring discount code for a set of these Incredible Hulk hands.
    This is me in the picture by the way, and would love to connect more with people on gardenweb :-)

  • kokopelli5a
    7 years ago

    I don't think there is a substitute for a rake. I can't speak for all varieties of trees, but the leaves from my trees are the most favored food for the plants, bar none.

    Get a home depot bucket, cut out the bottom and use that to scoop your leaves.

    If you crunch up the leaves a little, they disappear quickly under your more presentable looking mulch. They are slow to break down if you put them in whole. I use a weed whacker in a garbage can. Not a carefree solution, but workable and cheap.

  • drmbear Cherry
    7 years ago

    To me, the idea of removing mulch (leaves) from the mulch seems very funny. I shred up the leaves and apply it as mulch all over my yard. Not only that, I go around in my truck picking up bagged leaves from lots of my neighbors, and shred their leaves for mulch in my yard. My garden beds look very neat and tidy, the shredded leaves don't blow around, and it is absolutely the best possible thing for improving the soil. My flowers, herbs, vegetables, and fruit really like it!

    Whatever you do, I strongly, STRONGLY, advise against ever using rocks as a mulch in areas where you want to grow plants. Think about it, leaves, perennials dying back, other dust, debris, etc., ends up on top of the rocks, no matter how careful you try to be. With a rock mulch, you can do absolutely nothing to improve the soil, the plants don't like it, and I don't think it can hold up to looking very good for very long without lots of maintenance - and even then I have my doubts. I moved into a house one time that was 10 years old. The owner had put in rock mulch in all the flower beds when they were planted. Just ten years later, that layer of rock was about 5 inches below the soil surface, and the soil under the rocks was like concrete. I was picking out that large white gravel by the buckets full just to get the soil suitable for planting new shrubs, herbs, and dividing and rejuvenating iris and daylillies in those beds. I was very frustrated. I have no problems with rock mulch for a walkway, but you will regret it anywhere you want to grow things. My $0.02!!

  • PRO
    Kailie Hagman
    7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I use a shopvac in my flowerbeds. It does pick up a little of the mulch but grabs dead leaves and debris that doesn't belong. It's great.





  • Doloris Bumb
    7 years ago

    I knew mulch would be a problem so we put down lava. Now the small leaves stick to the lava and I am on my hands and knees all the time 'picking' Any solutions. I think I will
    invent some kind of cheesecloth covering to put down over the lava during the
    major dropping times. Suggestions.


  • toxcrusadr
    7 years ago

    Perhaps a big sheet of nonwoven fabric, the lightweight stuff they use as frost protection over plants. You would have to weight it down at least until it got some leaves on it.

  • drmbear
    7 years ago

    My solution is to use wood mulch only for walking paths and borders of planting beds (in a kind of thick mound at least 10-inches tall and wide), and use ground up leaves as the mulch in planting areas. Ground leaves stay put, and they work their way into the soil system readily. In only two years where I live, I've drastically changed the quality of the soil in my gardens primarily by mulching with leaves - thickly. Yes, I've ground up lots of leaves the last few years, but I also notice that in the coming years I will need far less to maintain nice looking garden beds that will continue to improve. And folks in the neighborhood bag up and leave this mulch at the curb for me for free.


  • maeallen90
    7 years ago

    Use a tarp to cover the landscaping, when the leaves have all fallen from the trees you can vacuum with a leaf vacuum/ leaf mulcher, fold the tarp and your done.

  • ddefoe34
    7 years ago

    I have a huge problem. We purchased a home and I did not realize the leaf and seed problem we have now. My trees continue to drop tiny leaves and very tinny seeds through out the spring summer and the fall. it is VERY irritating. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to clean my flowerbeds with out picking up my mulch? I would have to sit for hours upon hours if I was to pick these up by hand. the blower is to strong on the lowest setting it blows my mulch out of the bed. the sucker sucks up everything on the lowest setting. I am fit to be tied…. I just want to cut all my trees down but I would miss my shade, Help me find a way to pick up this little leaves and seeds about the size of a half of dime or smaller….They are in the thousands. Help

  • John Donovan
    7 years ago

    When I need to clean around areas I don't want to disturb I use a small hand rake and small straw broom. I just move the leaves and weeds to a area I don't need to be careful on.

  • kimmq
    7 years ago

    Keep in mind that Ma Nature spent many years designing a system that is self sustaining, So the plants growing in the soil need those leaves, that many people diligently remove and throw away, denying those plants of the nutrients they need which causes them to have diseases and attract insect pests. Our need for neatness is causing more problems than is solves.

    kimmq is kimmsr

  • drmbear
    7 years ago

    I love this comment kimmsr. It is like they came right out of my mouth. Just in my near neighborhood I've collected 500 to 600 bags of leaves from neighbors throwing them out, and there were still many more than that still going to the landfill. Trees go to all this work to reach far down into the earth to bring the nutrients needed at the surface up, dropping them there each fall. By hauling those leaves away, they are just robbing their yards of their wealth. It's okay with me, because it is all going into my soil - not only in garden beds, but also on the lawn. The hassle is going to the trouble to grind them up, but so far it has definitely been worth it. I'm entering my third fall in this house, and in the coming months will be rounding up a bunch more leaves this year. I wouldn't use anything else for mulch - I want whatever I use as mulch to go directly into improving soil.

  • nicholsworth Z6 Indianapolis
    7 years ago

    I totally agree with the 2 previous comments. Have half an acre wooded lot & keep & chip my leaves. Lots of them I leave in place & never rake. An arborist giving me an estimate said "What r u using on these plants? They look really good." Told him just my compost. Took this as a supreme compliment coming from someone that loves plants & sees them constantly.

  • Cat
    7 years ago

    We have 8 large trees, mostly maples. We rake from October through til December every day just about. This year I mowed them first to shrink the pile and I mixed them with chicken manure to speed up the compost and make it fit to plant in. Next year it will be the foundation for my hostas and ferns. It literally is a forest floor back there. There's 6 trees planted in an L shape which is a shade garden. Talk about raking. And trying to rake leaves off of my stone mulch in some of my gardens is lots of fun. I have to pick them off, and trying to pick them off when they're black leaf mold is worse. So I pick them off when they're dry and fluffy. I didn't think that through when I put the stones in. Which by the way, even with 4" of stones, the bluebells still get through.

  • Jami Hamilton
    6 years ago

    What an ingenious idea! Never would have thought of that.

  • colmia
    5 years ago

    I feel your pain.... :( I have a similar problem, except it's all the seeds from the palms trees that fall on the mulch bed. Don't think a light blower would help either. So will resort to light raking, then sitting and hand picking each seed. Awful task at hand. :(

  • kimmq
    5 years ago

    Just had someone rake the leaves from their yard into a pile, set them on fire and burned the garage and car in the garage from that pile of leaves. Since 1977 it has been illegal to burn leaves around here because of air pollution and yet there are still people that do that. And as illustrated it can be a very expensive thing to do in addition to the fines ($175.00) imposed if a citation is issued.

    Leaves are a valuable source of nutrients if they are recycled, reused, and repurposed.

  • Cheri Czerwinski
    5 years ago

    I will definitely use some of this advice! I am a brand new homeowner with a beautiful yard that is about 1/3 patio, 1/3 mulch, and 1/3 grass. In addition to the above, I have about a million of those helicopter-like droppings from my trees in the mulch, which then sprout. Any suggestions? Pulling up the volunteer trees is easy, but I would love to get rid of the little suckers before then, because they look awful.

  • aschuneman
    5 years ago

    This is a long-lived discussion, but I see it's still going strong so I'll add my comments and questions. I have never worried about leaving leaves on the ground, and have been in favor of it until I moved to Maryland and bought a house with a 1/2 acre lot. It was previously owned by a master gardener and is filled with native plantings and tall trees--lovely.

    EXCEPT I am from Colorado and am having a very, very hard time adjusting to the reality of ticks. I would never let my leaves stay on the ground now because leaves on the ground are prime tick habitat. I am thinking about putting cedar mulch underneath the plantings to discourage ticks, and found this thread when I started thinking about how to avoid raking up all the expensive cedar mulch in the fall, when I have 3 billion leaves to pick up.

    From the discussion it sounds like the mulch/leaf issue is a problem. I like the idea of window screening on top of the mulch, but given the many, many plantings in my yard I think that'd be hard to pull off

  • PKponder TX Z7B
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    I just shake my head when my neighbors work so diligently to rake up all of their fall leaves and place them in black plastic bags which go to the landfill. Then a week later they have the tru-green guy out applying fertilizer and a truck bringing a pile of mulch. I tried talking to them about the virtues of mulch mowing the grass and leaves but they have their own ideas and apparently a lot more disposable income than I.

    We have 20 post oaks on a city lot and mulch most of the fallen leaves. It is a ton of work with the mulching mower and bag, but we have the nicest leaf mulched gardens and enriched soil. We also gather some of the clean bags of leaves from select neighbors and retain those in a bin next to the compost pile to use as we get greens.

    Feeling a bit smug about my efforts to enrich the soil and keep leaves on my own lot.

  • Nicole (5a - VT)
    5 years ago
    last modified: 5 years ago

    The one garden chore I absolutely hate is mulching. I have large flower and perennial beds all the way around the house that I didn't want to have to mulch every year. So I installed plugs of vinca minor. It completely filled in all the gaps and I no longer have to mulch. Love it. And it has lovely little purple flowers in the spring - bonus!


    Oh, and they are hardy little plants once established...I can walk over it and it bounces right back.

  • harry757
    5 years ago

    Just watch out 'cause it will take over you whole garden if you give it half a chance!

  • Nicole (5a - VT)
    5 years ago

    It is definitely an aggressive grower, but I also find that it is easy to pull up wherever you don't want it. So if it's growing around a perennial plant and I want to thin it, I just yank vines from around it very easily. A much easier chore than mulching in my opinion. :)



  • mover91617
    5 years ago

    did you ever find an easier way to get the leaves off or out of the mulch?

    I planted a Chinese Pistache, I was going to mulch an area of 20x20. I don't have a problem raking, bending and picking up leaves will be a problem as I get older.

    Have a good day!

  • marsha158
    5 years ago

    We just bought a house with lots of mulched beds near the house. We noticed leaves yesterday, and this morning they were compacted and certainly less noticeable. My husband is keeping the lawn adjacent to the mulched beds free of leaves that might blow. And we will top off the mulch every couple of years.

  • austinkarona
    4 years ago

    I found a solution! If you have a pressure washer, use the wide-spray nozzle. The water will keep the mulch down and the 'force' of the mist will blow the leaves if used at the right angle. My freshly mulched beds look great even with the spring leaf dump going on!

  • Robert Weissfeld
    4 years ago

    A great accessory to pick up leaves is the cardboard box that flat screen tv's come in. Then, put the leaves in a round trash container and use a string trimmer to chop them up. From there, you can spread them on the lawn as fertilizer - they rapidly decay and disappear, or put them back on top of the mulch, where they would do the same, but add bulk and fertilizer.

  • rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7
    4 years ago

    Or, rake them out onto the lawn and mulch mow them in place.

  • mabrinkman13
    4 years ago

    I didn't read through every post so apologize if this was already covered, but these things are brilliant and make it easy to fill bags w/ leaves.

    https://www.amazon.com/Bag-Buddy-Holder-Versatile-Support/dp/B001VGW24E/ref=sr_1_3?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1540350930&sr=1-3&keywords=metal+bag+stand+for+leaves&dpID=516DNlgvEfL&preST=SY300_QL70&dpSrc=srch


  • shary14
    4 years ago

    Does the type of tree or leaves matter for mulching? I have some various huge shrubs and a tree that all drop smaller leaves (some needle like) that are quite dense. Living in So Cal they tend to dry out but not exactly break down. I was planning on doing lava rock in the border of my yard, but since reading this post I'm thinking that that is not such a bright idea.


    My issue is my long-haired cat will find whatever area of the yard is the most dirty/dusty and cover himself with all kinds of earth and burrs, and then immediately after he asks to come in the house. Half the time my kids just let him in, and then the floors inside becomes filthy and my carpet gets pokey things embedded. I've been worried that if I did anything like bark chips, then my fur buddy is going to bring into the house slivers -the kind that are so tiny you can't get with tweezers. (I tried playing barefoot in the stuff as a kid, and you'd think it would only of taken the first time to figure out that's not something to do again...) Anyhow, with my own kids running barefoot all the time and the cat living like royalty, I worry about using old wood chips or mulch. Anyone have advice?

  • Cat
    4 years ago

    our golden does that goes out and comes back with seed burs all over her and we just thank her for removing them from the yard and brush them off and throw them in the fire. Leaves and needles are filled with nutrients from their trees - we mow them so as the rain or snow comes they wash into the ground and fertilize the grass and trees. Plus we use the pine needles around the roses and re-seeding flowers. The seeds can get through the pine needles but not the leaves as well or through wood chips.

  • HU-508306328
    3 years ago

    Water in the mulch before blowing. I am in the same situation.

  • joachimrick
    last year

    I'm going to try using mulch glue to keep it down. Has anyone else tried this?

  • toxcrusadr
    last year

    I have not heard of mulch glue, what exactly is it? Some kind of spray-on product I assume.


    On an unrelated note, Shary14 wrote:

    My issue is my long-haired cat will find whatever area of the yard is the most dirty/dusty and cover himself with all kinds of earth and burrs, and then immediately after he asks to come in the house.


    The cat is just trying to mulch the house so it looks as nice as the gardens!