I worked on leaves today because with temperatures so far below freezing, branches become a bit brittle. I enjoy doing leaves. There isn't a lot of conscious thought involved so you can think about other things. Like Gerard Manley Hopkins. Lately I have been composing my talk for Joan's (Fern Valley) Lahr Symposium. I am going to talk about gently inserting (I hope to come up with a less frightening phrase) native plants into existing gardens. It's curious to spend the day doing leaves in China Valley and considering native plants. Maybe a healthy balance!
Leaf management in the mixed garden is a subject that every gardener, and curator, approaches differently. It would be ideal, in a perfect world, to let the leaves drift down, array themselves as god intended, and only remove those on pathways or whose presence would be harmful to plants (evergreen groundcovers don't like to sit under thick soggy leaves all winter). This precision removal is best done with leaf rakes and is seriously labor intensive. At the other end of the spectrum is the pull-behind tractor blower. Fast and efficient this technique can make quite a mess where the final windrows accumulate. Especially if they end up piled in a brushy woods edge.
Most of us come down somewhere in the middle. Despite its loud noise and terrible smell my tool of choice is the backpack blower. Blowers are seductive instruments; they make it possible to remove essentially every single leaf from a given area. Combining this ability with the natural human tendency towards obsession results in a good deal of compulsive behavior. Twenty-five years ago when our only tools were rakes very few people were tempted to do complete removal. I consciously resist the urge today, restricting this approach to evergreen groundcovers. paths, and turf. I try to redistribute leaves within the garden if it can be done without creating areas where the leaves are exceptionally deep. As far as plant health is concerned, I think you can double the normal leafcover without doing any harm and go a bit deeper for one year. Beware though; too many leaves in one place for more than a year or two can have a harmful effect.