Monday, April 02, 2018

Spreading the Wild(life) News

About a week ago I took a deep breath and plunged into a new "platform" for me:  a Nextdoor neighborhood group I've belonged to for a couple years now.  I've posted briefly on it once or twice before, with little response, but this time I decided to be a bit more blunt and opinionated.  The results have been interesting.

Here along the Gulf Coast, early spring is the biggest season for leaf fall as the evergreen oaks push off last year's leaves before they put out a new flush of leaves for this growing season.  First the laurel oaks drop their leaves, then the sand live oaks drop their leaves, and finally the live oaks drop their leaves.  It's about 6 weeks of constantly falling, relatively small, brown leaves.  In our neighborhood, these oaks are almost all BIG trees and the leaves that get dropped in this relatively short period of time rival the leaf drop of autumn in essentially any other forested area of the country.  Except there's no pretty color, I have to note.

So the leaf blowers have been working overtime for the month around here and there have literally been mountains of leaves pushed to the curb for the city to come by and pick up.  It saddens me to see all this beautiful mulch getting thrown away, so I posted:

"As I watch oak leaves being raked and put out by the curb for the city to pick up, I'd like to suggest that everyone consider blowing them into shrub and flower beds instead. They make great mulch and look as nice or nicer than anything you can buy. The birds love to rustle through them looking for food, and the leaves decompose easily to make your soil much richer and healthier."

Within a day, 8 different people had responded to my post.  After 10 days, 14 different people had responded in total.  A total of 14 people had thanked me.

Six of the comments were negative, with most people concerned about all the animals that would live and breed in the mulch.  Mentioned by name were roaches, fleas, termites, and mosquitoes.  I assured everyone that the roaches in leaves were not the same roaches that get into kitchens, that termites need wood rather than leaves (although I didn't recommend deep piles of leaves directly against the side of a house either), and that fleas were more likely in a lawn than in a mulched bed.  Another person got on to say that mosquitoes needed standing water to breed, although they might hang out in leaf mulch, and that they were unlikely to have enough water to breed in oak leaves, as compared to magnolia leaves.

Other concerns mentioned by negative commenters were the "lack of nutrition in oak leaves" (which I responded to by noting the importance of organic matter in our sandy soil), the tannins that would leach and kill plants (which I said weren't a problem according to experts who'd studied the issue), and the leaves blowing out of the flower/shrub beds (at which point I suggested that any leaves that blew out of the beds could be mulched mowed into the grass to provide organic matter there).

A couple comments were neutral.  One person said she thought using leaves as mulch was a great idea, but she was terrified of birds, so she wouldn't be doing it at her house.  I wasn't quite sure HOW to respond to her.  Yet another individual was thankful people don't burn leaves any more because now she could breath.  One woman tried to send me a link to an article which she said proved that mulching leaves into lawns was harmful, but the link to which she sent me said that it was beneficial.

Another man said I seemed knowledgeable about plants and asked me if I designed landscapes.  Laughing to myself, I thanked him for the compliment and said, no, I definitely did not.  After another person recommended her husband's lawn care and landscape service to him, the gentleman said he wanted an area around his pool landscaped with a "nice tropical design".  So much for someone interested in wildlife!

Not surprisingly, my favorite 3 comments were the ones which said they already used their leaves as mulch or they composted them.  Those 3 commenters and the gal who said mosquitoes needed standing water to breed restored my faith in other local gardeners, at least a little!

Which is, perhaps, a bit of a harsh judgement on my part, since a further 11 people thanked me for my original post, but did not comment.

So 25 people responded altogether: 6 actively negative, 4 actively neutral, 4 actively positive, and 11 passively positive.

I've gone on to make three further posts on this neighborhood site in the last 2 weeks:  one post warning people about buying plants that have been treated with neonics for butterfly and pollinator gardens;  another post offering wild strawberry plants if anyone wanted to come by and pick them up; and a third post simply talking about the birds I was seeing in my yard and how they preferred foraging in the wilder, less manicured areas of the landscape.  All 3 posts elicited at least a dozen comments and the same number or more "thanks".

I've been trying to keep Mother Teresa's comment in mind lately, "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples."  I feel like these neighborhood posts are creating a few quiet ripples in our local waters, and that makes me happy.


Corner Gardener Sue said...

I am glad you have met some like-minded people in your area, even if you found some at the same time who do not. Maybe some of you can have a Gardening with Nature in Mind group that shares seeds and plants!

Gaia Gardener: said...

That's a great idea, Sue!

Karin / Southern Meadows said...

You are doing GOOD work spreading the word. At least, even the negative commenters, are reading the message. It's amazing to me how people find all types of reasons (mostly incorrect or uniformed) to not do something. I fight the same fight with neighbors and others in the community. For example they grow English Ivy which is a breading ground for mosquitoes and is invasive and that doesn't concern them because they like it. Somehow landscape companies have convinced homeowners that colored wood mulch or pine straw are better mulch than free leaves. It's crazy!

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thank you, Karin! You are doing fantastic work yourself. Yes, it is bizarre how completely the landscape companies seem to have convinced homeowners that they have to BUY things for a healthy landscape, and that if you pay for something, it must automatically be better than anything that nature provides for free. Just about completely opposite to the truth, in most cases.

There is English ivy around here, but it's not a huge presence in general. The biggest issue here is having a "perfect" lawn, which has to be maintained by major inputs of chemicals and water, plus frequent mowing. That and having green meatballs around your house, a.k.a. azaleas, pittosporums, and Indian hawthorne, for the most part, tightly sheered to look as boxlike as possible.

Sadly, just in the 3 years we've been here, I've seen a lot of the big old trees cut down. Sometimes it's because one of them has reached the end of its life span, or been injured in a storm. Most of the time it's because people don't want the hassle of dealing with the leaves - plus they want their gorgeous lawns, which need full sun. So they bake themselves and their houses to have green lawns.

WHEN are we going to learn to work with nature, instead of fighting against it for control?