The Annual Leaf Pilgrimage

The end of the Annual Leaf Pilgrimage has arrived. If anyone reading this gardens, you probably know about mulching to preserve moisture and keep weeds down around plants and in a garden. Well, if you have never used them, leaves are a great way to mulch, and they act as a slow fertilizer when they break down. So every fall since I was a kid (and that was some time ago!) we have always gone around the neighborhoods in my city and collected leaf bags from anyone who put them out for the city to pick up. As you may have gathered from previous blog posts, my mother is a big gardener, and since she is happy to help take care of my yard as well as her own, I am more than happy to help her get leaves each fall. This annual drive-around usually takes a couple of weekend days, usually in mid- to late-November. My mother also has particular taste in leaves; not just any will do! These pictured are primarily Willow Oaks (in the south we usually call them Pin Oaks), Maple, some Red Oak, and various decorative trees such as Crepe Myrtles. Pin Oak is a favorite, since the leaves are narrow, which allows water to get to the ground through them, but they don’t break down too quickly, making them great for both moisture retention and mulching in garden rows. (The soil in our area is also unusual for NC, which is usually a bit acidic. Instead, we have more neutral to alkaline soil because of chalk that runs about 18 inches below ground. This means that the tannic acid in the oak leaves helps balance our soil, instead of causing problems.) Maples are fine; even though they are wider than Pin Oaks, they are also quicker to break down, and they don’t matte up to prevent water from getting through. Red Oak, Pecan, and others like that are okay, though they are not the premium leaves. The types we’ll just leave out are White Oak, Sycamore, or Magnolia. They are just too big and won’t break down easily, which makes them bad for both letting water through, and for fertilizing mulch (and walking on them isn’t great either). Using leaves is a lot cheaper and better for the soil than buying landscaping mulch, so Mom wants about 200 bags of leaves each fall. The main difficulty is getting them to fit into the shed! (We did pretty good this year.)

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