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from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Shredded Leaves Insulate

Mother Nature has provided the perfect way to protect plants from winter cold: a thick blanket of leaves. But unfortunately, leaves rarely fall where they’re needed. It’s the delphinium, roses and hydrangeas that need to be blanketed in leaves, not the lawn.

Shredded leaves

Shredded leaves

The delphinium beds, protected with a layer of leaves, anchored down with Shade Netting.

Leaf shredder

Shredding leaves with the Deluxe Electric Leaf Shredder.

Winter is hard on gardeners, but it can be deadly to plants. Extreme cold can kill tender plant tissues and fluctuations in soil temperature can severely damage a plant’s roots and crown.

Fortunately, Mother Nature has provided the perfect solution: a thick blanket of leaves. But unfortunately, leaves rarely fall where they’re needed. It’s the delphinium, roses and hydrangeas that need to be blanketed in leaves, not the lawn.

Secondly, shredded leaves make much better insulators than whole ones. Shredded leaves create a fluffy, air-filled layer whereas whole leaves tend to mat together and trap moisture.

For the gardener, that means a little raking and shredding are in order.

Some years I rake the leaves in my yard into giant piles and then use an electric leaf shredder to create a uniform, finely textured mulch. This year I didn’t have the time for raking and running them through the leaf shredder.

So with just a couple hours before dark on a chilly November afternoon, I decided to see how fast I could get the leaves cleaned up, get the tender plants insulated, and lay in a stash of some leaves for mulching next spring.

I spent the first 20 minutes raking leaves out of the shrubs and corners where they’d lodged over the past couple weeks. I then put the bagger attachment on my lawn mower, roared over to those piles of leaves and ran over them. After being mowed over, the leaves would have to be called “ripped up” rather than shredded. But this year, that was good enough.

The first 10 or 12 bagger-loads went on the delphinium beds. All the crowns of the plants were generously covered with an 8- to 12-inch layer of leaves. Then, before the wind came up, I covered those beds with lengths of shade netting and anchored the netting to the ground with Earth Staples. I did the same thing last year and it worked great. The netting held the leaves in place all winter long, it almost disappears in the landscape, and it allows the plants and soil to breathe. It took about 10 minutes to finish the job. One more great use for shade netting.

By the time the light began to fade, the yard was looking tidy, the beds were mulched, and I had seven bags of leaves nestled under a tarp until next spring. Another fall job checked off, with that extra satisfaction of having made good use of something free!

More information

Kathy LaLiberte
Director of Gardening, Gardener’s Supply

3 Comments

  1. December 8, 2010    

    I still have yet to put shredded leaves on my garden beds. I have that planned for Friday.

  2. December 9, 2010    

    What state is the author in. I garden in Dallas, and I am unsure if I need to be doing this type of thing. Thanks! Love your blog…

  3. December 10, 2010    

    Hi Project Girl,

    My garden is in Vermont, zone 4. In our winters the ground freezes solid about 3 feet deep. Can’t imagine you need to insulate your gardens down there in Dallas. But during the growing season, shredded leaves make an attractive, moisture-retaining, weed-suppressing mulch that also improves the soil. -Kathy

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We are an employee-owned company of avid gardeners, located in Burlington, VT.