Make the best use of fallen leaves

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The stunning autumn colour of Chinese pistachio.

“With the smaller leaves left on the garden beds, I spread a thin layer of composted horse manure and dig it lightly into the soil,” says gardening columnist CEDRIC BRYANT

DECIDUOUS trees are shedding the last of their summer coat for brilliant autumn shades before they fall.

Cedric Bryant.

Even on the ground, the different colours can resemble a beautiful Persian carpet.

This week I was asked, “Should we rake leaves off the garden beds? Will they smother smaller plants?” It depends on the leaves. 

Most of the trees in our garden have smaller leaves, such as silver birch or Japanese maples. I have no hesitation in leaving these in the garden to rot down over winter, as they add valuable extra nutrients to the soil.

The larger leaves of plane or oak trees can cause a bit of a problem with their density. Oak trees are considered to have the highest nitrogen content of any leaf. I collect these with the mower, at the same time shredding them into smaller particles, which in turn go directly onto the garden as mulch. One problem with collecting oak leaves is the acorns, which have a habit of germinating with ease. A warning if you have any difficulty walking; these can roll underfoot and cause a fall.

Larger leaves can also go in the compost heap. However, with the smaller leaves left on the garden beds, I spread a thin layer of composted horse manure and dig it lightly into the soil. I get the manure from the stables at 7 Beltana Road, Pialligo, where it’s available by the bag or trailer load. 

When potting new plants or repotting, I use my special mix of one-third sieved compost out of my heap, one third of the composted horse manure, and one-third of cheap potting mix. I make sure no artificial/chemical fertilisers have been added to the latter. The plants will grow with the speed of lightning. The final boost: watering in the new plants with liquid seaweed fertiliser.

I’M still being asked, “is it too late to plant deciduous trees and shrubs?” as I usually recommend planting in autumn. Deciduous trees are now bare of leaves and winter is a perfect time to plant. I recall visiting the famous Salisbury Cathedral in the south of England just before Christmas with several feet of snow on the ground. The gardeners were busy shovelling back the snow to plant trees. 

However, please check on the ultimate size of any tree. A favourite for autumn colour is Chinese pistachio, or Pistacia chinensis, but they can grow to 20 metres!

A few quick facts of this popular tree, planted on streets worldwide. The timber is valued for furniture making. In China, where it originates, the seed is used in the production of biodiesel. 

Hydrangeas can be pruned anytime over the next couple of months, taking out any older wood that has turned grey.

HYDRANGEAS can be pruned anytime over the next couple of months, taking out any older wood that has turned grey. Thin out the centre and healthy green can be cut back to three leaf nodes [joints] counting from the base of the plant. 

MANY lemons fruit in winter – ours, in a large pot, have been heavy with fruit for weeks. When harvesting, cut them off, leaving a piece of stalk, and store in a box in a dry spot between thick sheets of newspaper. Apples can be stored the same way, except keep them a few centimetres apart, not touching.

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Cedric Bryant
Trained horticulturist and garden designer with over 30 years experience in the industry.

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