Thursday, 21 October 2021

How to do the Autumn Tidy-up: clearing leaves from the borders

Oh dear, more “housework” in the garden - now it's properly autumn, and the leaves are falling, not just on the lawn, but all over the flower beds as well! Time to get out the horticultural equivalent of the hoover - the rake.

Why do we rake them up? Some people argue that leaving leaves where they fall is a great way to create natural mulch, and there is something to be said for that.

However, it takes a long time for leaves to rot down to nothing, and in the short term they need to “rob” nitrogen from the soil in order to do so. Over time, the nitrogen is returned, but in the short term they deplete the soil, which is never a good thing.

In the meantime, they are acting as slug hotels, creating dark damp places for slugs and snails to lurk: and I don't know about you, but I have quite enough of them in my garden already, without inviting more in! 

In addition, a heavy layer of leaves can actually kill plants, by smothering them: the light can't get through, so foliage becomes pale and then dies, and if this happens too much, a whole plant can die. 


This means that it's time to get out the spring rake which - brace yourself for a gardeners' joke - we mostly use in autumn. 

A spring rake is so called because the tines are thin, springy and well spaced. They can be made of metal, of plastic, or of bamboo: and the tines are slim enough, and flexible enough, to slide around and between the plants, without damaging them, so you can “tease” out the leaves.

You'd never be able to do this with a normal, soil, rake: it would ruin the beds, ripping small plants out of the soil and damaging the foliage of larger ones.

Personally, I always use a folding metal spring rake: it allows me to adjust the tines to suit the conditions. Small leaves need the tines to be more closely spaced, but for big leaves, it's quick and efficient to have the rake fully opened.

Then, once I have corralled the leaves in one area, I can close up the tines to turn the rake into a giant hand, to make it easier to scoop them up and into the wheelbarrow. 


Finally, when the barrow is full, the rake goes on top - fully opened again - to help to hold them inside, instead of blowing all over the place.

And of course the bad thing about all this is that you spend a couple of weeks, at this time of year, re-raking the same areas every few days, as the leaves gradually fall. 

Yes, it's tempting to wait until they are all down, then do one mighty session of raking, but I find it's better to do little and often: not only does the “mighty session” become very hard work and tiring, not to mention rather boring, but it might be a month before they finish falling, during which time your plants are being smothered.

So, little and often is the thing! 



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