The fall brings some gorgeous colors, but along with it does come the laborious chores of getting leaves out of mulch, and thinking up creative ways about how to keep mulch clean.
Surprisingly, nobody has invented a leaf barrier. Gardeners, like most problems in the yard, get solved with a little creativity. One that involves creating something of a leaf barrier.
How to Make a Leaf Barrier to Keep Mulch Clean Throughout the Fall
The trick to keeping mulch clean throughout the seasons is to install a barrier. The materials used have to be porous to let air and water seep through, and it can’t be too thick of a material that’d reduce air flow too much.
Two things fit the bill there.
Insect mesh or window film, and the wire mesh used to protect the trunks of trees from wildlife.
Method 1: Using Insect Mesh or Film
The cheapest method is to buy a roll of fine mesh and strap it down on top of the mulch. Tent pegs would do the job. For something more sturdy, short wood stumps similar to those used for garden edging would work too. Staple the film to the wood posts.
Method 2: Install Wire Mesh Over the Mulch Bed
For something more heavy duty, consider laying a wire mesh over the mulch bed. Wire mesh with medium sized holes are under 1cm and also come in handy for sieving soil, too.
During the fall, secure the wire mesh over the mulch bed, then double its duty when you need to sieve compost or soil during the rest of the season. With fine holes for the leaves to rest on, your chore would switch from raking to simply brushing the leaves off the mulch.
With a thin sheet of porous material laid over the mulch bed, things get segregated. Debris, dirt, and leaves will still need to be removed periodically. It’s easier to brush it than rake or even easier, take a leaf blower on a low setting and blow it off the barrier.
Before installing anything to keep mulch clean, make sure you aren’t trapping debris first. Give your mulch a thorough cleaning, then lay a suitable barrier over it to keep it clean.
4 Steps to Thoroughly Clean Mulch Ahead of the Fall Season
1 – Remove Debris
Debris will accumulate in mulch if there ain’t a barrier installed to segregate them. It could be fallen leaves, twigs, branches, or even litter that’s been blown into your yard. A rake is the simplest tool to remove all types of debris from your mulch, before you begin to prep it for the season ahead.
Of all the types of rakes available, the best rake for cleaning mulch is a plastic leaf rake. It has wider tines than a standard garden rake and as it’s plastic rather than metal, it’s less likely to snap branches in shrubs or tear off the lower leaves of the plants.
With a plastic rake, you can get right to the back of border plants, pull debris to the front, then pick them up to discard them.
Another tool you may find useful is a leaf scoop rake, aka, leaf collector. These are sold in pairs and they’re like big gloves. Once you have your leaves raked into a pile, use the leaf collector to pick up and discard of large leaf piles.
It’s less labor intensive than consistently bending down to grab a handful of leaves at a time.
Dump the leaves in the compost or yard bin, then move onto to the next stage of the tedious weeding.
2 – Remove Weeds By Hand
It’s unlikely that you’ll get through the year with the mulch maintaining its position. Between the weather and wildlife, some of the mulch will move. When it does, sunlight gets in, as does moisture, then weeds sprout.
A single weed is capable of producing thousands of seeds. The only way to prevent the seeds from spreading is to remove them by hand, which is actually the best way to remove weeds rather than dousing them in a herbicide.
3 – Turn the Mulch
Organic mulches are terrific for improving the soil condition, however, that won’t happen if the mulch compacts, which multiple types frequently do. Mulch can go bad if it ain’t turned on occasion.
Organic mulches tend to mat after a while. Once that happens, two problems emerge. The first is water run-off (rather than through) and the other is oxygen starvation since air won’t reach the soil.
Wood mulches need to be turned more frequently than bark mulches as wood is more prone to matting. Moreover, wood bark is susceptible to artillery fungus caused by rotting wood.
Another term this has is cannonball fungus and that’s because of how it spreads.
Once mature spores burst, the spores are propelled into the air in the direction of the strongest sunlight. The result is unsightly black spores on the leaves of plants (usually) in direct sunlight.
It could just as easily be the side of your garden shed or the siding on your home that the spores land on. They don’t do any harm but they do ruin aesthetics.
The other fungi you’re likely to find in saturated mulch is mushrooms. There are various methods you can use to get rid of mushrooms in mulch, however, the simplest prevention method is to take a rake through the mulch periodically.
The best tool for turning mulch is a garden weasel, which is similar to a cultivator. It’s designed to till soil to a depth of 1.5” making it particularly handy for turning mulch without disturbing the soil beneath it.
4 – Check the Depth
For mulch to be effective at weed prevention, it needs sufficient depth. Anything less than 2-inches is likely to be ineffective. Aim to keep your mulch at a depth of 2 to 4 inches. At that depth, sunlight can’t reach the soil so weed seeds can’t germinate.
Organic mulches don’t last forever. They need renewed every 1 to 2 years, and topped up in between times. This is due to the decomposition process and it is a good thing. The nutrients released from organic mulch nourish the soil beneath. After a year or two, there’s little nutrients left.
Once you have the mulch cleaned and ready, install a barrier using some type of fine mesh. Every week or two during fall, brush the debris away. If left, it can become too thick, blocking water flow and aeration, which could lead to root rot in nearby plants.
Growing up with a mom who filled her home (inside and out) with all sorts of plants, Lisa got her start in gardening at a young age. Living now on her own with a home and yard full of plants (including an indoor greenhouse), she shares all the gardening tips she’s gained over the years.