What to do with all those leaves

What to do with all those leaves

Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 8:03 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Your leaves are down by now. You’ve been fooling with them for weeks, and now is the time to wind it all up. A neighbor of mine posted a sign, “Free Leaves,” at his street verge, but I didn’t see any takers. Everybody has enough of their own to handle.
I’ll give my annual diatribe on “waste not, want not” a miss. You’ve heard it all before about using your leaves as free mulch and fertilizer (a little), instead of sending them away to glut critical landfill space.
Even fresh leaves, raked into azalea beds and up under other shrubs, provide a natural mulch. Why in the world people toil laboriously for weeks on end raking and bagging leaves to be hauled away, and then buy bark mulch to replace them, is beyond me.
The old depression era watchword, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” would stand us in good stead when it comes to this business of using what we have instead of importing from nearby or afar some substitute that might be no better.
Then, too, there are times that mulch is not only not needed but can be detrimental. Any unmulched and bare piece of ground will not attract voles over winter nearly as much as deep coverings of mulch.
I make a practice to blow leaves away from my hosta growing areas, whether in a mixed border or in woodland, to keep vole depredation to a minimum. Hosta roots are one of their winter staples and a big vole (actually sometimes it is lemmings) infestation can wipe out enormous hostas in the course of a winter.
Another reason to leave some areas unmulched is that self-seeding annuals often won’t germinate under a thick covering. Impatiens, for instance, require light to germinate. Commercial growers sow seed right on top of the growing medium. Even a slight covering will prevent germination.
Visitors to our garden often comment on the numerous impatiens covering several hundred square feet here and there in our rock gardens and woodland. “Mine won’t self-seed,” they lament.
The problem is that they habitually mulch everything in sight in fall and cover all the impatiens seeds.
There are other annuals that need light to germinate, but some will do so when covered slightly. None that I know of have the constitution to sprout through several inches of bark mulch, however.
Other self-seeders that are prolific in my garden are annual salvias, cleome, melampodium, old-fashioned tall purple celosia, petunias and, occasionally wax begonias.
In fact, the biggest bargain I have ever bought in 50 years of gardening was a 9-cent pack of cleome seed purchased some 30 years or more ago. They sprouted with alacrity the first year and ever since then I have had to hoe out some several hundred seedlings every spring to keep them spaced far enough apart. All of them sprout in unmulched areas.
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From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Mulch is good … occasionally.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 12.6.11

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