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University of Illinois Extension serving Clark, Crawford and Edgar Counties

Clark County
15493 N State Hwy 1
Marshall, IL 62441
Phone: 217-826-5422
FAX: 217-826-8631
Hours: Monday - Friday 8 am to 4:30 pm (Closed 12 - 1pm)

Crawford County
301 S Cross St
Suite 290
Robinson, IL 62454
Phone: 618-546-1549
FAX: 618-544-3222
Hours: Monday - Friday 8 am to 4:30 pm (Closed 12 - 1pm)

Edgar County
210 W Washington
Paris, IL 61944
Phone: 217-465-8585
FAX: 217-463-1192
Hours: Monday - Friday 8 am to 4:30 pm (Closed 12 - 1pm)

News Release

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Master Gardener Column October 2017

By Jan Phipps


            October – leaf month.  I’ve written before about not wasting a wonderful organic resource by sending your leaves off to the landfill each autumn. I’ve also written about all the uses for fallen leaves and how they can benefit your soil and plants, especially when used as winter mulch. However, this year let’s talk about a few plants, especially some perennials that don’t like leaf mulch.

            One of the advantages of leaf mulch is keeping the ground beneath it evenly moist. Sounds perfect, right? It is for most perennials, but there are several that evolved and adapted in dry conditions. These are the plants that not only don’t benefit from wet soil, and especially wet leaves, but also can’t tolerate it.

            The first group is herbaceous evergreens – Heucheras, Hellebores and Iberis. Their leaves stay green throughout winter and continue to photosynthesize, albeit slower. Covering up the plant’s leaves with anything including fallen leaves interrupts their normal life cycle. If these plants are growing in a bed with other perennials that go completely dormant, just use your hands to remove the leaf mulch from these specific plants.

            Silver-hued, hairy plants also can’t tolerate leaf mulch. Their light color and hairy covering adapted to help them grow in arid conditions. They do not possess a coping mechanism for a consistently damp environment. Stachys (Lamb’s ear) and Lavendula (Lavender) fall into this category.

            You’ve probably guessed the next group – succulents. Sedums are a prime example. If it is a plant that needs to dry out between watering, you have a clue that it won’t tolerate wet leaf mulch. Rock garden plants give you another indication that leaf mulch would be a bad idea. When a plant does well in tiny pockets of soil or grows in gravel, chances are leaf mulch will keep it too wet.

            Normally, mid October is when we plant tulips and daffodils. However, this year I would wait until November or even into December. I know, stores are selling the bulbs now, and even mail order businesses are shipping them. You can buy them; just don’t put them into the ground until the soil cools off - a lot! That extended heat wave at the end of September has kept our soils unseasonably warm no matter what the calendar says. The last thing you want is for the bulb to think it is spring and start sending up leaves. Besides, the ground is really hard because of the drought. Hopefully, we will get some good autumn rains to soften it up for easier digging.

            If you are interested in becoming a University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener, it is time to let the Extension office know. New classes will begin at the start of 2018. Please call 217-465-8585 to sign up.