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Solving Two Garden Problems at One Time

By Melissa Sandoval

About 6 years ago I realized I had two problems in my front yard. One was the almost 5-month long pod drop from a big, beautiful 40 plus-year-old Magnolia grandiflora. Like an evergreen tree, it drops tough leather-like leaves from late May through August. Then begins the 5-month long seed pod drop. As difficult as it is to compost the leaves, the seed pods are even more resistant to breaking down.  

I also had a row of tree roses up the driveway, a reminder, like the Magnolia, that there had been a gardener before me in this garden. They were planted in basins surrounded by lawn. Not only was the lawn very difficult to mow, but it also had very different requirements, water, and nutrition-wise, than the roses. I loved the roses; I hated the lawn.

tree roses

At some point, I decided to get rid of the lawn areas by covering them with cardboard and then weed cloth.  I needed a mulch to put on top of the weed cloth. But I also was doing this project on a very slim budget. The cardboard was free from my partner's job, and the weed cloth was left after a prior project. There was no money for the delivery of bark. And all the barks in bags at the local big and not-so-big box stores were either made of things I didn't want or had additives I didn't need. That's when the fateful brainstorm happened. I had tons of Magnolia pods. An unending supply, you might say. So, I covered my weed cloth with Magnolia pods. That first year I had to scrounge pods to get enough to cover the entire area. My partner and I took to carrying 5-gallon buckets in our trunks and stopping when we saw a particularly nice collection of downed Magnolia pods. The landscaping around the current AAA office in Fairfield was the best as I remember. Today I just top off with pods from my and my neighbors' Magnolia trees.

There are a couple of downsides to the Magnolia pods as mulch. The first is that they are difficult to walk on. I make sure I am wearing sturdy shoes when I pick my roses, prune, or do maintenance in that part of my garden. The second is that small critters like birds and squirrels love to get in the pods and rearrange them, sometimes causing them to be scattered onto the surrounding driveway and sidewalk. We are always sweeping pod debris back into place.

In a few places, ground covers have taken hold. The only one I have kept is the Thymus serpyllum or creeping thyme. The pod cover makes pulling blown in weeds pretty easy to pull by hand. But it also collects all the blown-in debris, especially after big winds like we had earlier this month. And all summer long as the Magnolia leaves get blown into it. Now if I can just figure out a better way to deal with those leaves.

Thymus serpyllum


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