Saturday, March 05, 2011

Live Oaks and Mulch

A sure sign of spring in Northwest Florida is when the live oak trees start dropping their leaves. This process takes around two weeks and then they will push out beautiful new green leaves.
Most folks around here see this as an extra chore--raking and bagging to keep their lawns neat and green, but I see it as free mulch. My husband and I were driving through my parent's neighborhood on what was apparently yard trash pickup day. There were rows and rows of bagged oak leaves calling to us from the side of the road. We were in the truck. We could fit dozens of them in the bed of the truck--all that free organic matter that would eventually break down into beautiful rich soil. Did we do it? Nah. Sorry. The thought of taking home bags of trash from strangers didn't quite sit right for me. In the end I realized that there was no telling what else they might have stashed in those bags...

It did bring up the thought of the absurdity of modern American gardening, though. How silly is it to bag up organic matter to send off to landfills, and then trotting off to the store to buy fertilizer and mulch?

I stumbled on this amusing little story on the web:
GOD: St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds.

I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir -- just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stoke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore.
'Nuff said.


Ami said...

Deborah: I read that story before, and now reading it one more time still makes me chuckle. Funny you mention the thought to bring those bagged leaves home, I also had similar thought. Since I only have one oak tree in front, the falling leaves are limited, I almost thought maybe I should go to some public area to rake the leaves!!! Too bad I am still too shy to actually do it :)

NanaK said...

Love my oak trees and free mulch!

Dawn said...

I also am wary of bagging other folks oak leaves, I would hate to bring ticks into my yard. I have a 3 year old oak that doesn't produce enough leaf shedding to make a difference - but later I will have that free mulch to look forward to. I have read that tomatoes really do well with oak leaf mulch.

Vetsy said...

Hi Deb, Glad you're back, it is nice to chat with you again. Raking oak leaves can be very therapeutic.

Mya said...

There is much truth in that story -really funny.
I have a mulcing mower, so I mulch leaves and let most of them stay where they will. If it gests too heavy I push them to other areas where I need mulch. Now as for grass, we do have some but we allow the clover and the dandelions to grow. I think there are a few neighbors that wish I did things differently.rnatif

Susan said...

Hey Deborah..My neighbor and I peruse the neighborhood every week loading up all the bagged leaves. We only take the light bags so we can be sure they are leaves and not moss...dirt...or other yard debris. LOVE, LOVE the leaves!

catmint said...

Hi Deb, wonderful story - being of the suburbanite tribe myself. In the next few weeks the street trees will drop their leaves and i will try to get organized to get the free mulch like you. cheers, cm

NellJean said...

Left under the tree, live oak leaves break down into wonderful stuff called 'leaf mulch' after a year or two. My MIL sent me out to the woods here years ago to collect leaf mulch to take home for my hard clay soil in Metro Atlanta.

I took home a boost for my azaleas and a bad case of poison ivy, another reason to know where your leaves are coming from. Now I wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt with care to removing and washing.