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PA (Zone 6a)
pinkruffles
Oct 29, 2014 5:07 PM CST
I have gotten leaves from my neighbor, who collects them in a bagger on his mower. this is my concern: the leaves are a mixture of shredded leaves and mostly whole leaves--about half and half. I have always read that you shouldn't put whole leaves on as a mulch because they mat down when wet and keep water from getting to the soil, and they smother plant roots. Do you think this would still be a problem if it's a half and half mixture? Thank you for your help!!
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dave
Oct 29, 2014 5:10 PM CST

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I use leaves all the time and haven't had the problem you've described. Too much hay, on the other hand, definitely mats down and makes it hard for water to penetrate.
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greene
Oct 29, 2014 5:15 PM CST
When we lived in New England we had our neighbors trained to drop off their bagged leaves, either shredded or not. If you are in doubt you could run them over with your lawnmower before using them. The only problem we ever had was during mosquito season when the unbroken leaves would hold water after a rain long enough for the mosquitoes to get frisky.
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4susiesjoy
Oct 29, 2014 5:24 PM CST
Much of the time, leaves and grass run through the mower are my only mulch. I try not to get to much right on the crown of the plant, but other then that, I just pile them on. They decompose so fast that I've never had a problem with not having water get through. They are also a great weed block and plant food. The only problem I've had with them is I run out of leaves before I run out of garden! Hilarious!
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RickCorey
Oct 29, 2014 5:25 PM CST
pinkruffles,

After you lay down your mixture, you could always go back every few months with a steel rake, garden fork or cultivator. Spot-check by lifting up or dragging aside enough leaves that you can see down to ground level.

That will let you know if they are getting objectionably matted. If they do, the layer is probably too thick, and you could drag half of the layer away. leaving the most composted bits behind.

Or just dig up or rake the layer enough to create gaps and openings so air and water can get through.

I suspect that people who warn against leaves matting down are using a very thick layer - say, thicker than 3 inches. Or some leaves may be more prone to matting than others, like oak leaves that break down very slowly.

<Edited to add: I see that people with more access to leaves than I do have shared their experiences. Trust their experience more than my speculation!>
[Last edited by RickCorey - Oct 30, 2014 2:01 PM (+)]
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chelle
Oct 29, 2014 7:12 PM CST
Mine is always half and half, and I've never had a problem. Leaves along a forest path are roughly half and half too, and that's where the thickest and best stands of wildflowers are usually found. Smiling
I like the mix especially because whole leaves may dry out and blow away, but even if they do the crushed pieces will remain.
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Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
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Leftwood
Oct 29, 2014 8:16 PM CST
As alluded to, it depends on what kind of leaves: ones that break down quickly (ash and maple) or slowly (oak). Leaves that decompose quickly don't pack and prevent water absorption. In a pile, however, they will shed water in the same way a thatched roof does. Oak leaves need to be shredded.

It must depend on what kind of hay is used, if it packs or not. Here in Minnesota, I grew up tending a 100 x 60 ft vegetable garden. In early June, we laid 4-6+ inch "slabs" of hay (not straw) from hay bails over the entire garden (between the rows) that remained for the entire season. Never any problems.
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drdawg
Oct 29, 2014 8:21 PM CST
I have used un-shredded leaves (oak mainly) for decades. Shredded leaves are the ones that mat and are best suited for the compost pile. I use leaves up to 8" thick for mulching and have had absolutely no problem even with that thickness. I sure wouldn't use grass clipping for a winter mulch though. Just my preference and experience.
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daylilydreams
Oct 30, 2014 8:12 AM CST
I use leaves that we pick up with our lawn tractor with the grass/leaf pickup attachment. The leaves are shredded from the mower they never mat or cause any problems in the garden. We have been using this method for mulching for many years, the leaves are from our neighborhood containing mostly maple although there are a variety from other trees with few if any oak leaves.
I have never had a plant get smothered to death with a leaf mulch, love it for helping keep weeds out, holding in moisture, and adding fertility to my garden we have lots of earth worms in the garden.

Added: Some of the leaves are brought over by neighbors that have not been run thru a mower they are put on as they are and cause no problems.
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[Last edited by daylilydreams - Oct 30, 2014 8:15 AM (+)]
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Name: Ken Ramsey
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drdawg
Oct 30, 2014 8:17 AM CST
Perhaps oak leaves are different than maple leaves. I don't know. Regardless of how I use my leaves, whole or chopped, few of them go to waste!
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purpleinopp
Oct 31, 2014 8:49 AM CST
I've been using leaves as mulch my whole life, first in OH, now in AL. Totally agree, different leaves behave differently as mulch, even within a genus.

Not all oak leaves are the same. If they are totally flat, they seem to mat worse than the bigger ones with some curl to them. One general fact about any oak leaves is that they do take longer to decompose than most other leaves, mostly carbon, little nitrogen.

This is much more noticeable when gardening a "new" patch of ground, recently reclaimed from lawn, or otherwise very infertile ground. Used alone in a new bed like this, they can cause some chlorosis and slow growth. Not a terrible concern if you're a long-term-goal gardener, planting shrubs and perennials. Something you'd probably want to address with some added nitrogen in the spring if using annuals, or just impatient in general. (More below.) But after a year or more, assuming you have been adding enough organic matter periodically, so that there is a decent amount of microbial life and decomposers like worms in the soil, oak leaves start decomposing much more quickly.

Large amounts/percentage of walnut leaves can create problems for plants that are sensitive to juglone.

If leaves aren't either walnut or especially resistant to decomposing quickly like oak, and there are worms and/or smaller life forms from the decomposition crew, a couple feet of leaves will likely disappear over the course of winter. Yes, I meant to say feet, not inches. This is how mother nature does it in the forest, nobody rakes in there, and leaves disappear. The ground ends up being dark, spongy, full of healthy and fertile humus and microbial life. The same thing can happen in even the most modestly sized garden beds.

Matting and shedding water is a super way to zone cheat/push, keeping the ground temp from moderating too much, possibly preventing ground from freezing along the north/south border zones (Z6/7,) and being too soggy for marginally hardy plants regardless of the zone one is trying to push. A bit too cold + dry = possible survival. A bit too cold + wet = usually death via rotting. Should one find a mat of leaves in the spring, they can be fluffed, raked, possibly moved... and augmented with high-nitrogen sources such as grass from mower bag, kitchen scraps, anything with much more nitrogen than carbon.

As alluded to already, leaves are only one great source of organic matter for gardens. And unfortunately, only available once per year for most. Other forms of OM can be added to gardens, such as mulch, or composted in a pile or bin first and then added, to help increase the tilth and fertility of gardens. Different households have various OM, but common entities are kitchen scraps (that aren't bones, or anything very salty,) trimmings from yard plants (that don't have thorns,) mower bag (mow before grass shows seed heads if doing that,) straw, non-glossy paper/cardboard, pretty much anything that can decompose.

My style is to spread what I have when it presents itself, throughout the year. But any approach that results in a constant layer of constantly decomposing OM will help the soil to be in a constant state of improvement, provide all of the fertility plants need to thrive, keep the soil "alive," and help suppress weeds. Unwanted sprouts pull *very* easily from ground that has been gardened this way for a year or more. There is no form of mulching that will stop weeds permanently or completely.

Even if you go down the street in your town, you could find a patch of wildly different "dirt." But no matter what you find, or start with in your yard, it can and will be improved by adding OM. The amount, content, timing of which you'll get the hang of as you garden.

For more about soil microbiology in 'normal person terms,' this short video is priceless! (And so much easier to do on a small, personal property than the parts where she talks briefly about larger forms of agriculture.)
http://permaculturenews.org/2013/09/20/soil-not-dirt-dr-elai...

Happy decomposing and growing! The circle of life.
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Name: Jeanie
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foraygardengirl
Nov 1, 2014 7:25 AM CST
Tis the season here in Minnesota...I blow all my leaves into my gardens for the winter, clean most of them out in the spring, and then throw them into the compost bin. I don't chop them up (but I don't have any oak). I've been doing that all my life. It's a garden saver in the years where we don't have consistent snow cover (NOT a problem last year!). Since I have black walnut trees in my yard, I do avoid using most of those leaves. They are easy to identify and pull out because they have long stems. Usually I run over a pile of blown leaves with a rake and they catch in the tines and come right out.
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ShadyGreenThumb
Nov 1, 2014 10:47 PM CST
I blow as many leaves as I can to the front yard where the lawn is. We have Oak, Elm, Tallow, Hickory, Pine needles, Youpon, and a host of neighbor's leaves. Yes, it is tedious work with the gas blower. But when mowed over it and bagged up for spreading makes the best mulch for the winter. What little is left on the lawn helps it to overwinter as well.

I have been using mulched leaves in the back beds to build them up with bark mulch to top it off every spring. This year, I will use mulched leaves in the front beds. This also saves when using bark mulch later in the spring as a topper.

I know this doesn't answer the question of whether mulched leaves or whole leaves are harmful. But as someone pointed out, nature's leaves are not mulched up and the wild flowers seem to do fine with it. Plus my soil in my beds are super rich!
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Newyorkrita
Nov 3, 2014 4:08 PM CST
I always use unshredded leaves and have been doing so for years and years and years. Each fall I collect enough leaves to mulch all my garden beds. I put the leaves on fairly thickly as I want them to stop most of the weeds all summer long. I have never had any problems.
Name: Rick R.
near Minneapolis, MN zone 4a
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Leftwood
Nov 3, 2014 5:54 PM CST
Fairly thick, Rita? What does that mean?
Sorry, I must be at a disadvantage. I didn't know everyone else were mind readers. Big Grin

And I am concentrating really hard, too.....
Just not receiving any communication about what kind of leaves, either. Whistling
Name: Greene
Savannah, GA (Sunset 28) (Zone 8b)
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greene
Nov 3, 2014 5:58 PM CST
Fairly thick (or thickly) means different things to different people; I understood Rita just fine even without using my psychic ability.
Ad to what type of leaves, Rita uses what falls in her yard, I use what falls in mine.
You will probably be able to use what falls is yours as well.
I am smiling and I am happy that nature provides leaves for each of us to use the best way we can. Thumbs up
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drdawg
Nov 3, 2014 6:42 PM CST
Not every leaf is a good leaf for mulching. Take a look at walnut leaves, magnolia leaves, and fiddle leaf ficus leaves.
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Newyorkrita
Nov 3, 2014 6:48 PM CST
We have mostly different types of oak leaves, some dogwood and small leaf maples. So that is what I find around the neighborhood. Some years I put the mulch on thicker than other years, just depends on many leaves I have to spread around the garden beds. I like to have them as thickly as possible though.
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Marilyn
Nov 3, 2014 7:06 PM CST
drdawg said:Not every leaf is a good leaf for mulching. Take a look at magnolia leaves.


I was going to ask about them. Confused I'm all ears!

We've a magnolia tree in the front flowerbed.

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Name: Rick Corey
Everett WA 98204 (Zone 8a)
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RickCorey
Nov 3, 2014 7:07 PM CST
drdawg said:Not every leaf is a good leaf for mulching. Take a look at walnut leaves, magnolia leaves, and fiddle leaf ficus leaves.


I try to compost Rhododendron leaves. Note the word "try". They have a waxy coating, and even after that, they are pretty thick and tough like leather.

Hmmm ... I guess that means I should have been saving them to mulch with. I think their stiffness and curvature will keep them from matting.

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