Spring natural yard maintenance

raevon1(7b)March 19, 2014

Last summer we moved to Raleigh from Michigan, and bought a home on a natural lot, filled with trees, shrubs and ground cover. The yard maintenance guy blew leaves from the slate/stone walkways and driveway into the ground cover/shrub beds (not at my direction), and many gum-balls and pine cones have also fallen into the beds/areas. Should I be raking them back out this Spring? The beds are composed of pachysandra, myrtle, and ivy, with some ferns, bulbs, azaleas, assorted shrubs and trees. I'm really not sure how to maintain these areas. As an aside, there is a composter that came with the house, and a rain barrel system, but I've not figured out how to use either of them yet.

Also, I had him blow the leaves into the areas where the trees are thick and there is no grass, to dispose of the leaves and increase the mulch to keep down weeds. Is it appropriate to leave them there to decompose or is that problematic? I'm trying to keep the weeds down in those areas without spraying with toxic chemicals. The only lawn in the entire 1.6A lot is the border of the road and the septic field, so not much, and it doesn't seem to grow real well, probably due to the shade and trees, right?

I've gardened on and off all of my adult life, but I'm not familiar with the foliage here, nor have I cared for a natural setting, and would like to keep it looking as lovely as they did (without the toxic chemicals!)

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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

Welcome raevon1. Lucky you to have situated yourself amongst some of the most experienced gardeners in North Carolina WHO frequently post here. Look soon for an answer from Triangle John who has extensive (and sometimes frustrating) experience with shady property. (his previous home). Many of these folks live in central NC and have really contributed to my adjustment to Carolina gardening.
You're also in a great area to take advantage of big specialty garden centers (not talking the home improvement centers) and the famous Spring Swap you'll read about if you go into the other Carolina forum for swaps and trades.
How fortunate the previous owner left you a composter and rain barrels. Any compost in that bin they left?
A light raking off of 2013 leaves wouldn't hurt but I'd leave an inch or two layer in place to deter the weeds.

You'll be grateful for the shade come June-September. Trees can be limbed up, branching selectively thinned or fell the ones that seem excessive to your overall plan.
Dappled shade in the hot afternoon is appreciated by many garden plants and shrubs.
My tomatoes, peppers and eggplant got dappled shade from 2PM on and they over-produced far beyond what I needed.
You'll enjoy it here in the Carolinas.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 8:53PM
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gigim(8A SC)

What is the "other Carolina forum" for trades and swaps that you mentioned?

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 3:28PM
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GardenWeb has done a nice job of hiding them. I suppose there may be other ways to find them but I just went to the 'tools and resources' tab at the top of this page; and the second of a list is the 'exchanges & trades' link; And Then, Way Down on the left side is the local area trade sections where you will Finally find the 'Carolina Trades' link. There used to be a link to the specific trade section at the top of this page but I believe the new and 'better' layout has done us in. You should probably read the instructions area for trades once you get over there.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 8:31AM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

When you arrived at this Carolina forum with its list of topics, it is titled "on topic discussions".
To the right of that says (switch to Exchanges, Conversations)
Just click on where it says Exchanges.
Our Carolina forum is quite active and in the beginning, (before iVillage bought the site from Spike, 'the creator') we were granted these two options that many other regional forums don't have.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 10:51AM
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Hello and welcome to God's country!

There are some ground cover plants that don't mind a blanket of leaves but most hate it, and oak leaves usually take more than one year to break down (unless you chop them up first). I would rake everything into out of the way spots, smother weeds where you can or just give them back to the woods where no one will see them.

Azaleas have shallow roots so they like a blanket of leaves which helps keep things moist - so if you can easily rake leaves under them, they would like it. Ferns, Pachysandra and Myrtle will usually come up through the leaf litter unless it gets really deep.

Gum balls will cause problems - the trees are great to have around but the gum balls can really hurt if you step on them barefoot or accidentally grab one while moving mulch. They eventually break down but then they spread their seeds which turn into all the baby Sweet Gums you will never have time to hand pull (it gets really hard to do if they get over a foot tall).

If you ever want to sow seeds of digitalis or california poppies or larkspur or many other early Spring bloomers that you sow in the fall - you will want to clean the area of leaves. The seeds need sunlight to sprout.

I find it is easiest to rake the leaves into a long pile and then run over them with the lawn mower a couple of times. Chopping them up like that makes them break down quicker and it makes them easier to spread around as mulch.

If you grow a veggie garden and want to plant carrots - they love love love soil that has a lot of chopped up oak leaves in it.

Good Luck! Some of the gardening here will be similar, some of the plants are the same but they perform a bit different down here. What we call a hosta or fern will look like a bonsai to you.

The Raleigh Plant Swap is next month, Easter weekend on Saturday afternoon. If you can make it, you will meet a dynamic group of wild and crazy gardeners. It doesn't matter if you have anything to swap - no one goes home without an arm full of plants. (the 'Exchange' part of Carolina Gardening Forum is kinda tricky but its up near the top of this list. You'll have to scroll down to find the thread on this years event).

    Bookmark   March 21, 2014 at 4:05PM
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