Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Once upon a time, I knew the formula to convert cubic yards of wood chips into X square feet of a two-inch layer of mulch in my garden. Then I learned that wood chips can be gotten for free from the Public Works Department, in either six-cubic-yard or 12-cubic-yard deliveries.

Knowing that, it doesn’t really matter how much mulch you need – the mind boggles over that gigantic mound of steaming chips delivered absolutely free. Trust me, 12 cubic yards of wood chips equals infinity when you are shoveling and spreading them.

Seriously, wood chips are going to be a really, really big item this

year in our town. But just in case the good men and women of Public Works are so busy picking up all that brush that they have no time to bring you free chips for Christmas, let me suggest another attractive – read, free – option for mulching your garden.

You may have noticed that most leaves are finally on the ground. Apparently, they are exuding some kind of pheromone that attracts those scary-looking trucks with the elephant-like vacuum nozzles sprouting from their foreheads.

If you are thinking of hiring one of these leaf-sucking aberrations, or even considering piling leaves out at your curb, which may well be currently occupied by a brush pile the size of your house – please don’t. Leaves are like gold, and should be hoarded in the same way.

Now, I’m not going to give you a complex formula for making compost. Compost is a wonderful thing, no question. But leaves, simply shredded, are equally wonderful, and much, much easier to work with.

In my garden, leaves are left intact around the ankles of shrubs and perennials until spring. While passersby don’t murmur “perfection” when they see this, I at least have the comfort of knowing my plants will have insulation against the vagaries of temperature, also known as frost heave.

Lots and lots more leaves get shredded, and are used to mulch around specimen trees, as well as to build up the soil in my raised beds. Any area that I plan to plant for the first time in the coming spring gets the “sandwich” approach: six layers of newspaper, two inches of shredded leaves and a top dressing of wood chips for good measure.

It probably is unwise to brag about any tree so far unscathed by either Irene or the snow event of October 29. But, I have to say, my prize Japanese maple came through magnificently. It has been in my garden for about 20 years and has been pruned rarely and lightly. Under the recent snow load, it drooped until it resembled a very large woolly mammoth. But it did not break!

I attribute this to the fact that, for years and years, I have been mulching it with shredded leaves. It’s a simple system, not unlike the one nature has given us: trees in their natural state (the forest) drop their leaves, which decompose around the trees’ roots, feeding the soil and improving up its tilth.

How does one shred leaves, you ask? One way is to pile leaves on a tarp and mow them. Another is to buy a combination leaf-blower and leaf-mulcher.

Mine is electric, so it’s much less noisy and smelly than gas-powered ones.

Dry leaves and small twigs go right through, and the finished product is absolutely beautiful. Just ask my Japanese maple tree!


Mike Maier said...

Love it. Great common sense advice!

Mr. Fixit said...

Our 40 year-old Japanese Maple took a terrific beating in the last storm. Lilac's took a beating too as did the Oaks and Maples. Evidence is piled high by the curb! It's good to learn that some trees survived Nature's pruning.