Autumn’s Leafy Bounty

Feeling engulfed by an ever growing pile of fallen leaves? Leaf season can be overwhelming. Within hours after they are finally raked, blown, swept, sucked-up or otherwise removed from lawns, driveways, walkways, decks, patios and gardens, they return, begging for more raking, blowing, and sweeping. Children love playing in mounds of leaves. Most adults curse the perennial piles, but we shouldn’t.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Autumn leaves are future soil. Just think of what happens naturally in woodlands. Trees drop leaves onto the ground where they become shredded by wind and under hooves or paws of woodland creatures. Leaves become weighted by rains and flattened by snows. As they decay, leaves break into smaller pieces. At ground level they begin to turn into leaf mold – Mother Nature’s protective mulch for her forest floor. Worms, insects, and an incredible number of soil microorganisms work their magic on leaves in contact with the forest floor. Before autumn rolls around again on the calendar many of previous years’ fallen leaves are transformed into nutrient rich soil … all without human intervention.

It’s when humans get involved that complications arise. We plant gardens and lawns amongst trees, lawns and gardens we prefer not to have buried in mounds of leaves, then we curse trees for doing what comes naturally each autumn. It doesn’t make a lot of sense when a few planned steps will turn autumn’s fallen leaves into valuable soil amendments.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Mow leaves that fall on the lawn. Mowers, particularly those with mulching blades, chop leaves into small pieces that slowly decompose and provide nutrients to grass-growing soils. One of the best, low-cost, low-labor supplements you can give your lawn is it’s own clippings. When left to decompose between grass blades, these clippings help feed the soil. Chopped leaves do the same.

If your lawn is covered with too many leaves and you have a lawn mower with a bag attachment, use the mower to chop up extra leaf piles. The collected, bagged mix can be used immediately as mulch on planting beds or around mature trees, or can be piled into a temporary fenced circle. You can follow the steps in this Fine Gardening article to turn your fenced-in shredded leaf piles into leaf mold – another term for leaf compost.  Not this ambitious? Then save shredded leaves in clean, unused trash barrels or fenced-in piles to use as garden mulch next spring or to cover vegetable scraps added to compost piles over the winter. No compost pile?   See how to start a compost pile. Now is the perfect time to get one going. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you must rake or blow leaves into adjacent woodlands try replicating nature. Make sure leaves are evenly spread out over a large area. Piles of un-shredded leaves will eventually decompose, but it takes a year or two.  If you must pile leaves, pile choose a different spot each year. If your property has an area of disturbed or uncovered soil – exposed soil is damaged soil -  cover the area with leaves and let nature rebuild the soil while you get on with your life.

In Connecticut, leaves are a mandatory recyclable item – they do not belong in the trash. CT’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP) has about 100 registered leaf composting facilities to handle leaves that fall in areas that do not accommodate on-site composting.

If none of these solutions work for you find out if your town collects  and actively composts leaves. Many towns now do so, then allow locals to use the composted result in gardens the following spring.

The bottom line: don’t let this free and rich source of garden and woodland nutrients go to waste. Nature provides the gift of leaves for us each autumn … we should use this gift wisely.

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What deer don’t eat, so far …

It’s time for me to look at my deer-munched plantings with a glass-half-full attitude. Deer, in large numbers, are here to stay unless my little section of south-central Connecticut is suddenly cohabitated by a throng of hungry mountain lions … but that would bring another set of issues. Enough sniveling over all the greenery I’ve planted that deer now see as dinner (That’s a deer, granddaughter deer. and Do deer tweet?). Time to focus on what deer haven’t eaten … yet.

In my gardens, fuzzy, silver and fragrant seem to be off the list of deer faves. Stachys byzantina, a.k.a. Lamb’s Ear, in the common flowering form and the non-flowering variety ‘Helene von Stein’ are both ignored. Many gardeners decry common Stachys’ wild looking flower stalks – they tend to fall this way and that after heavy rains. I don’t. Bees love the flowers, I welcome the subtle purple flower color and I simply cut back unruly stalks after giving them a chance to pop back up after a rain. Remove all stalks when flowers fade to enjoy the fuzzy silver foliage long into autumn.

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Plants with similar downy coverings – common mullein (Verbascum thapsus), downy Salvias (sages), Santolina, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia ‘Hidcote’ grows best for me), rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) and artemesias – also avoid deer browsing.

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Deer have not touched common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) foliage, shown here in autumn and in bloom.

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Deer leave all my green- and red-foliage ground-cover sedum alone.

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Deer have yet to nibble away ornamental grasses, Colorado blue spruce (Picea pungens ‘Glauca’), any variety of thyme, and Siberian or bearded iris (though I’ve heard of deer eating iris in other gardens).

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To date, deer don’t seem interested in allium, most narcissi (except my early blooming Tete-a tete miniatures when I forget to cover newly emerging foliage), globe thistle (Echinops ritro), native ferns, boxwood (Buxus sempervirens, ‘Green Ice’, and ‘Green Mountain’), and Pieris japonica. They have not yet nibbled my newly planted Montgomery Spruce (Picea pungens glauca globosa), but time will tell.

Deer leave my rhododendron and laurel shrubs alone during late spring, summer and early autumn, but I fence rhododendron from late autumn through winter to keep deer from ‘pruning’ them into green-topped umbrellas. This year I’m also going to fence in the small laurel shrubs so deer cannot re-shape them.

Check out Elegant Silvers by Jo Ann Gardner & Karen Bussolini as a go to resource for silver foliage plants. I cannot attest that all their listed deer-resistant plants will be so in your garden, but their list is a good place to start.

Please share any truly deer-avoided plants you’ve discovered. The list is likely to be ever-changing, but it’s one I’ll be working on for the rest of my gardening-in-Connecticut days.

Garden thoughtfully …

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Gain Valuable Lessons in Organic Land Care

Registration is open for the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) Organic Land Care (OLC) Accreditation Courses in MA, CT and RI. This 5-day intensive course trains land care professionals and advanced gardeners to design and maintain healthy, ecologically-sound landscapes.

I took the course last winter during cold, blustery and snowy days. The training was a welcome relief from the weather. As I posted after passing the course:

I was immersed in training that pulled my sense of gardening and my belief in natural processes together – the NOFA (Northeast Organic Farming Association) Organic Land Care Program. This course, offered annually, covers all aspects of land care and trains you to look at the impact gardening and landscape practices have beyond the edges of individual properties. Read on … 

The OLC course brought together all the organic gardening principals I’d followed during my gardening life through its focus on three main themes … kind of the Hippocratic Oath of Land Care:

  • Do No Harm
  • Protect Local Ecosystems
  • Right Plant, Right Place

The OLC course teaches new respect for the life and diversity of soil, and the phenomenal importance it plays in plant health. Did you know that one teaspoon of soil contains millions of organisms that support plant life?

The OLC course encourages seeking design inspiration from natural landscapes and native plant communities.

The OLC course reminds that every landscape decision we make will have either a positive or negative impact. The key is to seek the positive.

Coursework delves into site analysis and design; wetlands and watercourses; native, non-native and invasive plants; wildlife, pest and disease management; soil health; water use and quality; lawn care and lawn alternatives; fertilizers, soil amendments, weeds and mulches; and planting and pruning … as individual entities and from a big picture aspect.

TnThe Massachusetts class in Worcester runs January 9-13, 2012; the Connecticut class in New Haven runs February 15-22, 2012, and Rhode Island’s class in Charlestown runs February 22 through March 2, 2012. You can take the course for personal education or, upon passing the test, for professional accreditation.

Interested? Head here for more information, or contact me through a comment below.

If you decide to take the course I’d be thrilled to be mentioned as your referrer. Not only will I know I led someone else to this valuable training but … for the sake of complete transparency … NOFA will give me a discount on my next OLC re-accreditation fee.

Won’t you join me and more than 500 like-trained individuals accredited in Organic Land Care? You’ll gain knowledge that you’ll carry for the rest of your gardening days. If you are part of a business or organization that sends students in a group of three or more, NOFA will cut 15% off the price of the course.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2011 Joene Hendry