A morning walk around the neighborhood with my girl, Ruby Joon, was more like having free admission to stroll through a botanical garden. Japanese magnolias with their large, cupped petals in pinks, whites, and purples. Late season camellias boasting their double ruffle blooms in reds and magentas. The azaleas giving us a teaser to their full length show that is coming soon. Cherries, plums, and redbuds are finishing up, while the Bradford pears are white puffs of lollipop-shaped sentinels. Even the pollen pods on the pine trees are pretty even though they have given a yellow sheen to Ruby’s black coat.
This was one of those walks when I didn’t mind Ruby wanting to stop and sniff all the smells because there was so much beauty to admire. One of my favorite things is to look up through the tree branches. We stopped at one point under a big, old oak for Ruby to check out a critter hole in the soft earth and I looked up into the tree’s resurrection fern-covered limbs as it rained leaves down around us covering the street and lawn. I waved hello to my neighbor as she looked at the leaf-covered lawn as an annoying yard project. I saw it differently. I saw it as free mulch.
While people get busy raking up and bagging the leaves from their yards, I take mental notes on which houses will have the cleanest bags for me to pick up once they are done. Yes, I do let them do all the work. Hey, they were going to do it anyway, right? My yard is mostly plant beds. I have a few small, grassy areas that are there more to define the beds than anything else, so I need a lot of mulch. Mulching correctly, meaning putting down a four-inch layer, makes buying it not an option. I do sometimes buy pine bark mulch for the small bed out by the road for aesthetic reasons, but for the rest of the garden, I use leaf mulch.
Leaf mulch is not only a free option, but it is great for improving the soil and keeping the weeds at bay. The layers of leaves, criss-crossing over each other, form a thick mat that keeps moisture in the ground, the soil cool, and the sunlight out. As the leaf mulch slowly breaks down, it improves the soil naturally, building the perfect ecosystem for the beneficial fungus (mycelium) and worms.
With delivery help from friends with trucks, I have already spread 30 large, yard bags of leaves/pine straw in my yard and I still need about 10 more to finish up. To do this with store-bought mulch would be hundreds of dollars, but with the diligence of neighbors raking and bagging, it’s free for me!