South of the Straw Line

SG | This weekend I spent a solid hour throwing pine straw on the ground. Why wasn’t it on the ground to begin with? you may ask. Well, it was, far away along the sun-dappled rows of some tree farm. Then it was raked and baled, shipped to the hardware store, and delivered to my home. To be thrown on the ground again.

My front bed is currently as masterfully littered
with straw as if done so by the expert hands
of my 16-year-old self.

There may be a flower bed somewhere in Wisconsin nestled in a blanket of pine straw, but from my experience, the “straw line” exists somewhere north of Richmond. From there up, mulch consists of a variety of barks and shredded wood. Pea gravel and lava rock may stand in for those with the budget for it. But the unquenchable demand for pine straw ground covering rises in parts south.

I have wondered, what with untold tons of pine straw heaped upon landscapes throughout the Southeast, why our soil acidity levels wouldn’t rise to levels unsustainable of living things. But then again, I’m told azaleas thrive in acidic soil, so perhaps this is the one place on earth where such madness could go rewarded.

I had not mulched with pine straw since my dad served as warden over pine straw work in the hot summer sun of my high school days. He would proudly have a wall of bales delivered to our driveway, which I was expected to work through diligently until every bed was covered by a springy blanket of rust-colored straw. He helped some, too, I’m sure.

It was then that I developed a technique, which I remain proud of to this day. Step 1: Grab a bale and pull off the two loops of twine. Step 2: Flake off a section of the bale, about 6-inches thick, and divide it between two hands. Step 3: Walk over the desired area and gently shake the halves, raining pine needles down like Mother Nature herself. Any resulting thick areas can be tousled free like the head of flaxen-haired nephew. You can easily spot beds ravaged by pine straw amateurs — the needles will sit matted in sad, swirled clumps. But gaze upon a bed having been scattered with my technique, and you would instinctively stop, look up, and wonder how on earth such a natural ground cover occurred without a mighty stand of loblollies above.

As it turns out, my technique is like riding a bike, and my front bed is currently as masterfully littered with straw as if done so by the expert hands of my 16-year-old self. But true genius is seldom recognized, and although my wife and four-year-old daughter were present during the anointing of that bed, they seemed wholly nonplussed by my straw craft. No matter. I will sit, satisfied by my work, and wait for the inevitable line of cars that will form as neighbors pass and slow to ponder how such a pristine blanket of needles came to blow onto our lot.

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