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"Possibility and promise greet me each day as I walk out into my garden. My vigor is renewed when I breathe in the earthiness and feel the dirt between my fingers. My garden is a peaceful spot to refresh my soul." Meems

Welcome to my Central Florida Garden Blog where we garden combining Florida natives, Florida-Friendly plants, and tropicals.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Will Work for Mulch

Hoe & Shovel is blessed to have a surplus of oak trees. The photo above is a look to the north from the driveway. The trees are pretty much mirrored on the south side of the drive and then meet together to canopy over the pavement. In the back garden there are many more.

Trees were on the 'must-have list' for me when we were house shopping and purchased this house 24 years ago. So often in this part of Florida contractors are known for buying up abandoned or non-producing orange groves and then leveling the land to create massive stretches of housing complexes. We were looking for something with a more "old Florida" feel and a smaller more secluded neighborhood than the typical sprawl of homes with cookie cutter style. Gardening was only a dream for me way back then. I honestly had no idea the first thing about it but I was determined to take on this "big yard" at the time.

The trees provide my garden with numerous advantages. Probably the most important being the shade from the often brutal temps in the summer. The layout of the tree cover supplies an almost perfect balance of sun and shade for all the foliage I've used in my underplantings.

This time of year when the new spring growth in the oaks is bursting forth it is also releasing the spent leaves. So they are dropping to the ground in record numbers as I can only imagine they must do in the fall up north. In Florida we don't really lose our leaves in the fall- it isn't cold enough. I know--- another thing the northern gardeners must think is all backwards. But... it is all we know down here in the tropics. Leaves falling like mad in the spring.
This is the way my driveway looks (above) every 24 hours for the past three weeks. Now I'm not complaining, believe me. I aggressively collect them from the driveway and street side gladly. My handy Echo gas-blower is my friend along with a rake and my trusty wheelbarrow. The natural showering of organic material provides every one of my planted beds with the mulch needed to protect them all summer long.
Willingly, I cart wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of this precious commodity around to every bed in my garden and gently hand distribute under all my plantings. It has been years since I've spent money on mulch of any kind.

The weekly mowing right now sort of turns into more of a vacuuming as the majority of what's bagged consists of leaves. Typically I most often pile the grass clippings on top of the compost pile and wait for them to breakdown. My compost situation is a whole other story I could cover in another post. I've never really done much of my gardening by the book which goes for my compost area as well. Would I love to have a compost bin all neat and nice? It is on the wish list but this has worked for me all these years. So, this is the "pile" located on the "back 40" where no one else can see it but me. I deplete this pile occasionally as well to work the "black gold" into my beds.

Oak leaves break down beautifully when used as mulch. It's natural and it's acidic which is what most of the tropicals require for best growing conditions. The layers and layers my soil has received over the years has provided me with a remarkably rich and loamy environment for all my beds... not a typical environment found in this part of Florida. It's worth all the work and effort it takes during this already busy gardening season.

In addition, there are so many other reasons to keep either existing trees or to add trees to your garden. Not only do they help moderate weather extremes such as hot sun or strong winds but trees and shrubs offer habitat for wildlife and privacy for humans by screening adjacent property. They also increase soil porosity, allowing water to infiltrate rather than run off. Vegetation helps protect water quality by filtering out nutrients and pesticides that could otherwise reach a lake or stream and cause algal blooms or excessive plant growth.

What is your mulch of preference? I'm especially curious about gardeners north of Florida. What kind so you use and where do you get it? I go through this routine in the spring and then by the time winter rolls around I've dug and planted and moved plants around so much that I find I need some shoring up of the mulch. That's when I deplete my compost pile which gets quite large at times. Don't forget, we mow the lawn all year long.


  1. So glad you asked, I have been over at Susan Harris' blog where she has posted on mulches ( use a very finely ground pine bark that is called soil conditioner (down side twice the cost per bag compared to regular mulch) but I love it as a mulch, it looks better than regular mulch and doesn't over whelm the plants. Also, I rake the leaves out of the beds in the fall, pulverize them with a mower and return the pulverized leaves to the beds! Plants reseed better in this mulch.
    The soil is healthier and I have noticed that native wildflowers are finding their way back into the garden.

    This is a an Excellent post;)


  2. LOVED your insights on using your oak leaves as mulch. I try to never have bare dirt showing - so you will see different kinds of mulch all around my yard. I use spoiled hay (it's even better when there's a little dried manure mixed in! - we have a cattle pasture against one side of our property - I LOVE to glean out there), leaves, and wood chips. The hay doesn't look good so it goes into the vegetable beds or underneath a layer of leaves or wood chips. Being on a farm, I do have access to lots of unusual mulch items. We've added cotton "trash" and the dried corn cobs and leaf trash from a seed corn processing plant. The corn cobs dried into little miniature cobs and looked so cute - but it took YEARS for them to decompose!

  3. Great post Meems! Oaks are my favorite trees. Some varieties in our area actually do hold onto their leaves (albeit, brown,) until Spring.

    I inherited lava rock (eeewwww!) in our foundation plantings. The previous owner of our house used the large pine nuggets for mulch in what is now my garden, and DH continued that practice. I hate the stuff. It smothers plants. It takes eons to break down and it sinks deeply into the soil like rocks. I've thought about having it removed, but it can't be removed from the soil because that would probably kill the trees.

    In the meantime DH has agreed not to put down more of the nasty stuff so I can try to garden in our shady root infested, pine-chunk-riddled dry shade with some semblance of success.

    Oh, how I'd dearly love to be able use the 30 or so bags of shredded leaves we rake, blow, and mow each fall as mulch in my garden, but it just doesn't work with the pine bark mulch. Someday that stuff will break down, though I wonder if it will happen in my lifetime. . ., or maybe I'll bite the bullet before then and remove it, at least what's on top of the soil. It would be better for my plants and then I could use all those leaves as mulch.

  4. I love leaf mold! I collect my leaves with a leaf vac/shredded then put them in a wire bin. By Spring, much of it in the middle has turned into leaf mold. I like it better than compost because there are no weed seeds or weird stuff (what was that?). I have a compost bin also just wire poultry netting connected into a big circle.

  5. I like to use leaves and grass clippings too. One nice thing about living in the north is with all of that wet snow sitting on the pile all winter makes them break down faster. I also have shredded bark for mulch, but I slip the leaves under the bark. Is that just crazy?

  6. I also use shredded oak leaves. I use other things too like pecan hulls in places where I don't want seeds to infiltrate. It isn't cheap, but I love it. It stops the slugs.

    We have a giant leaf shredder. I posted about it once.~~Dee

  7. Sounds like a wonderful place, where the mulch falls from the trees so freely for you!

    Actually, we do get a lot of leaves in the fall, but unfortunately, my trees aren't big enough, yet, to count on just the leaves for mulch. I've used shredded cypress mulch in my front beds originally, but have been switching to a "hardwood fines" mulch from the local mulch store. The mulch store is 12 minutes from my house and I can usually get a cubic yard at a time on my little truck.

    I also have used cocoa hull mulch, which smells good for a few days.

    Carol, May Dreams Gardens

  8. One of my pet peeves is the way developers just level all the trees (we're talking mature forests) before putting in a new subdivision. There's not a single mature tree left in the entire neighborhood! I feel very lucky to have many mature trees on my property, but most of them are douglas firs. I want to plant some more deciduous trees so I can grow my own mulch.

    Last year we bought bark mulch from the local ranch supply/feed store. We could get about three backhoe scoops in. It was a big job to get it all spread around. It worked beautifully, but I'm hoping to get to the point where I can "supply" my own.

  9. gail: soil conditioner is very interesting AND mowers are good for pulverizing ... you work hard for you mulch too.

    mary beth:I really don't like bare dirt showing either. Not usually a problem during max growing season but when everything gets cut back or we're waiting for new beds to fill in - that's when you see mulch.

    Sounds like you have some great natural resources too.

    Garden Girl: Lava rock? Yeah, along with the pine bark you have your work cut out for you. Hopefully you can work at removing it-- maybe slowly? Those bagged leaves sound like a fabulous solution if you ever get to use them.

    Nancy: Stones are popular in gardens especially around the beaches. It makes me think though that they would be too hot in the summer... for you they probably work well.

    MMD: Sounds like you've got it figured out. I'm not familiar with leaf mold? I'll have to check into that to see if it is something I should know.

    Cinj: not crazy... whatever works for breaking down and helping our much loved plantings.

    Dee: pecan hulls... oooo... anything to stop the slugs... I wonder if I should look into this? I know they don't sell it down here but maybe online?

    Carol: YOU have a MULCH store? How amazing. No such thing here. I've read and heard about the use of Coir --the natural fiber derived from the husk of the coconut. It comes in lightweight squares... very interesting stuff.

    Amy: I get the sense that you will someday have plenty of your own trees to provide your mulch. I had to supplement for many years while mine matured... now I have to cut treet limbs back to get enough sun to the plants. ha... always something.

  10. I use Weeping birch leaves....they are small and don't need shredding.
    I like them very MULCH, ha.

  11. Up here in the northern parts of Europe I use basically everything I can get my hands on - leaves from oak, beech and birch are favourites as is grass clippings. Luckily we are blessed with several mature trees.
    The beech leaves makes wonders to the rhododendrons.

  12. Meems, I know exactly what you are talking about. I may live on an other Continent but it is also mulch..mulch and more mulch to cart. Our trees too loose their leaves in spring. Sometimes a "wind storm" blows like mad the leaves from the trees. It looks like autumn but it is spring!

  13. I have to say that this post has brighten my day. I have 4 oak trees in my backyard and 5 in the front yard all of them about maybe 50 years old. Once they start shedding leafs it is a weekly project to pick up, bag and dispose and quite honest I was getting quite tired of it but you have giving me a fab idea since I just began working on my front yard. Thank you so much for all your great ideas. Lakeland, FL


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