Leaf Mould for Rhododendrons
W. Falconer, Glen Core, L. I.
The following notes were found in an old copy of a weekly magazine called The Cultivator and Country Gentleman dated October 10, 1889. While thumbing through this aged and stained copy in the original home of the Waldo family, in the Waldo Hills, which today is a tool shed, the larger home as it stands today was built some years later, I was more than surprised to read the above caption in the Horticultural Department. Upon reading the article I was singularly impressed with the procedure of the author's practices as he related them. Today some 64 years later, the rhododendron culture as described in this article is exactingly correct and applicable. Often today, one is apt to hear rather surprising methods of treating rhododendrons, and I am reminded of the saying of a rhododendron nurseryman some years ago, "If the Genus weren't so tough much of the treatment would kill them." After these sixth odd years one is almost curious to know what happened to the plants mentioned hereinafter, and who the gardener with the famous rhododendron name "Falconer" was.
We had a large bed of rhododendrons in which the plants were getting too thick, and I resolved to lift and replant theta and give them a good deal more room. The soil was sandy loam on a sandy subsoil, and the situation sheltered and faintly shaded, and land level and moderately moist. The rhododendrons had been planted five years and had grown husky and tall. Every fall ( November ) when the oak trees shed their leaves, we raked up large quantities of the dry leaves and mulched the bed with them to a depth of 12 or 15 inches, letting the mulching stay there permanently, and year after year adding to it in like amount. By fall the mulching would have rotted down in two or three inches in thickness. In lifting these rhododendrons we found that the great mass of young fibrous routs were in the leaf-mould on the surface of the soil, and keeping this point in mind, in replanting we threw several shovelfuls of prepared leaf soil from the compost yard abound the ball of every rhododendron. And as soon as the bed was replanted we again mulched it with leaves to preserve the fine surface rootlets from drying up by the wind.
Another notable case of the partiality of shrubs for leaf-mould was evidenced in a lot of Andromeda Japonica. When we receive fine trees from home or foreign nurseries, we do not plant them out permanently as soon as they arrive, but, instead we set them out in rows in a nursery patch we keep for this purpose, and where we give them good attention and mulch the ground about them. This was the way with these andromedas and we mulched about them with tree leaves. They had been in these rows two years, and last week when I lifted them to transplant them elsewhere to their permanent quarters, I found that not only had they, like the rhododendrons, made a carpet of fine, white, fibrous roots among the leaf soil, but whatever branches had lain upon the mulching had emitted roots, and that plentifully, wherever they touched the ground. In replanting them, too. I used leaf mould freely about their roots.
We use a great deal of leaf soil for this work. We not only gather up and save the leaves that fall upon our own place, but we go out into the woods in early spring or late winter, as soon as the snow has gone, and rake up a large quantity, cart them home and make a pile of them where they will remain moist and not blow away. Towards spring, after the leaves have lain upon the ground under the rain and snow all winter, they have begun to decay, and we can pack a very great deal more of them into a wagon than we can when they are fresh in the fall. Some years ago I raked large quantities of leaves in the woods in the fall and left them in piles in hollow places till towards spring, when I intended to bring them home. But when spring came I found that some of my neighbors had availed themselves of my kindness, so now I cart the leaves home as I rake them up.
But when people have only a few evergreen shrubs to plant. they can get all the leaf soil they want by scraping together some of the surface earth they will get in the hollows in roads.