Skip to main content


Landscaping Without Fear

By Kim Hedzik

In the South, it is customary to spread and fluff pine needles at the base of your trees and shrubs. This is called ground cover. In other parts of the country this is called dead pine needles. I’m told pine needles are choice ground cover because of their toxicity, which inhibits weed growth. Not buying it.

These needles will run you $3-5 per bale from The Home Depot. You’ll need to load at least 20 slipshod bales of Pine Straw, its cute little marketing name, into your minivan or if you’re a Southerner, your flatbed Ford 150 Hemi. In my case, stray pine needles stick to the carpet of my Sienna and fall in between the crevices to remain forever lodged with the gum wrappers and lost dimes. As I untie the orange strings that pretend to hold the bundles together, I discover one of my bales is infested with ants. I assume they will naturally disperse after I lay the needles around my trees. And they did disperse. Into my house.

Over the next three weeks we woke up to find ants in curious places; circling the coffee pot, in the dishwasher, and most disturbingly, in the liquor cabinet. They were inclined toward the Triple Sec. Drunken ants walk in a straight line even when they face certain death. Every morning we awoke to find a new infestation and a long line of ants which we would follow back to their headquarters. There, we met their commander. He was perched on a hard candy sipping a lavender-infused Martini and wouldn’t listen to reason. We did what we had to do.

“Why don’t we collect dead pine needles from that grove of trees at the base of our property and redistribute it?” I asked my family.  “It’s cheaper and we can avoid the ants.”

They stared at me with their curled lips and narrowed eyes. They hoped I was kidding and simply said, “Mom.”

“What? I think that’s our property anyway. Or it’s just a grove of trees,” I offered. 

They turned their backs on me, shook their heads, and walked away.

I took this as a challenge because I enjoy a good DIY project. I repainted old furniture, kitchen tables, and bathroom cabinets long before it was something you could learn to do on YouTube. I grabbed my yard gloves and a plastic 30-gallon kitchen bag and headed to the wooded hill behind our house. I grabbed the freshest looking pine needles I could find and stuffed them in my bag, which flip-flopped in the wind like a mismanaged kite. I dragged my bag up the hill and handful by handful I sprinkled needles around the base of a tree. But there weren’t enough needles to landscape around a Bonsai tree so down the hill I went. I collected bag after bag of ant-free, naturally occurring needles. Each time I emptied my load I was struck by how little impact I was having on my yard. I was getting tired, and I had to go deeper and deeper into the woods to find clean, freshly fallen needles. Pretty soon the neighbor kids noticed me.

“Hey, what are you doing back there?”

I kept my head down and pretended I didn’t hear them.

“Why are you collecting pine straw?”

I felt like the Grinch. “Well, my dears, there are some trees up above with no needles to love so I’m taking these here and putting them there.”

The children turned their backs on me, shook their heads, and walked away. Kids.

In the end, I managed to cover the ground around two trees. But my pine needles were littered with dead leaves that had fallen from nearby oak trees. The mark of an amateur landscaper. When I see yard maintenance crews distributing debris-free, fresh pine straw to my neighbor’s yard, I am envious but respectful. I am still not inclined to pay for pre-bundled pine needles that may house alcoholic insects. Next year, we are buying brown bark and I’m ordering a Martini.

— Kim Hedzik

Kim Hedzik is a humorist both on and off the page. She is a former stage and commercial actress turned picture book writer who obsesses over the value of earning an MFA. Her essays have been published in McSweeney's, Mothers Always Write, Marin Independent Journal, Funny Times and on her blog, She lives with her husband and their three children in the Atlanta area, where they never say ya'all.

Previous Post

Suit Up!

Look who's suiting up. We've lined up dozens of remarkable authors, bloggers and humorists to serve as preliminary judges for A Hotel Room of One's Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program.
Read More
Next Post

Holy Eucharist!

"I'm not wearing the dress." My eight-year-old daughter stood with her arms tightly crossed against her chest. "And I’m not going to the Holy Communion."

Read More