is there a way to get fallen leaves/flowers off of wood mulch?
August 10, 2022 11:54 AM   Subscribe

I installed a lovely, drought-ready, attractive landscaping that involves a lot of wood mulch over most of its surface. Is there a way of getting even SOME of the oleander drop off of it?

So there are these tall oleander bushes dropping boatloads of falling leaves and especially rotten flowers onto the tan bark mulch.

I have already put into motion efforts to try to keep the oleanders trimmed down to levels that would remove most of their flowers and leaves before they will drop. However there is a limit to how much I can do; they drop constantly; the dropped junk is unsightly and is going to be a real problem when their horrible layer will prevent any rainfall from ever reaching the ground.

If they were dropping onto any other surface, the answer would be to sweep or vacuum them up. But it's tan bark, so I can't sweep. I just ordered an electric leaf vacuumer and I don't think that is going to work either; it seems to be sucking up a fair bit of the tan bark, enough that I smell burning within seconds of turning it on.

What else could I try? Are there, like, super fine-comb rakes that might get the flowers but not the tan bark?
posted by fingersandtoes to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that the mulch pieces are smaller than the flowers and leaves, so there theoretically could be some sort of raking/sifting tool that would catch the flowers and leaves but not the mulch.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:57 AM on August 10, 2022

As much I hate them, this seems like a good application for a leaf blower
posted by Glomar response at 12:13 PM on August 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

we have a very similar issue (princess flower tree dropping in mulched ice plant ground cover) we got a small leaf blower. it works...ok? I think you'd need to do it really regularly to get the leaves as they have just fallen and before they start getting soft and "sticky".
posted by supermedusa at 12:32 PM on August 10, 2022

Best answer: Oleanders are among the more poisonous ornamentals, and every part of the plant is toxic.

A vacuum, which inevitably involves sequestering plant parts which may well be bruised and macerated by the process of vacuuming and then blowing air over them which is exhausted into the open air you’re breathing doesn’t seem like the best possible choice.
posted by jamjam at 12:32 PM on August 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Where I live oleanders are prevalent, and I've never seen any one sick from one. Not deer, not dogs, not cats, not kids. They also grow large but don't spread and I've never seen a volunteer one (though I assume they exist?), so I'd rate their invasiveness as 'low'.

My own pineapple guava is an extremely slow grower and has never flowered, thought it's only a few years old. Also recommend a leaf blower, though IMO leaf blowers don't work really well for this, because stuff gets stuck in the mulch. But it will work ok.
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:40 PM on August 10, 2022

Best answer: I don't think that the petals/leaves block rain. My parents have oleanders and let the fallen parts of the plant act as natural mulch. Their yard, which is never watered, filled up with poppies and other wildflowers under and around the oleanders after they got a tiny bit of rain last winter.

If the look of it really bothers you, though, maybe you could use netting under the oleanders to catch what's falling before it hits the mulch.
posted by pinochiette at 1:57 PM on August 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: netting!! that's clever. I hadn't thought of that. (if anyone knows how that might work, chime in. Maybe like dark fruit netting, staked down with those pins they use to hold irrigation pipes down?)
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:05 PM on August 10, 2022

The stuff they’re dropping is natural mulch and I don’t think it would keep rain from soaking the soil. If I were you I’d probably just wait till they were done (not sure if they do this year round?) and then put a thin new layer of the bark mulch over the fallen petals and let them decompose. Or just let them go and not worry that it’s not perfect. It’s ultimately better for the soil to have more organic matter than to rake it up and remove it.
posted by music for skeletons at 4:33 PM on August 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

With respect to leaf blowers, it might be worth noting that rechargeable electric ones are available.
posted by StrawberryPie at 5:30 PM on August 10, 2022

Best answer: Depending on the size of the mulch, you could use a shavings fork.

Working as a professional gardener, if I had a picky client I would rake or pick up leaves by hand. I often mulched with microbark which made raking up large leaves like oleander pretty easy. That size mulch also works with the shavings rake above. I don't actually know what size "tan bark" is, but if it's larger you may have to resort to hand picking. An electric blower might work as well- you want a low enough setting that the mulch is not lofted with the leaves.

I agree that the leaf fall will not prevent rain from making it into the soil, but the leaves are big and leathery and not the most beautiful.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:13 PM on August 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

The shavings fork linked above would be ideal, or any plastic rake that you can get in and under the plants would be fine. Just rake lightly and you won't pick up too much of the mulch as well. This is what I use. It works best if you do it regularly and while the droppings are dry.

It's really just a cosmetic issue and, unless you're obsessed with keeping your garden pristine, I wouldn't worry too much about a few leaves etc.

A leaf blower probably won't work too well, as it will just shift the mulch around as much as the droppings and those infernal devices just move stuff around and often make as much mess as they fix (just in a different place).
posted by dg at 8:02 PM on August 10, 2022

Response by poster: folks, this would be a great question to skip if you're not familiar with oleander flower drop.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:47 PM on August 10, 2022

Best answer: Something I learned the hard way with netting: if you have wildlife that might use your yard or bids that might hop around under the oleanders, they could become entangled in it. Be cautious about the size/type you might use.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 12:54 PM on August 11, 2022

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