Mulch Ado About Leaves

October 13, 1991|By TAMIA KARPELES

My husband and I have leaves.

Actually what we have are oak trees, lots of them, and with oak trees come leaves, unless the gypsy moths have eaten them all right down to skeletons; and after a season or two of that, you needn't worry about your oak trees any more.

But the county, bless it, sprayed our trees back in May when the gypsy moths were still tiny obnoxious worms dropping down our shirts and into our potato salad out at the picnic table. I'm not a big fan of chemical pesticides, but on the morning the helicopter passed back and forth over our trees spraying Dimilin, I stood in the sun room with the cats and the elderly hound, cheering its progress. Ten days later the tiny worms began to die, writhing, while I offered them felicitations and encouragement. Within a month they were gone. Good riddance.

This means that leaves are assured -- are, in fact, falling even as we speak.

My husband and I are great procrastinators. In the past, our favorite method for dealing with leaves has been to wait until the following July, when we can be absolutely sure they've finished falling, before we begin to rake. The advantage is that half of them have blown away by then to parts unknown, probably our neighbors' yards, and the other half have piled themselves in tidy drifts against the house, the fence, the shrubs and the motorcycle shed, so there's less gathering to do.

In July we begin stuffing our leaves into several thousand trash bags, which we haul away to the county landfill; at the landfill, we assume, the county makes them disappear. Everybody's happy.

Only, last spring I got a colorful brochure in the mail that disabused me of my notions. Not so, said this brochure sternly; those leaves you're sending to the landfill are going to live there for millions of years in a state of perfect preservation, and your landfill is going to fill up with leaves and sticks and grass clippings and close down, and then you'll have no place to throw out your coffee grounds and junk mail and chicken innards and old refrigerators, and you'll be stuck piling them up in your back yard.

Not a pleasant thought.

The colorful brochure had a solution in mind for our problem; featured on the cover was a large, shiny Machine into whose gaping maw a cheerful man in safety goggles was feeding bushels of yard debris, which was spewing out the bottom of the Machine in the form of compact, easy-to-store mulch.

This Machine could be ours, the brochure said, for less than we might think; we could feed it a truckload of oak leaves and it would hand us back a bushel basket of mulch, which we could spread around our azaleas to keep them from freezing all winter and wilting all summer. If we ordered our Machine right now, before the big rush, the brochure promised to reduce the regular price by hundreds of dollars and even throw in a pile of nifty accessories for free.

At the time I was admiring this brochure last spring, my husband and I were discussing whether to bulldoze our house and build a new one. This is a recurring discussion that takes place in three-year cycles and lasts until we come to appreciate the difference between the mortgage check we fork over every month and the mortgage check forked over by all of our friends who live in real houses, at which point we decide it's kind of a cute and cozy little fixer-upper and the lack of closets helps to keep us from accumulating things.

This year it took us all spring long to convince ourselves that it was really a cute little place, during which time the special deal in the brochure expired and I regretfully filed it away in my Wish List folder.

We worked in our gardens. We have vegetable gardens, flower gardens, rock gardens, woodland gardens, and we seem to spend most of our leisure time on our knees pulling weeds out of all these gardens. Then I read a book that said the thing we were doing wrong was failing to mulch. We shouldn't have a square inch of land, this book said, that wasn't either mulched, paved or growing something. So my husband and I went out and invested in mulch, spread it around, and discovered that the rumors are true: Mulch does suppress weeds, which must account for its popularity among gardeners who know what they're doing.

With the weeds taken care of and July coming on, we turned our attention to the perennial leaf problem, raking leaves, stuffing them into thousands of big green garbage bags and stacking them up for the annual pilgrimage to the landfill.

That's when I got the second colorful brochure in the mail.

Look, the brochure said, you folks really need this Machine, and if you wait until fall to come to your senses and order it that's going to be a pain in the neck for all of us here at the factory, so I tell you what: Place your order today and we'll knock another $50 off the previous special price, we'll still send you all those free accessories, and we'll even throw in a really swell hat with the company logo.

I leaned on my rake and read this brochure.

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