mulching hosta beds

laraine47June 20, 2011

I understand how a thick layer of mulch helps retain moisture in hosta beds, but I want to know how to pick up the fall leaves off the mulch without taking it all away. I have mulched a couple of beds and I have to hand pick the leaves each fall, as my husband sucks up the leaves with his blower vac and it sucks away all my mulch as well. My LARGE tree is a shademaster locust and I also have an ivory silk tree lilac in the back and a LARGE ASH in the front put in by the buider 30 years ago, but we also get maple leaves and poplar leaves as well as oak leaves coming in from the neighbours trees. My locust tree has small leaves but it is the stems from the ash and locust tree that do not seem to want to break down and I have to hand pick them out each spring. There has to be a better way to deal with it if you want to use cedar mulch. Any ideas out there from all you hosta lovers who have large lots full of trees and also use mulch from your beautiful pictures.

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A good question. I will share my process and look forward to hearing what others have to say.

I mulch the leaves from my gardens. I bought a Sears Craftsman Chipper/Shreader years ago and use it to mulch all of the twigs, branches and leaves on my property. No yard waste goes to the curb! I chop the mulch in the fall, allow it to decompose some and add it to my beds in the spring.

I don't collect the leaves from the bed. Rather, I mulch right over the top of them. I find they don't decompose as quickly as my mulch but they do break down over time. My leaves are mainly oak and maple.

As the number of beds have grown, I have begun to mix the leaf mulch with hardwood mulch I buy. I don't put much down, perhaps two inches at the most.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 10:32AM
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kisher(Zone 5 NE Ohio)

For the last few years, I have been making my own mulch from hardwood bark. I cut and split about 3 cords a winter for my woodstove, so I get plenty of bark.
Leaves ARE a problem for me too, being surrounded by a ton of trees. I try to blow off as much as I can in the fall, but each spring it takes 3 to 4 days to pick up the leaf, twig, and dead hosta leaf litter by hand, being careful to not pick upall my mulch. Very tedious.
Is there a better way?

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 10:40AM
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I get lots of Maple leaves. I only rake my beds in early spring. The leaves left on the hostas help to insulate over winter but they need to be removed before the hostas start growing. I just use a large plastic leaf rake and rake over the mulch lightly getting the majority of leaves plus the previous years hosta growth and scapes.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 10:42AM
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Gesila(MI Z5)

Hmmm.... I wonder where my leaves went? Mulch is still there. Only leaves I had to pick up this spring were the ones stuck between the pachysandras.

Never thought about it, I guess my lawn service does a good job with their fall and spring clean-up. I know they use blowers, but I wonder how the mulch stayed put.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 12:04PM
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bernd ny zone5

In fall I pick up all dead hosta leaves by hand and throw them into the garbage. Then I rake the tree leaves onto the lawn, then mow and bag those, then put into the compost bins. I try to be careful when raking the leaves from mulched beds, some manual work is there required sorting mulch from leaves, and being careful with plant markers. This way I have all beds on my 1/2 acre clean, and the compost bins full before winter sets in and have less work to do in my short spring.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 12:34PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

All leaves in beds stay where they fall....that's what compost is...leaves. Where needed I add mulch over the fallen l;eaves or in some beds I wait and the hosta covers all ground and the leaves don't show.
I blow out a few leaves from the pachysandra, but most stay where they fall and by may 1st the pachysandra has grown enough to cover them up.
Why would I rake potential compost from my beds? if the leaves contain slug eggs, why Escar-go takes care of that.
Linda C

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 1:01PM
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The last 2 years I have been using leaves as mulch - most are oak. Blow or rake majority from beds then I double mow them (mow and bag, dump, and repeat) so clippings are small and won't mat down, then spread back onto beds. By fall they are gone and time to start again.

I'm trying to cut down on purchased mulch - using it along sidewalk and around new plantings.


    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 1:28PM
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Gesila(MI Z5)

Linda, do you have any trouble with your pachysandra turning yellow if you don't take the leaves out?


    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 1:41PM
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I leave the leaves in my pachy beds for the winter as a mulch, remove the "surface" leaves, but any that fall in between the pachy (2 year pachy bed), stays until it is cleaned up in spring.

In terms of mulch, I no longer use the large chips -- difficult to clean up and mow if any gets on the lawn, and takes too long to break down. I like the small shredded mulch as it tends to be easier to clean up after I rake.

After all leaves are raked onto the lawn, we mow as much as we can INTO the lawn for added nutrients.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 1:57PM
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I have most of my hosta planted under oak trees. I have taken to blowing out my beds each spring. I do nothing in the fall. I only blow so I can see things coming up and I can then enjoy some spring wild flowers that live there too. I also have ground cover I want to see. The blower isn't as harmful as a rake if spring is too wet or too late and the garden is off to a good start before I can get out to it. Plus it is a lot easier on ME!! Some beds I do nothing to. The hosta and ferns come right up and are not bothered in the least. It is crazy to remove the perfect fertilizer/cover; your leaves, if you don't have to.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 3:13PM
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Leaves can be your friend! I do what is called *sheet composting* my beds, sometimes sending my leaves first through a wood chipper, as previously suggested (love my chipper) and putting them on the beds to break down over-winter. If I don't feel like doing the chipper, I do as Lindac does. My beds are so full of hosta right now, cause they love what I do to their beds that you couldn't see the mulch anyhow!

I've even taken the neighbor's bags of leaves (with their permission) they set out for the garbage pick-up and piled them over my own leaves in the beds!! I think they are some of the best kind of mulch, to make our soil enriched--the worms love them, and pull them down through the soil to make it dark and rich over time!!

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 3:19PM
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robin11034(7b Charlotte)

Hostasrgreat and hey_j, how large a twig/branch can your chippers handle? I was going to rent one from HD or Lowes, but if I can buy one that will handle our branches, I'd rather do that. Lowes says theirs can handle up to 5 inches.

I can understand laraine wanting to get the leaves off her beds. We have so many that they pile up around bushes and other plants and look messy. I've tried blowing and rakes. The best tool, for me, has been a good old fashioned kitchen broom. It is soft, removes the leaves so I can mulch them up, and doesn't disturb the mulch.

After I get the leaves off the beds, my dh (or dds) runs over them with the lawn mower making them tiny and I put them back on the beds.

Robin in NC

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 3:41PM
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I don't clean my beds in the fall. I started doing something a couple of years ago that has been very successful regarding mulch and very plentiful leaves from my maple trees. I'd gotten tired of a pile of wire tomato cages laying in my yard all winter, and in spring when I clean up I'd worried (needlessly) about damaging my hosta breaking dormancy when I cleaned up. So what I did in the fall was place my tomato cages upside down over my more valued hosta and pin them down with the fabric pins removed from my tomato and pepper garden. When the leaves fell I piled some inside the inverted tomato cages all the way to where the 3 wire spikes are. By spring the leaves are compressed to about 2" of leaf mold. And I know exactly where my emerging hosta are. I don't summer mulch most of my hosta beds and usually just hand till the leaf mold into the top soil but no closer to crowns than 3-4".

My soil becomes richer and my tomato cages are ready for use in my new garden. Another thing I have done is to make notes of my early spring plans for my hosta on pieces of margerine or cottage cheese tubs, like "divide" or "move to" etc. I punch a hole in the plastic with a paper punch and wire-tie it to the cage it applies to. So in spring, this old brain of mine doesn't have to work so hard to remember what I want to do.

With ALL that being said, I guess in answer to your original post question I don't fuss over mulch much. Hosta, to me look best in more natural settings and a natural looking mix of leaf mold mixed in with cypris or cedar mulch and pine needles only adds to the gardens appearance.

Have fun and do things the easiest way. There is so much dirt and so many hostas and so little time.

A very smiling Les

    Bookmark   June 20, 2011 at 4:01PM
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