Nothing means the fall season has arrived like the red, orange and yellow hues that color the deciduous trees and shrubs in the landscape. Nothing can be more aggravating than those leaves falling in the yard. Instead of fussing over the yard litter, use the leaves to your advantage and reduce the end-of-the-year yard work.
Before you drag out the snow blower or rake up all those leaves, consider building a natural garden. Woodland plants that are accustomed to shade and moist conditions work well under trees. The shallow roots do not compete with the roots of the trees, and the falling leaves act as a natural mulch for the plants. Consider using plants like Solomon's seal (Polygonatum spp.) or maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), which both grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Add white blooms with black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) or lavender color with bellflowers (Campanula spp.). Both plants grow in zones 3 through 8.
An annual garden under the trees could disturb the shallow root systems of deciduous trees. Perennial plants need little maintenance, and they benefit from the falling leaves as a winter mulch. The leaves retain the moisture in the soil, add nutrients over the winter months and keep the cold from injuring the roots of the perennial plants. Use early spring bulbs in the area so the bulb grows, blooms and gathers enough sunlight for healthy development before the overhead trees leaf out in the spring.
Hidden Compost Bin
The shade from a leafy tree is suitable for a rest area on a hot, summer day. Try making a small nook under the trees where lots of leaves fall. Install a trellis behind a garden bench. Put a compost bin behind the trellis so the bin is out of sight. Once the leaves fall to the ground, place them in the compost bin that is conveniently placed in the area but hidden from view.
Dos and Don'ts
A lot of falling leaves means trees with root systems that are generally about 12 inches under the turf. Those roots are at the depth needed for the proper amount of moisture, nutrients and aeration. Resist the urge to install raised flower beds or a layered garden system under the tree canopy. These planting systems could result in the tree roots laying beneath the soil line at an unhealthy depth. The damage caused by a lack of nutrients and water would take several years to show, and by then it is too late to correct the problem.
- University of Minnesota Sustainable Urban Landscape Information Series: Planting Under Existing Trees
- University of Minnesota Cooperative Extension: Gardening in the Shade
- Monrovia: American Maidenhair Fern
- North Carolina State University Horticulture Department: Campanula Spp.
- Prairie and Wetland Center: Cimifuga Racemosa
- North Carolina State University Horticulture Department: Polygonatum Biflorum
- Photo Credit Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images