Are fall leaves a problem in shade garden?

Bellingham, WA(Zone 8a)

I just moved to Bellingham, Wa. and my son is telling me that if I plant a garden containing low growing plants or ground cover, I will have huge problems when the leaves fall in the autumn. We live right on the edge of the woods with lots of cottonwoods surrounding our property. Any feedback on this would be appreciated. I was planning to put in a Japanese style garden with lots of shrubs and Hosta, fern, and groundcover. Thanks, Mary

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

My garden is all hosta, fern, assorted shade plants including groundcovers like sedum, creeping Jenny, Canadian Ginger, Sweet Woodruff, and Lily of the Valley. Our property is surrounded by tall oaks and pines and nothing that drops from the trees presents a problem for anything. Don't know if Cottonwoods would be any different? I leave most of it in the Fall, except for what I can rake up from the lawn, and then clean up the beds in the early Spring. I use some of it to mulch over certain things. The biggest issue I have is acorns. Would anyone like to buy a baby oak tree? I have about thousand to sell!

Bellingham, WA(Zone 8a)

Thanks noreaster, Those sound a lot like the plants I plan to put in so knowing that i can just leave the leaves until spring is helpful. Mary

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Mary, unless the area is unusually large I use one of the leaf blowers that has a vacuum capability. They also shred the leaves while sucking them up so they are ready for the compost pile. I also just put some of the chopped/sucked leaves on various beds for a winter mulch. By spring they have decomposed quite a bit and can be left on the beds or raked up for compost.


Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

Hi, Mary.
I think fall leaves are really tricky to deal with.
I have a very thick layer of down leaves to deal with.
I generally like to leave them in place to enrich the soil, eventually.
But I've really gotten into woodland wildflowers,
which are often small and bloom very early in spring.
Over the winter, the leaves compress into a sopping wet mat.
By the time I'm even thinking of spring clean up,
the wildflowers are trying to come up and get smothered by the leaves.
Shredding them, as Doug suggested, is my goal, but I have too large an area to do it all.
I have used wire cages to cover my most vulnerable plants during winter.
That keeps the leaves off them, and more important, reminds me where I planted them!

North Chelmsford, MA(Zone 6b)

I get a ton of oak leaves, which are stiffer than other leaves and don't mat. I leave some on at the back of the garden, but my daughter shreds leaves and gives me a couple of bags each year for the front of the garden. Wow, what a good mulch. I have worms , worm castings and great soil. If you can shred your leaves I'd wholeheartedly recommend it.

Ah, the dreaded spring leaf cleanup. I have a few different types of oak trees, some still dropping leaves into late November here and even into the next early spring. If wet enough, they can mat pretty well, especially if there's several inches of snow sitting on top of them in the winter. I have several different types of ground covers - winter creeper, ivy, pachysandra and Vinca minor. The oak leaves get caught in the tendrils and stems and don't blow out easily in the spring. It's generally some light raking or hand-picking. I have to do this at least every other year or the oak leaves build up (they take a while to decompose) and start smothering the ground cover leaves. The ground cover roots remain intact though and they will leaf out again. The oak leaves can sometimes provide shelter for little critters like chipmunks or field mice in the winter. One year, I had an unknown critter burrowing under the leaves and snow, biting off the stems of my winter creeper. Didn't realize I had a problem until the following spring cleanup when I was pulling up long severed vines with the fall leaves. It's always a race here to get the fall leaves cleaned up before the early bloomers (a variety of shade-lovers) are emerging.

Spooner, WI

Rake them from the garden in the fall, mow over them until they are small pieces (postage-stamp of smaller). Rake them back into the beds for mulch & to add nutrients.

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

Arent the hostas etc going into dormancy in the fall anyway?
They come up in the spring and push thru anything that stands in their way here.
We dont have a thick layer of leaves ,maybe thats the difference

Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

I don't worry about the hostas. As you said, they're robust enough to push through leaf cover.
It's the more delicate woodland wildflowers which can get smothered.

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

Yes ,where we live most fall debris is blown away by december.
I probably shouldnt wade in here, my situ isnt the same.

My situation sounds the same as Weerobin's. The streets are blown clear by the wind and the leaves come to rest in my yard, especially when the wind comes out of the W or NW. In the back yard which is more protected, the leaves pretty much stay where they fall (which is a lot).

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Under huge old oaks I have a large patio garden. I leave the bushels of leaves around the azaleas, etc for Winter protection, but (even tho I dread the job) try to get all leaves up by early March. Otherwise, the hostas, spring bulbs, ferns, hellabores, etc all seem too hidden. Going to shred and compost as much as possible this year. First, we need the snow to melt!


Bill - It always seems like a race to get the leaves up in the spring before those early bloomers poke up their heads. The snow did melt here once, about a month ago. I fear it'll be another month before I see dirt and brown grass.

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

Same situation here. So many leaves eventually mat up and smother things if I don't get them up. I have tried several things to shred them up and put them back as mulch, but haven't found anything that works really well yet for large areas. My leaf blower does a good job getting the leaves out to where I can get to them, but the shredding is what is giving me the trouble. I first started out with a leaf shredder from Home Depot - it was too time intensive to do even a small area. Then I got a big leaf vac/shredder from Tractor Supply that I pulled behind the riding lawn mower - it worked much faster, but I keep having mechanical problems with it that are too frustrating to deal with. Last spring, like ptilda, I just kept running over the blown out leaf piles with the lawn mower. Seemed to work ok, but even with the mower deck as high as it goes, the belt kept coming off and I'd have to stop and put it back on. Someone at work told me he uses a vac/shredder called the 'Cyclone' that he got over the internet. I'm thinking maybe I'll try that next. Does anyone have suggestions that work for really large areas? Thanks, Terri

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Sounds like you experienced gardeners have lots of patience and strong backs. I think I get to be more of a garden wimp each year.*( I keep bagging most of my leaves for the city to deal with.)

Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

I bought an electric leaf shredder on line - more powerful than the ones you can get at HomeDepot.
I had to put in a dedicated outlet just for the shredder, otherwise it keeps blowing the circuit breaker.
But it can handle a big bag of leaves in just a couple minutes and shreds very fine.
I've got 4 BioStack composters filled with the shredded leaves and other stuff (e.g., the Christmas tree).
Should be ready to spread around this spring.

Richmond, VA(Zone 7a)

Weerobin, that sounds like the way to go. I'm very impressed and may investigate that option. Love to use the leaves.


I had bought a chipper/shredder years ago when a local home improvement store went out of business. It's a hefty thing but we only drag it out of the garage and start it up every couple of years. It does a great job but it's so difficult to get it down into the lower garden where I can really use it. Maybe this is the year. It does take at least a year for those wet, matted oak leaves to turn into something spreadable in the compost pile.

Lucketts, VA(Zone 7a)

Weerobin, that sounds pretty powerful and fast. With it being electric, the only way it would work in my situation is with the portable generator that I can carry around in the tractor bucket. But electric sometimes seems like an easier option mechanically. I get so tired of dealing with hard starting gas stuff, it is the most difficult part of every job - my motto is that I can use anything as long as I can get it started!

Pigweed, it is back breaking work, sometimes frustrating when I want to do more than I'm physically able to, but it actually relaxes me. I work in a chaotic office environment all day and have a long commute with a lot of traffic, so I can't wait to get home and do something totally different than what I deal with most of the day! Terri

Pittsford, NY(Zone 6a)

We dont have a thread for general topics but this is tooooo good to keep to myself

ge - you've expanded my world with that! Thanks (I think). Medical music videos...I would never have thought it.

Birmingham, AL

LOL!! I've seen something else from them. I ran into it when looking for the UAB emergency room rap. Have you seen that one. Pretty funny!

Alexander City, AL

I have learned the hard way that the leaves must be removed, or most of them. Our "lawn service" - we call them mowers and blowers - love to blow all the leaves in the shrub beds and onto trees in wooded areas. Eventually they can cause rot. We're losing a beautiful mature Japanese Maple that is rotted near the ground and I suspect the leaves. I've almost lost a stand of mature azaleas. My french hydrangeas are suffering. Even the oakleaf hydrangeas are looking puny. A shredder is the way to go for some of the leaves, and for the first time I'm having lots of leaves bagged up and hauled off, in desperation.

The warm weather here over the past two weeks has sped up plant emergence and I have had to resort to hand-picking. I hate that. I usually try to get out there early and use a spring rake (gently) but not this year. One more day and I should finally be done (and my back done in).

North Chelmsford, MA(Zone 6b)

I can identify with you, PBlum. The blowers in our townhouse condo complex use hurricane-force machines that leave the plants horizontal. This spring I saw them coming and ran out to stand in my section of garden. After an exchange of questioning looks and shaking head they got the picture, moved on, and my shredded leaf mulch was safe.

Christiana, TN(Zone 6b)

No. Fall leaves are not a problem in a shade garden. They are a necessity.

Leawood, KS(Zone 5b)

I have several mature oak trees on my lot, which produce TONS of leaves in the fall. Last year I had the guys in my lawn service grind them by running over with the mower, then re-mow, using the collection basket. They next dumped the ground leaves in a large 'natural' bed I'm trying to establish with several varieties of ferns and I topped it with a layer of horse manure early this spring. So far, the ferns are having no trouble coming up through the leaves.

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