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Completely overwhelmed with dead leaves in spring

deanna Maine 5b6a
April 21, 2019

It doesn't matter how much I rake in the fall, as soon as I clear the beds there are 5,789,335,962 (that's just an estimate) leaves ready to take their place. The northern winter winds are broken behind us by landforms, but between the fall and spring when winds are switching between south and north, and the occasional beast of a southern winter wind that hits us full on, I am losing the battle. I leave the seed heads on Echinacea to feed birds, and right now I went to rake one foot of leaves caught in the old stems. That same scenario is repeated over and over, especially in any crack or crevice in the rock landscaping. The grass is wind-whipped clean, and all the leaves end up trapped in my garden beds. If peonies rot from leaf cover, I'm in big trouble. I haven't even been able to wade through to get to them yet.

Is there anything I can do in fall to prevent this? Does anybody line their garden with a barrier? I have some of that thick mesh "stuff" on stakes, about 2-3 feet high, that contractors use when they expose dirt to keep it from running off. I can line some areas with that, if it would work.

I don't care about the leaves if the plants don't care, but some of them do care quite a bit. They don't like sleeping with leaves. Those are the plants I'm worried about.

Comments (32)

  • littlebug zone 5 Missouri

    Well, there’s always burning in place. I’ve done that but it comes with its own set of problems (burning what you don’t want burned, strong winds, etc).

    When I do rake, I pick a day when there’s a good strong wind blowing in the direction I want to leaves to go (away)!

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  • deanna Maine 5b6a

    There are too many leaves waiting in the forests around us. Whenever the wind shifts there's a fresh supply to come rushing in. Burning wouldn't work under my conditions, unfortunately.

  • ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

    in the forest... a layer of leaves is a mulch.. and eventually a compost ...

    it seems .. if i read the premise correctly ... that the base problem.. is that you want to remove that system.. and inflict your own ... and you are frustrated that you are losing to mother nature ...

    the problem might be solved.. if you accepted her methods ... and ran with it ... rather than changing it ...

    obviously ... it would be a different way to garden ... and i understand how hard it might be for you to change .... if not impossible ...

    bottom line.. if you cant beat her.. perhaps you ought to join her ... and pshaw on the plants that cant cope ...


    BTW: pretty spot on.. on that estimate ....lol

    good old hippy music with lyrics: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0V0Vu_utUZY

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  • dbarron

    I'm with Ken, you can't fight Mother Nature (and expect to win).

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  • deanna Maine 5b6a

    I'm happy to join her for the majority, but I'm worried about some things that can get crown rot, like Echinaceas. Hostas, asters, etc. all don't mind at all, and, trust me, I let those leaves lie. If I have something that will rot, that's different. I think even my pulmonaria/lungwort don't like the leaves. I could be totally wrong on this, which is likely considering that lungwort is a forest-floor plant, but it seems that excessive leaf cover makes for a spindly-leafed lungworts. If feedback says that's not the case, I'll have to figure out why some of them seems sparse when they come back. But, those are easy to take care of because they don't put out long stalks to catch the winter leaves that blow around.

    I'll bet my swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) love the leaf cover. They are interspersed with the Echinacea, because my planning skills are awesome. |:-[

  • dbarron

    I never figured lungwort for liking piles of leaves, but I only grew it a few years once. Lol, planning skills? what's that ? (speaking of myself)..but yes, that would be best if we didn't plant those that don't like leaf cover where they get buried.

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  • nicholsworth Z6 Indianapolis

    I have a lot of clean up year round Lol..I'm pretty sure some plants are still waiting for last spring's clean up haha..it is tedious to hand pick debris off of my plants but it's the price I pay to live in a woodland..I've seen hosta come up that were bent over or couldn't unfurl because they were growing up through a sturdy tree leaf..is there a place where you could plant all of the ones you're concerned about and then have just one area to keep tidy?..I do appreciate nature's mulch but there is too much of it sometimes..sometimes when I pick it off the plant's too wet or the new growth is pale..until it warms up I like the insulation..but soon it will be time to get serious and go out for days and days and clean up..

    I have 7,436,892,109 leaves..some are from last year!!!Lol..

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  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    One way to deal with it is to get out as early as possible and rake the areas that need to be cleared. I try to do this as soon as the snow melts and before the ground is totally thawed to create minimal disturbance. More leaves may blow back but I find that wet spring leaves move around less. Before the plants start growing, you can also take a small hand pushed mower with the blades set as high as possible and mow with a bagger to add to the compost pile. Either of these can be done in the fall as well, but often leaves will blow back quite soon then.

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  • gracie01 zone5 SW of Chicago

    You need a leaf blower.

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  • deanna Maine 5b6a

    7,436,892,109 leaves, nicholsworth? Oh, I feel sorry for you. That's 28.458% more than me (that's just an estimate). Actually, I don't feel sorry for you--you've got that granddaughter to unleash on them!

    The mowing is a good suggestion, and an electric leaf-blower wouldn't make me want to de-brain myself because of the noise. I suppose the leaf blower would be better in fall when leaves are light.

  • NHBabs z4b-5a NH

    For another perspective, I hate leaf blowers. Beyond the noise, they kick way more stuff into the air than anything else that does leaf removal, and my mold allergies go bonkers.

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  • woodyoak zone 5 southern Ont., Canada

    We used to use a mulching leaf blower to chop up the leaves and put the chopped leaves back in the beds. We may get the garden helpers we started using last fall to use the mulching blower on the oak leaves this spring. Mostly we just rake leaves off paths and the lawn and dump them into the nearby beds. Using the lawnmower with the bag attachment on it makes cleaning leaves off the lawn easy and fast. We’ve never had a problem with plants getting smothered by the leaves... Pulmonaria does fine here and seeds itself into leaf-covered areas.

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  • nicholsworth Z6 Indianapolis

    deanna..the world's fastest "weed" puller going to a wedding last weekend..I wish she was triplets Ha!..I do mow the paths and "lawn" (not all grass) with a mulching mower..my husband would blow everything but I won't let him..the blower flattens my plants..so I say "leave it..I'll get it"..I get what I can!..

    NHBabs..I've never used our leaf blower..I hate the noise too..it's a necessary evil for the roof, deck, driveway etc..I do my best to keep DH away from my plants..

    woodyoak..this is my time consuming routine..I leave the fallen leaves on the beds in the fall..in the spring I remove the biggest not yet broken down leaves and throw on the side of the bin to be chipped..then I spread compost from the bottom of the chipped side of the bin..exhausting but my plants like it..

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  • woodyoak zone 5 southern Ont., Canada

    nicholsworth - that’s a cute little princess there...! Grandpa had my sister and me pulling weeds, thinning seedlings and helping with harvest in the veggie garden and orchard, and picking wild blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries by the age she looks to be... So she’s off to a good start in her garden career :-)

    We only have a small compost area as we leave most stuff to ‘compost in place’. DH can be a bit of a neat-freak at times and removes dead stuff in the front garden that I would leave in place...! :-)

    deanna Maine 5b6a thanked woodyoak zone 5 southern Ont., Canada
  • nicholsworth Z6 Indianapolis

    woodyoak..thanks..she's almost perfect but just needs to be more gentle with plants Ha!..I've seen my husband take aim and relentlessly blow on a leaf or twig until it moves and the plant goes from perky to side ways..he's finally accepted that I don't want him to "help"..I hate it when he uses the string trimmer too!..I don't care about speed or saving time..he does Lol..

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  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA

    We have a lot of trees on every side but the street side of our small property, in the neighbor's yards. Primarily Maple trees. We end up with a lot of leaves. Some are leaves that don't present a problem, like Silver Maples, that are small and break down easily. Others like a Sycamore with these huge, smothering leaves, and regular Maple leaves, really do pack down when they are wet and can suffocate some of what is growing in beds.

    I don't think about them when they fall into the beds under the drip line of the trees. I remember I had lots of plans to grow a great shade garden with Lobelias, Astilbes, ferns, etc. But a lot of what I tried, just petered out. I still try to grow Hostas and ferns do fine. Epimediums grow well here and seem to be bullet proof, but mainly in those beds, it's shrubs and bulbs. And I don't attempt to rake them out. I do edge those beds, by raking the leaves further into the beds and add about a foot and a half or 2 foot edge of bark mulch to neaten it up. That's it.

    I guess I do what Nicholsworth recommended, I put all the plants that need to get more attention into a couple of beds that are a size I can keep up with. I just got the last of the leaves out of one of those beds yesterday, because my lily bulbs were coming up and I worried the leaf mulch was too thick. The lily bulbs were fine, and were coming up under the leaves.

    Our main method of dealing with leaves, is to use the lawnmower. Not only will we just mow whatever leaves fall on the lawn in the fall, but we will pour dry leaves all over the lawn before we mow in the fall, to chop them, which makes a better mulch, then I just empty the lawnmower bag as mulch where I want it, usually my vegetable beds. And it's even better if the leaves are mixed with grass clippings.

    In the spring, in the beds where I don't want so many leaves, most of the leaves in the beds are leaves that I chopped with the lawnmower and deliberately put there for mulch, winter protection and soil building, with a layer of larger leaves that blow in. That is where I remove leaves. I use barrels and yard waste bags and just fill them up until I barely have a mulch left on the beds and I can see where everything is and what is coming up. I save the leaves in the garage, until everything has come up and I want a leaf mulch to preserve moisture during the hot months. I add some back in to those perennial beds and any left over are used in the vegetable beds as a mulch.

    Leaves are a great resource to me in the garden, but they do have to be managed for sure. We seem to be comfortable with the amount of effort we have to make to do that. Your situation sounds different to me. I don't have a lot of wind normally that causes a lot of problems. I have a fenced in yard on a small property, so that makes a difference I'm sure. So, my methods might work for you in some way, or not, but I throw it out there as an option.

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  • violetsnapdragon

    I used to live in a bowl surrounded by woods. The leaves had nowhere to go (gravity was not my friend). It was pretty horrible, so I feel for you. Now, even though I am still surrounded by woods, there are some down hill areas to rake the leaves. I avoid shrubs that are thorny--it's the worst trying to get leaves out of them. I am still cleaning up leaves--I try to tackle one area at a time to keep from being completely overwhelmed. The upside? Lots and lots of compost. I agree with the person who is a raker and not a blower--rakes are not so noisy and blowers blow the mulch away, too. I'm going to get one of those tiny rakes for getting in between plants in tight areas--maybe that will help.

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  • deanna Maine 5b6a

    Thanks for these responses. They're helpful. The sloping of our yard doesn't matter because southern winter winds blow everything completely uphill. It keeps the lawn totally clear, but the gardens are basically big leaf catchers unless I deadhead every single plant all the way to the ground, including bushes. >:-(

    Another question: My soil is newly laid fluffy stuff because the existing soil was only fill they put over the septic system, as well as thin soil over granite (hello, New England!). It's loam, compost, and peat moss. (Probably more luxurious than my home--sign of a true gardener?!) I need to remove leaves in the spring, but I don't want to walk on my soil. When it's wet, I can feel the soil compacting when I walk on it. Any suggestions for early spring removal without walking on the soil? I can't reach all areas from the edges. One idea I have is to lay down some pavers throughout the garden so i do have a walkable path during spring.

  • prairiemoon2 z6b MA

    I use a tiny kid's rake too and I think it is a big help.

    Yes, I am very conscious of not walking in the beds or on the lawn when it's wet in the spring. One bed I need access to the most has walkway, driveway and street on three sides, which makes it more accessible and I've added stepping stones in the bed so I can maintain it comfortably without walking on the growing areas. The other bed has a mulched pathway all along the front of it and pavers where I need them to maintain the plants. All my vegetable beds are raised and have pathways that I can walk on and have complete access.

    The beds under the dripline of the trees I stay out of until things dry out for the most part.

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  • woodyoak zone 5 southern Ont., Canada

    Paths are an important element in the garden here - they provide access for maintenance, serve as a grass barrier in places, help shape the garden spaces, and help avoid the compaction issue in spring (because it doesn't matter/is desirable if the paths gets compacted). There are a couple of grass paths in the front garden that aren't used much in spring, but there are other packed soil/mulch paths there too which provide alternative access to a large part of the space, facilitating spring clean-up. (spring clean-up here is also delayed until the end of April-early May since the average last frost date is the end of April.)

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  • GardenHo_MI_Z5

    A tiny rake (kids?) and a kids snow shovel are my best friends for leaf clean up. I can pack a lot on the shovel and it fits perfectly into leaf bags, plus strong enough to compact them down with.

    This works great for the shorty that I am...surely a back breaker for you taller ones though.

    I still have so many yet to rake : /

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  • Campanula UK Z8

    A ferocious leafblower - the backpack type. Any attempt at grass growing is a complete fail when autumn leaves smother every nascent blade of grass. Autumn means days of blowing leaves onto a massive tarp then making a gigantic pile held in place by posts and chicken wire - about 250 poplars, oaks and quickthorn (the main leafy components of my wood) makes a LOT of leaf.

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  • geoforce

    I too live in a heavily wooded lot, but don't even bother to rake or remove leaves. Come late Fall, I set the mulching mower on high level and run over them till they are reduced to a fine state. Doesn't compact to choke out grass or plants, and stays there to improve the soil. Makes a fine mulch in the shady beds.

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  • cyn427 (z. 7, N. VA)

    I leave almost all of my leaves to support the insects that make it through winter under them. Once it is warm enough (usually about now) that I think all the insects are awake and have flown/crawled out, I rake them into the lawn and mow.

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  • alenm3

    Husband uses leaf blower on all my plants and it does flatten some sometimes, but they very recover quickly.

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  • nicholsworth Z6 Indianapolis

    alenm..I'm sure that I'm overprotective and too concerned about my plants!!..I would just rather live with the mess than flatten the plants even if it's temporary..Lol

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  • deanna Maine 5b6a

    And, let me say here after yesterday's activities...I know oaks are amazing for the environment--almost 900 insect species use for life cycle, etc. As far as leaves go, they deserve their own special forum discussion. All of mine are, of course, oak, and it is just a thick mat of smothering something-or-other. Why invest in week killer? Just spread oak leaves!

  • Campanula UK Z8

    I generally only blow the leaves off the grass in the clearing...and we have 3 of them (blowers) so we race about, pretending to be collies (Hazel, the real collie, attempts to join in). We can clear the whole thing in a few frantic hours.

    OMG, I would love a mulching lawnmower (we have an ancient and erratic John Deere tractor mower. On the plus side, we haul a load of stuff around on the back of it.

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  • maylingsmom

    Oh, my, I wish I was close enough. I would come rake them & take them away to my house.

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  • gardengal48 (PNW Z8/9)

    Camp, virtually any kind of lawn mower can be retrofitted with a mulching blade. Side discharge mowers are less suited but will still work with the proper blade. It is so worth it to mulch mow and of great benefit to the lawn regardless if just the grass clippings or leaves.

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  • woodyoak zone 5 southern Ont., Canada

    Partly as a result of this thread bringing it to mind.... we dug out our electric mulching leaf blower on Saturday to clean up the oak leaves that hang on until spring before dropping. They collect along the south fence. We mulched them, and the ones that fell into beds last fall and dumped the chopped leaves back into the beds. The past couple of years we had just been raking the leaves into the beds whole - not bothering to chop them. The chopped ones look better and the process was faster and easier than we remembered! The only thing I’m a bit worried about is whether we might have sucked up and moved some seeds into areas where I don’t want them. I will be watching as things grow.... If it does turn out to be a problem, I think the solution would be to do small areas at a time and empty the mulch bag more often so things stay in the area they are supposed to be in. But it looks like the mulching leaf blower is back in business in this garden :-)

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  • defrost49

    Thanks to all the rain, we're just getting to yard work. We raked the bulk of the leaves out of the beds and spread them to dry some more. Then my husband went over them with the mower and bagger. The chopped leaf pile is now next to my asparagus beds that will need more mulch after they get weeded. My husband likes a metal rake with an expanding head so it can shrink down to very narrow but I bought a hand rake from ACE hardware for $7.99 that was fantastic for getting between shrubs and because the tines are small, it didn't seem to damage when I rakes over perennials that had started up. With the bed that contains echinacea stalks, we first broke off the stalks and then started raking. Ditto for old daylily stalks. The lawn has been so wet that until this week it felt boggy when we walked on it so we really couldn't get much work done.

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