The first week I owned my leaf-sucker-shredder, my joy was considerable at the thwip thwip thwip sound it made as my massive surplus of Acer macrophyllum leaves leaped into the device. There can be no question that this tool has saved me days of leaf raking and shredding, as it performs both functions quickly and simultaneously without disturbing the tender plants and mosses beneath. I even felt (at first) that this was my second favorite yard tool EVER, after my late, lamented weed torch that Smokey the Bear says I can’t use in my forest (Smokey and I, we agree).
After the second week, well…let’s just say that Cantaloupe Island isn’t playing anymore while I use it. I look up at the trees and wonder, where is this stuff coming from? It JUST KEEPS DROPPING. Yesterday I went out to clean off the patio and wound up vacuuming leaves for two and half hours. The good news is that the volume falling from the sky is decreasing, and it doesn’t take very long to clear the floor of the glen. A rare rainless November day afforded me the opportunity to extend the leaf collection all the way beyond the forest margin, which gives me a greater quantity of shreddy leaves and prevents those leaves from blowing on the fall and winter winds back into the clearing.
I have been asked why I don’t just *ahem* ‘leave’ them be. After all, the forest dropped
its massive load of leaf litter for several decades before I got here. Truthfully, if I had never gone beyond the original Mitigation Plan, I probably would just ignore them. But having replaced so many dead and poorly sited plants, I am heavily invested in the survival of what is there now. Since the native soil is already notably hydrophobic, I don’t want it covered in several layers of water-repellent sheeting, nor do I want my six-inch or foot tall seedlings covered in two feet of smothering mulch. The whole leaves are useful in some areas where I want to smother cleavers and sandwort, grasses and other weedy plants, but I particularly worry about what might become of all of my moss transplants were they to remain under the blanket of leaves. I’m sure many of them would live, maybe even thrive, under cover of darkness…but they would have difficulty spreading their spores, and even if they did, the spores could alight on leaf material rather than attach onto the soil. So the leaves must go.
They don’t really go very far, though. I am storing the shredded leaves in a pile for later
use, and they will take on a new and beneficent life in the future. A small portion of them will go in the compost tumbler and another portion to the worm bin. The rest will become beneficial leaf mold, a magical substance that improves soil tilth and structure and adds biota to the soil. In a ‘garden’ with anemic soil, I don’t think I (or my plants, anyway) can live without it. I am of mixed feeling about whether to spread it now or to wait until it wets and moulders a bit, because even in its shredded state I don’t want the leaf mulch to interfere with the advancement of my mosses, which move around slightly less nimbly than the Mendenhall Glacier. If you garden, or if you have a garden, it is likely that you mulch in one way or another: from the dyed bark laid down by the HOA at the subdivision down the street, to the strategic planning and layering of different kinds of mulching products and substances to gain specific garden benefits. In one form, my leaves could kill my plants and keep my clearing sterile; in another, they can feed the soil food web and help the plants to thrive…and they are free, with just a few weekends’ worth of back-hurty labor.