December 21, 2010

When life gives you leaves...

My next door neighbor has a huge Mexican sycamore in her front yard. The bark, the foliage and even the messy seed balls are beautiful. I like how the light and the color come together at the very top of this photo.

She also has this other deciduous tree that I haven't identified. The sycamore is tall with big leaves and wide spaces between the branches. The second tree is shorter with a mat of dense branches and small leaves. The contrast of the texture and colors make this the most interesting time of year in her yard.

It also creates an extra garden chore for me. Weekly, her leaves pile up at least two feet deep near our side gate.

I would never bag and throw away leaves, especially these. They are thin and papery so they break apart easily but aren't too crumbly. Normally, I'd add the leaves to the compost, but by this time of year, both compost bins are full and we try not to add anything for a month before we empty them.

So... instead, I shred the leaves with the leaf vacuum and spread them in the flower beds as mulch. If you don't have a leaf vac, you could do something similar with a lawn mower and a rake.

It's smart to mulch during the winter. If you don't cover tender plants during a freeze, they'll die back, but if you mulch the base, the roots won't freeze too far down and the plants will come out quickly in the spring.  In beds where I expect to be digging seasonally, I prefer leaf mulch to bark mulch. The leaves don't mat together like bark so it's easy pull them back to reach the soil. Plus leaf mulch is free and it gives me a little incentive to pick up after my neighbor.

When life gives you leaves... make mulch.


  1. I'm probably preaching to the choir, but if you find this blog and you're not a already a landscape junkie, I beg you not to bag your leaves. If you don't compost them or use them for mulch just shred them with the lawn mower and leave them in the grass. They're free fertilizer.

  2. The only leaves we have are live oak and they are leathery and don't work well as mulch on my flower beds. However, they do make the best mulch for our path through the green space behind our house because they keep all the grasses and weeds down. The leaves that fall in the spring will last easily until the following spring when the path needs to be re-mulched. And I love that it is free! I wish I had some nice papery leaves ;-) Merry Christmas!

  3. Cat, we have two live oak trees and a pitiful silver maple. None make as good a mulch as our neighbor's tree. Even though I'm sometimes frustrated that she doesn't pick up her own leaf litter... I guess one woman's trash is another woman's treasure.