Memphis Backyard Farmer

Lessons Learned 3 – Love ‘Em Or Leave ‘Em?
March 8, 2011, 11:52 am
Filed under: Gardening

SlugI have a yard filled with oak trees. When fall comes, a flurry of activity happens in the neighborhood, an “us against them” street fight of humans against falling leaves. I used to be a part of the army, once stuffing 44 bags from my backyard alone. But I’ve defected to the other side. When the leaf bags pile up at the curb in November, I sit and rest, allowing mine to lay (or to blow freely, much to the frustration of my rake-wielding neighbors).

Leaves are a great winter mulch. They hold in warmth and moisture around plants. When they decompose they make terrific compost. They keep the bare ground of my garden covered, guarding it from erosion. They increase the soil pH level for my blueberries, azaleas, and camellias. And the earthworms love them! So I leave my leaves.

But there’s a bad side to every good side. A cloud to every silver lining. And in the case of leaf mulching, the cloud is filled with snails and their homeless cousins slugs. Last year, rather than raking the leaves completely off my garden bed, I simply raked them back from my planting rows before sinking my transplants and seeds in the ground. Little did I know that these slimy goons with their insatiable appetite for all things tender and green were lurking just under the mulch. They made quick work of many young seedlings, devouring them as fast as they could move from one plant to another – which is quicker than you might think.

So this year, I’m taking advantage of my leaf mulch by leaving it on the beds as long as possible. In fact, as I write this, the leaves are still on the ground (the picture, above was taken this morning, by the way). But my garden “to do” list tomorrow includes clearing the mulch a full month before official spring planting. Hopefully the slugs will go looking for a more suitable place to feed, and leave my helpless young plants alone.

This year I’ll love em – but I won’t leave ’em!

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