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putting leaves to work: shredding 101, with mike mcgrath

My compost heap in late fallFOR 17 YEARS ON PUBLIC RADIO and many before that in print, Mike McGrath has been a leading voice for organic horticulture, and a highly distinctive one. The host of the nationally syndicated public radio show You Bet Your Garden” from WHYY in Philadelphia, is—like I am—someone  who has for decades had a serious thing for gathering every shred of organic material he can get his hands on, especially leaves, and turning it all into soil-improving goodness.

Note I used the word “shred,” because on my radio show and podcast, Mike and I talked about shredding, and how the right strategy along with the best shredding device can make all the difference in making mulch and compost from those brilliant leaves you’ve been piling up.

Read along as you listen to the Nov. 23, 2015 edition of my public-radio show and podcast using the player below. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

my leaf-processing q&a with mike mcgrath

 

 

McGrath-2010-shovelQ. Congratulations, I should say first, on 17 years of “You Bet Your Garden.”

A. Isn’t it amazing? People remember me still to this day from “Organic Gardening” magazine, and I was only the editor for seven years. I was at Rodale Press, which I joined as a health writer originally, for 17 years—so I am about to surpass all of that. It’s astounding; it’s a privilege.

Q. And it’s heard in dozens of states. I have to say: It feels funny to just hear your voice instead of hear you do your show intro your show-intro voice that I am conditioned to hear first….

A. Do you want me to say “cats and kittens”? [Laughter. Note: In vintage DJ-style, Mike sometimes refers to his audience as “cats and kittens.”]

Q. How’s your leaf season been there? It has been really heavy here.

A. Exceptional. In May a year and a half ago I had to have a complete tear of my rotator cuff repaired.

Q. Ugh.

A. Oh, right, but the good experience was I hired an intern, a great young man from DelVal College, which is a wonderful horticulture school not too far from me. They exhibit every year in the Philadelphia Flower Show and they do amazing things. They have a great program.

First of all, at my age, a girl can get used to having some help around.

Q. Yes.

A. It’s really nice to put the pruners into a sturdy young man’s hands and say, “Go take care of these peach trees.”

Q. When you said you’d hired an intern, you had just said you’d had rotator-cuff surgery, and I thought, “He hired an intern to do his shoulder surgery?” [Laughter.]

A. Right, it was like going to barber college: I couldn’t afford the high-priced spread.

Q. So you’ve had a lot of leaves; manna from heaven has been falling and falling?

A. Yes. Last year he moved on of course at the end of the season, and by then I was still kind of tender. So I didn’t get as many leaves as I wanted to, and I felt inadequate over the winter.  But this is a year later, and I am 18 months out from the surgery. It’s like if you go through a red light accidentally, you stop twice at the next one.

Q. Exactly. Are you all done, or are you still at it out there?

A. I’m all done in that I’ve captured every leaf that has fallen on my personal landscape. Now the National Wildlife Federation is yelling at everybody to let your leaves stay where they are; to smother your lawn!

Q. Oh please; that’s ridiculous.

A. I think one of the reasons they’re doing it: Don’t forget, it’s the National Wildlife Federation. All they said was leave your leaves where they are, because they’ll remineralize the soil and they’ll give overwinter places for frogs and toads and all the little creatures that we love. But down deep in their heart, we know they hate lawns—and if people leave whole leaves laying on their lawn they won’t have a lawn, and that when the NWF will try to convince them to put in a meadow or something.

Q. It’s kind of like putting cardboard on your lawn [laughter] to smother it.

A. God’s cardboard.

Q. Even if it’s late, and people have already done their leaves, everyone has a stiff shoulder or aching back, so it’s a good time while those aches are fresh to make resolutions for a more efficient tactical approach next year. Let’s go through your strategy for leaf management in fall. Shall we start with on the lawn, as you were just mentioning with the NWF idea.

A. I learned so much from my editors and the readers of “Organic Gardening” magazine. One of the first thing I learned was like on a level of Frankenstein and Tonto: “Whole leaves, bad; shredded leaves good, good.”

Really, whole leaves as you know, once they get wet and cold, do a good imitation of a tarp. But once you shred them up, they can do almost anything. If they’re on your lawn, just run them over with a mulching lawn mower, and instead of killing your lawn they’ll feed your lawn with all those pulverized leaves.

If you don’t treat your lawn with any herbicides, you could also use a bagging mower, and that’s like super-easy—the lowest-hanging fruit. Use the lawn mower as sort of a leaf vacuum. If your lawn isn’t treated, you’ll get a little bit of Nitrogen-rich grass clippings in there, and what you’ve got is the perfect starter compost. It’s your game to lose at that point.

Q. There was a great tip recently on “You Bet Your Garden.” Say you have all these shredded leaves piled up in your compost heap, it suggested to inoculate them with some finished compost to get them going.

A. That was spurred by a listener, who was kind of happy and sad at the same time. He had done all the right things: shredded all the leaves, mixed in lots of coffee grounds to provide a source of Nitrogen to move the composting process along.  He’d even turned the compost—he’s a younger man than I.

Q. [Laughter.]

A. Finally, at the end of the summer, all of his compost was completely finished. But it’s sitting in his compost bins as his leaves are coming down, and he goes, “What now?” I was happy to explain to him that that’s the cold, hard reality of composting in the Northeast.

If we get a cold winter, the laws of physics will not suspend themselves for your personal gratification. You’ll get some compost, but not a ton of finished compost in the spring, but most of it unless you’re being really aggressive, it’s going to take about nine months. It’s like having a baby.

I had the same experience. I filled up all my raised beds that weren’t filled to the top that needed a nice application of compost, and then I still had a lot left over.

I remembered the old advice that there is no better was to get a compost pile cooking than to put some finished compost in with it. It’s almost like starting a worm bin and adding the worms. Duh.

Q. Because instead of the worms, which are big, there are these microbes that we can’t see that are going to do the gobbling up.

A. Exactly. Throw them into a pile of shredded leaves with some coffee grounds, and it’s like going to the prom. They’re going to stay out late and make whoopee.

Q. As my old boss Martha Stewart used to say: “It’s a good thing.”

A. It’s a totally good thing.

Q. First, how big is the area you’re managing, what’s your tool of choice for shredding?  I’m like two and a half acres surrounded by mature forest, so it’s leaf heaven.

A. I have about an acre and a half, half of which is mature forest—forget the surrounded part.

Q. Oh, boy.

A. In retrospect, I’d give this advice to any prospective homeowner: If you’re really interested in gardening, don’t buy Snow White’s old house. It’s really good when the chipmunks and birds come and help you wash the dishes and stuff, but heavy tree cover is not the best for growing tomatoes.

Q. I’ve been in my garden about 30 years, and even the things I planted that were maybe 6 feet tall at the time are now mature: much bigger and making more shade. So I do have less lawn that I did, and more trees even in the garden proper.

So yours is a big space. I confess, I don’t have a leaf blower or shredder.

A. You’ve got to—you’ve got to ask Santa.

fall-main-callout-home1Q. I don’t know if Santa stops on my dirt road, but I have Cyclone Rake envy and a neighbor with a tractor and a Cyclone Rake, and we’ve made a deal so he drives it through my place.

If people don’t know what they are, it’s a big collapsible box-like trailer with a vacuum and shredder and hooks onto your tractor. It sucks the leave up and shreds them and you can empty them into your heap. So now I have 83 million pounds of shredded leaves, thanks to Herb, my 83-year-old beloved neighbor and best friend.

But let’s get real: I need a shredder myself. What shall I do?

A. Back in the 90s, when I was the editor of “Organic Gardening,” our tools section was very popular. Especially back then, people were really going back to the land, and buying a lot of tillers and little tractors, so reviews of garden machinery were hugely popular.

My equipment editor at the time was Scott Meyer, who became the  editor after I left, and he got everybody on the staff a different electric blower-vac. One person got the Flowtron thing that you put on top of a trash can that has string trimmer that you put the leaves into.

We tested about 10 different ways to shred your leaves, and I got a Black & Decker weed eater or leaf eater kind of thing. It worked perfectly. It was corded, so you were stuck with 100 feet; 100 feet tends to be pretty good, but you get tired of lugging the cord around after awhile. But there is no bending over. I don’t understand leaf blowers.

Q. I don’t either; I see them at people’s places near me and they’re just pushing leaves around and I think, “What good is that?” What’s the point?

A. You make a ton of noise. You cause all this debris to fly up into the air that you’re breathing in. And when you’re done the leaves are still on the ground. It makes as much sense as putting a screen door on a submarine, or taking pork chops to a Seder. It’s not working.

Q. [Laughter.] We’re getting the Mike McGrath-isms; we’re getting them, folks. That’s a multiple Mike McGrath-ism that we just got there.

A. The nice thing about these blowers that have the reverse setting and the collection bag: You pass over the leaves once. You get them off the area you don’t want them. They go into a bag, and you can put them into a container to save for next year or put them into your compost bin.

I know some people who suck the whole leaves out of their flower beds, then just drop the whole bag of shredded leaves back into the flower beds. From potentially destructive plant killer to plant-feeding mulch in one step.

Q. Right.

A. And you never bend over.

Q. And you say, “potentially destructive plant killer;” same thing you were saying about the lawn. I’m obsessed with raking leaves out of my beds, and readers write and ask, “Why do you rake your leaves out? They’re so great to leave.” And I’m like, “No.” Voles and mice and everybody just has a party under there. I lift off matted leaves where they have blown back in over the winter, and inevitably there are animal tunnels…

A. …and mold.

Q. And molds. And some of the earliest bulbs…

A. …are totally smothered. There’s nothing sadder.

Q. They’re all distorted.

A. There’s nothing sadder than raking up a patch of frozen leaves in February and going, “Oh my God, that’s where the glory-of-the-snow was.”

Q. Exactly. So at least take them off for a minute and shred them and put them back if you like, but don’t leave them matted there.

Fallen leaves under copper beechA. What people don’t understand is that trees kind of drop their leaves for two reasons. One is to close up for winter, and retain moisture, and not have that weight that can break the tree during a snowstorm.  The other purpose—and maybe there are three purposes, because once those leaves fall to the ground and disintegrate they’ll feed the tree—but one of the big purposes is to beat up all the children on the forest floor.

Q. [Laughter.]

A. Those leaves suppress the competition of all those smaller plants, and make sure that the trees are the big bullies in the schoolyard.

Q. So the tree self-mulches, so to speak.

A. That’s why it’s often very easy to walk through dense woods.

Q. So we’re going to shred them on the lawn in place, or shred them and put them in a heap and inoculate it with some finished compost. And we’re going to take them off our beds, even if we put them right back shredded again.

A. Take them off; put them back on. It’s like Army work.

Q. Now this machine that you’re wanting me to get for Christmas—or that you’re sending me for Christmas, thank you so much.

A. Oh you’re so welcome. [Laughter.]

61Ha-Cq2u7L._SX522_Q. What does it look like? Do they all shred, or collect the stuff, or have bags on the back?

A. There are some blowers than just blow, so you want to make sure you get one that says, “blower-vac” or “reverse setting.” It will always say that on the box; you’ll see a picture of the collection bag as well. One nice thing about these machines, is that they have improved over the years. The one I got in the 90s lasted me 10 years.

Q. That’s great.

A. Oh, yeah. The plastic casing melted from me overheating the thing, sucking up wet leaves, and it still refused to die. Finally I replaced it; I’m only on my second one, and I’ve gone through three cars in this time.

A couple of years ago, which of course turns out to be four years ago when I looked at the receipts, I bought a Toro, which retails now for about $100. It’s one of the higher-end machines, but it has a metal impeller—the giant wheel inside that shreds the leaves. It works really well; it’s probably on its fifth season. You can get a really decent one for like $60.

But I had an inspiration, and I called Hammacher Schlemmer. The high-end, best-of-everything catalog—”Oh,I want this and I want that.”  I had been looking at their best ever in the universe rechargeable blower-vac for a season now. I called them up and asked them if they ever lend out equipment for testing, and they said yes. So I have a spaceship—I got a shiny new toy. No cord; it’s got this big 40-volt battery you slide in. It has the same collection bag and everything like that. This monster is like a Cadillac; it’s making the smallest particles you’ve ever seen.

from hammacher schlemmerQ. Is it quieter?

A. I think it’s about the same. I’m deaf anyway because I used to work in the rock-and-roll business.

The battery only lasts about 10 minutes, on double full turbo power, which is what they recommend. It has a lot of settings but it’s like “Spinal Tap,” you turn it up to 11, if you’re going to be sucking up and shredding leaves.

It only does two collection bags full, which is absolutely fine for me. As I get older I constantly remind myself to keep changing my work.

Q. I think that’s good advice for any age.

A. I do 20 minutes of pruning, 20 minutes of digging, 20 minutes of weeding. So I’ll bring the battery back inside, and the battery recharges completely in 90 minutes.  If I do my first run at 10 o’clock, I’ll do like three sets, and I get it done so much faster because I’m not dragging this heavy, 100-foot extension cord behind me. I’m really going to cry when I have to send it back.

Q. Maybe you’ll buy yourself one for Christmas.

You answer listener calls on your show as I did for years when I hosted the Martha Stewart Sirius Radio channel garden show in my old life, and I get oodles of them on my website, so I want to take our last few minutes to ask you this, and compare notes:

What are the most popular topics year after year? I’m always asked, “Why didn’t my (blank) bloom?” and the blank is often lilac, rose or hydrangea.

A. That’s a big one, and hydrangeas have been really pissy these last few years with cold winters. I would add, “I just pruned my (fill in the blank). Did I do the right thing?” [Laughter.] What are you going to tell them?

Q. “Better luck next time?”

A. The other one is “Deer ate my car. They finished off all the plants, and ate the car, and they’re eyeing the children on their way to the school bus now.”

Q. What about slugs? Is that a big one?

A. It used to be, back when I was editor at OG, it was like an obsession. Climate change, the power company and Hurricane Sandy have cost me a lot of trees in the area that was previously shading my garden, so I don’t see many slugs any more.

And I don’t think people realize that’s what the problem is. They’ll see like praying mantis or a stick insect in their garden, and say, “All my lettuce was eaten to the ground. Spiders and praying mantis are doing it—what can I do?”

And I say, “Go out tonight around 11 o’clock and take a look at what’s eating your lettuce to the ground.”

Q. So do you want to say your show signoff before I say mine?

A. Do I have a signoff?

Q. You always sound so energetic when you say goodbye at the end of a program.

A. Really what I do, really where all that came from was listening to AM top-40 radio growing up in Philadelphia. The DJs were always spinning the hot plaques with the hot wax, and in the groove, and coming up with these pet names for everybody. That’s where “cats and kittens” came from; it’s where everything came from. It’s from boss jocks of the late 50s and early 60s.

Q. Good role models, I think. Thank you, Mike.

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listen to mike mcgrath’s ‘you bet your garden’

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MY WEEKLY public-radio show, rated a “top-5 garden podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper in the UK, began its seventh year in March 2016. In 2016, the show won three silver medals for excellence from the Garden Writers Association. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station in the nation. Listen locally in the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Eastern, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the Nov. 23, 2015 show using the player near the top of this transcript. You can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

  1. Becky Benton says:

    I love my Cyclone Rake! So does my Maine garden. I grow 12 varieties of hardneck Garlic, and use the mulched leaves as a winter cover on the garlic beds, turning them into the soil after July harvest.
    I’ve had my Cyclone Rake for 20 years, wouldn’t trade it for the world! I highly recommend this amazing time saving tool!

  2. glria says:

    I bought the Toro this year. Best investment in garden tools I ever made.
    For years I raked out each flower bed, mowed them into mulch and then returned them to the bed. Now I vacuum them out and just return the full bag f beautiful shredded leaves..
    Saves a lot of stress on this aging body.

  3. cynthia kling says:

    Margaret: This is a great and helpful article from Mike – esp. all the different prices b/c I can’t afford the Cadillac blower/chopper.

    Two other questions: You did an article about root balls and pulling them apart which was great and I can’t find it anymore. Would you mind giving me the link.

    Also: Phaidon has come out with a book by Daniel Ost who is the first Western person who has been allowed into Shinto shrines in Japan to do their flowers. Let me know if you’d like to interview him b/c might make a fun winter story.

    Thank you for your great blog – always learn stuff.
    Cynthia Kling, from Domino in the old days.

  4. Priscilla Hayes says:

    I am learning from Doug Tallamy’s research and work done by Pat Sutton, a bird gardening expert, that at least some leaves shouldn’t be shredded, but just moved and used for mulch, because of insect life overwintering on the leaves. I wonder if Mike McGrath has any tips on that. We found oak leaves at my school with overwintering things, and spread them on our butterfly garden.

    1. margaret says:

      You are correct, that “messy” areas such as a brush pile and some looser spots with leaves etc. are critical wildlife habitat. Both Mike and I have loads of “unraked” areas near our places, for such activity — we’re just doing the cleanup/shredding in the garden areas proper. Sounds like you are also figuring out how to achieve that happy medium of healthy garden beds but with some hiding places. : )

  5. Rose Kruvand says:

    Our routine has been to rake leaves out of the woodland beds and paths onto tarps and carry them to the lawn where my husband mows over them 2-3 times and then collects them in the mower bag and I put them back into the beds. We also fill 3 mulch bins. I have a Toro blower/sucker, but it constantly chokes on the twigs and heavy oak leaves, doesn’t chop fine enough, and gives me a backache. I found the rake and mower works faster. In the beds I sometimes have to pluck the leaves out by hand, but it’s worth it. Everything looks good with fresh mulch and we are building great soil. Even when the rest of the oak leaves fall throughout winter, the chopped mulch keeps them from compacting on the plants.

  6. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    Two neighbors have these “cow bell” leaf suckers. They are N-O-I-S-Y and intrusive. An inordinate amount of energy is wasted trying to pick up one or two leaves at a time among the literal millions raining down. How could this be economical? Use of leaf suckers masquerades as physical exercise while victimizing anyone nearby who is merely trying to concentrate on a pleasurable task; trying a new recipe, reading a good book or just sitting quietly on a weekend afternoon. Universally despised on my street! I will never own one. I prefer a rake and a chipper which, when calculated, makes noise for less time and readily digests millions more leaves in a comparable session.

    I still love Mike McGrath and still miss his hilarious input in OG magazine, now “downgraded” to ROL magazine. More’s the pity.

  7. funnyfaceinca says:

    Great information!! I’ve watched Mike on Ted Talks and enjoyed his personality. The leaf mulching is all very good but I live in a apartment, my garden is a veg garden in a community garden where the trees have needles. A blower shredder just is not practical for me. I would love it if there was such thing as a battery operated grinder for leftover garden waste, corn stalks and whatnot. Most of that stuff has to be chopped up by hand with a machete or something like that and it is hard work. Not to mention time consuming and the pieces are generally large and do not break down very fast. Would love to ask Mike if he knows of a tool like I’m describing?

    1. Christina Forbes says:

      The McCulloch electric chipper, shredder grinder works great. About $220. One issue is that the output comes with a high wind that can blow the ground up wood chips, leaves, etc., a bit out side the container.

      PS: my garden is small enough for El Toro with electric cord. No heavy battery or recharge time.

  8. Ursula Swierczynski says:

    Let me give you my solution. A few years ago I purchased a Newton battery operated
    lawnmower that came with a regular blade and a shredding blade. Since I didn’t want to
    collect my lawn clippings, I opted to use the shredding blade year round, i.e. comes time
    for the leaves to get off the lawn, I use my shredding lawn mover. Have to pass over a
    couple of times to shred them small enough, but it beats raking and picking them up or
    carrying a bag attached to a blower (tried that, too heavy etc).
    The only drawback of my Newton mover it is not self propelled, so I am the one to push
    the mower, but it comes with a 24 volt rechargeable battery which does all the heavy work,
    like cutting the grass and shredding the leaves. I think now Newton offers a few mower models, but I don’t know if any of them are self propelled.

  9. Bill Plummer says:

    I have a flowtron string trimmer that sits in my garage. I used it for five or six years, but got tired of changing the strings constantly. If I just had leaves to shred, but with all my trees there were always twigs mixed in with the leaves I was shredding and they were murder on the strings. I now do most of my mulching with my lawns mower. I just had to replace my Black & Decker Blower-Vac after 5-10 years. It finally gave out. The big problem that I use a gravel mulch at the foot of a stone wall and as an edging for a bed. The Vac would pick up pebbles and hurl them against the side of the blower creating a series of half-inch holes. Most of the time I do not use the bag or a trash can to collect the mulched leaves, but just blow them on beds. I use the blower to clear my rock garden bed on the top of my wall, but do not clear leaves off my two beds nor my woodland beds. Daffodils and Trilliums will sometimes pierce a leaf in the sparing. The blower is great for clearing my woodland
    paths either as a blower of as a vac.

    P.S. I received my copy of “Welcome to Subirdia” a few days ago. Thank you. I anticipate I will review it in the blog I write for our local paper.

  10. Diane Hayes says:

    I love that more and more people are doing this. I have a huge mulcher/shredder that I have been using for over 10 years. 3 Years ago I bought a Worx vacuum/shredder and I love it. A bit cheaper than the Black and Decker, but just as hardy and indestructible. Works great and you can shred and put back onto your flower bed. Also, comes with an attachment that you can connect to a trashcan and collect more leaves and you don’t have to carry it on your shoulder. Great articles and newsletter!!
    Thank you!!

  11. Janet in Greensboro, NC says:

    Thanks so much for this article and additional info. Will also now add coffee grounds to my piles. [BTW Starbucks gives their grounds away]. It is good to know that reputable folks also know how to use God’s fertilizer!

    I am the neighborhood “oddball”. Everyone else blows their leaves to the curb. Then the city comes and sucks them up and moves to the landfill. The city then sells the mulch back to the residents. Some folks even dump their nicely mulched leaves for the city to suck up. Insanity!!!

    The city gets none of my leaves. And, as time permits, a mulch thief moves neighbor’s abandoned mulched leaves into my beds [wonder who that is… ??] Last year, I was caught red handed by a neighbor coming home early. While asking if they wanted their mulch back, other neighbors who had been secretly watching “the thief” appeared to find out what I was doing. After explaining the process of using the leaves to add nutrients and break up our NC clay, several acknowledged: “It must work, just look at her garden!”

    My 15 year old Black and Decker” and my 35 year old Toro bag mower are still chugging along!!

    Thanks for yet another great article!

    Janet in Greensboro

  12. Julie Martin says:

    I am rethinking my current method of composting; we blow leaves off of our beds on to the grass and then run the mulching bagging mower. I then bag the leaves to add to my compost pile or beds through the next year. Thanks for this interview!

  13. Lacey says:

    I have a lot of leaves, a lot of moist/wet shade, and the potential for an army of slugs. I picked up 6 pounds of slugs one day a few summers back. Now, not a single whole leaf is allowed to stay on the ground. I still have about 25 hours of leaf-work ahead of me this fall.

    I have three tactics: 1. I make silos out of flexible metal fencing, about 3 ft wide by 5 ft high, and fill them with whole leaves. I have about 15 of those. By midsummer they have decomposed enough to be usable. 2. I dig deep, wide holes in places where I would like to plant something one day and fill them with whole leaves and then mound the soil on top. By winters end, the mounds have leveled… though in the meantime it looks like a burial ground :) 3. I borrow my neighbor’s 9 horsepower chipper and send huge piles of leaves and branches though it a few times and use that as mulch. I have to be careful about letting the piles sit for long though bcs lizards and other critters do tend to move in and I can’t bear the thought of chipping one :( or having to relocate hibernating critters in winter temperatures.

  14. Michelle in WI, zone 5b says:

    I am having leaf envy. Our maples have had this tar-spot fungus the last few years and the only way to get rid of it is to get the leaves off the property, otherwise in the spring the spores will rise up and re-infect the leaves. This year I am determined to finally be rid of the darn thing. It is so disappointing to see these ugly black spots on the beautiful autumn leaves. As a result the compost pile has shrunk considerably since half of the trees on our lot are maples. Hopefully next year I will be able to look at my yard of leaves as a treasure again.

  15. Margot Navarre says:

    Great podcasting on leaf mulching. I live in Northwest and don’t own a leaf rechargeable blower (yet). I rake up the big leaf maples and rhododendron leaves but leave the smaller and dedicate vine maple leaves in the garden beds to use as a frost protector and rake up in spring. Is this a good idea (it sounds like it isn’t after listening to this clip)? I leave the leaves in my woodland garden alone to decompose on their own.

  16. Belinda says:

    I have read so much about the benefits of leaves for compost and purchased a Toro shredder vac. I love that thing! I have collected my own leaves and the neighbors leaves that have blown onto my yard. I have asked other neighbors if I could have their leaves as well. As of this post, I have TONS of shredded leaves and am anxious to see what I’ve got come springtime. After reading these posts and listening to the podcast about leaves I have a couple of questions. First, I have red clay soil and it is BAD! I have been working on it for a couple of years now, adding compost and mulching heavily with straw. Mid-October I planted a cover crop mix around my winter squash and in between my hot peppers. Now that everything is ‘done’ for the season, I am wondering if a few inches of freshly shredded leaves would be ideal to cover my entire garden for the rest of the autumn/winter. I’m thinking it would help when I turn my soil over early spring. The only thing growing in there now is some garlic. Second question: I notice one commenter mentioned black spots on some leaves that she would not be using to compost because I it was a fungus that would spread or contaminate the compost. (Or something along those lines) Well one area that I went to to collect leaves had tons of little black spots on them. Now I’m worried that might be a problem as they are already shredded and in my pile. Thoughts?

  17. john connery says:

    I vowed not to bag leaves this year. I usually have 30-40 bags taken away by the city, they sell them, then I buy them back in the form of compost. I have a compost pile, but not big enough for that many leaves.

    This year I ran over and collected them with my electric Greenworks mower, and spread them under some newly planted rhododendrons. The lawn looks great, the beds look great, and my back feels good.

    Never bag again.

  18. Terri says:

    I’m really glad I heard this. I haven’t had the energy for much this year, so when I heard that thing on the news about leaving the leaves on the ground, I just went whew. For several years past I had picked them up with the bag on my mulching mower and dumped them in the beds & behind the shed, but this year I just couldn’t.

    Anyway, luckily our early snow melted off in time for me to at least mulch the leaves in place on Saturday. Thanks to Mike for mentioning that as an option.

  19. Anne says:

    Learned a lot about leaves. I think I have critters under the leaves I dumped in the garden and did not shred. At least the cat next door thinks so.

  20. Chris says:

    Glad to see the shout out for Del Val University. I am a proud graduate of the Horticulture program (alas many years ago). We too do the reverse leaf blower/vacuum and it is great, all the shredded leaves back into the pile or used as mulch. No raking! We do leave some at the edges along with some light brush to give a place for critters to over winter.

  21. Thomas Brophy says:

    The first year I wanted to start a garden the only “soil” I had was rough “clean” fill. I brought in, by self and from landscapers, tons of leaves. Piled them 3 ft deep everywhere, and planted my seed starts right in the leaves with a few handfuls of bagged organic garden soil. Everything grew beautifully. And as years went on, it all collapsed into lovely soil, now in raised beds. I continually add more leaves each year — not usually shredded, though that is best, as mulch around plants. Got a few ducks, and don’t seem to have slug problems. But can anyone tell me what to do with all these wonderful eggs?

  22. Carey says:

    Love reading about more tips to efficiently shred up all the leaves I am collecting! I have successfully shredded a few bags of very dry leaves by filling up a garbage can half way with leaves and dipping a string-trimmer in and out of it, immersion-blender style. Makes a lot of dust though!

    We have such a soggy fall/ winter here in the PNW – any tips on what will handle wet leaves?
    I have suspicions it would kill a blower style device, and I might have to get a chipper-shredder. Such a big expense for something as simple as mulching though :/

  23. Annie says:

    Hoping someone can help me with this problem.
    I live on a few acres in the mountains in California . I have Pine Trees, and old Oak trees mainly here. and what grows along the river here .Those leaves are turning yellow, red etc.

    My problem is under all these nice beautiful leaves etc., I have Thousands of Earwigs bugs.
    Last year they even started coming into my home! I do not use poison sprays here.
    I did buy a 50 pound bag of Diatomaceous earth, food grade. Which is all around my home, and sprinkled here and there outside. It does help, but not enough.
    I have tried the oil etc in a cup, but I do not think that was very successful, unfortunately.

    Any suggestions Please?

    Thank you.

  24. Christina Forbes says:

    The McCulloch electric chipper, shredder grinder works great. About $220. One issue is that the output comes with a high wind that can blow the ground up wood chips, leaves, etc., a bit out side the container. PS: my garden is small enough for El Toro with electric cord. No heavy battery or recharge time.

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