As the autumn leaves turn a myriad of opulent browns, yellows and reds, it’s time to celebrate the ripening of fruits and native berries from our gardens and hedgerows, while taking joy in early mists and crisper mornings. The wonderful display of leaves that characterise a British autumn also bring the gardener more than one stint with a rake and broom to clear lawns, paths and driveways before they become soggy with a thick layer of decaying green matter. Here we take a timely exploration into not only the best ways to deal with clearing up your seasonal leaf fall, but how you can make the most of this natural cycle of decay to produce a rich mulch that will keep your plants protected over the winter months.
The science behind autumn magic
An interesting question is why do leaves change colour and trees then shed them in autumn? Essentially, leaf colour is determined by pigments. When leaves are green they are acting as a living and breathing organ, deriving their colour from chlorophyll which transforms sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into sugars that feed the tree in a process known as photosynthesis. This process releases oxygen as a by product and hence their huge importance in combating climate change. In autumn though, colder temperatures and reduced sunlight mean that leaves are no longer needed as a ‘kitchen’ to make food for the tree and chlorophyll levels wane, allowing other pigments such as orange-coloured carotenes and red anthocyanins to come to the fore, and so the glory of autumn colour gets underway. The multitude of leaf hues is like an artist’s palette with each tree species combining different pigments to produce their distinct shades, from warm nut-brown beech leaves to the strident reds and yellows of the rowan, thus creating a kaleidoscope of colour across our native woodlands.
As the season progresses towards winter, a hormone called auxin which keeps a leaf stem attached to its branch also decreases in a process known as abscission which continues until the bond becomes so weak that the wind takes the leaf away. This is actually a form of self-protection as a bare tree will not only better withstand the storms to come, but the water in leaves would freeze in sub zero temperatures and be too heavy a load for the branches. Hence our bare but often strikingly beautiful trees in winter.
Autumn leaf clearance made easy
As the leaves begin to fall, garden leaf blowers, sweepers and vacuums take the hard work out of clearing borders, drives and patios, whether your garden is big or small. Hand-held blowers can be petrol driven or feature cordless batteries and essentially allow you to direct leaves into piles where you can clear them up manually, or some machines have dual functionality and will also vacuum up autumn debris too. No matter what power source you choose, all blowers deliver total freedom of movement, and The Green Reaper stocks a complete range from mini versions right up to the most powerful on the market, designed to tackle heavily wooded gardens.
Our current favourites include the lithium-ion battery driven Greenworks range which ergonomically fit the body, are light to use and deliver ultimate control. The G24X2AB even features a variable speed trigger, so you can work carefully in small areas and maximise run times. Petrol-wise, we think a Mitox 260BX is hard to beat as the easy start, auto choke and cruise control are complemented by class-leading anti-vibration technology which means extra comfort for longer periods of use. It also comes with a fantastic 5 year domestic warranty. Finally, you might prefer a ‘backpack’ style blower which take the strain if you have large areas to clear and it is worth looking at our Hyundai HYB5200 which is not only lightweight and powerful but features the latest Euro 5 technology to lower fuel consumption and emissions.
Alternatively, a blower vacuum may be your preferred choice as most will also have a mulching facility that shreds your leaves and small items of debris too. Again there are fuss-free cordless and battery powered models, along with economical standard electric models and petrol powered machines for serious jobs and commercial operators. Take a look at our Cobra BV6040VZ cordless blower vacuum which has an ergonomically-positioned quick change lever that allows you to convert from vacuum to blow mode in an instant and is powered by a Samsung 40V lithium-ion battery which delivers a 20 minute vacuum time. Weighing in at under 5kg, this Cobra machine is also lightweight as well as powerful.
For those with bigger gardens or when you want to tackle even the wettest vegetation, you could consider a petrol blower vac as these are true mean machines when it comes to autumn leaves, reaching speeds of nearly 200mph and huge levels of suction and capacity. The Cobra BV26C, for example, is not only a Gardener’s World Best Buy but reduces collected material at a ratio of 10:1 and has both a generous collection bag and shoulder strap for comfortable use.
Recycling leaves into a mulch with many benefits
When you have made light work gathering your leaves with a Green Reaper machine, why not recycle them into a rich mulch that you can spread around your plants? The benefits are many including enriching the soil with nutrients, helping to maintain moisture, insulating the root system from winter frosts and preventing weed growth. It couldn’t be simpler to make your mulch; just collect your leaves and use the shredder device on your vacuum before spreading the finer matter it produces around your plants to a depth of between 5-7cm. It is important that you do shred the leaves otherwise they can clump together as one surface that is too thick to allow rainfall to pass through.
The only other watch out is to leave a gap of a few centimetres from the stems or leaves of plants so it’s best to spread the mulch a little carefully and not smother your plants. For trees and shrubs, just increase the depth to around 10cm. Making a mulch really is one of the simplest and quickest ways to look after your plants in autumn, effectively wrapping them up in a natural blanket that will keep them healthy and happy until the warmth of spring.
Here’s to leaping into leaves!
Amongst all of the hard work in the garden, it’s also important to take a moment to embrace the mellow calmness of the season and celebrate the golden colours of autumn’s falling leaves. There really is so much to bring us joy.
As Winnie the Pooh said in his Great Adventure, “It's the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves." Oh Pooh, we do so agree with you!