Age-Old Wisdom meets Modern Tools
How to Turn Fallen Leaves into Gardener’s Gold
Fallen leaves can be time-consuming to deal with, so don’t waste all that hard work by throwing them out. Use them to make precious leaf mold instead.
What is Leaf Mold?
Leaf mold is incredibly useful in the garden, and can be used to improve soil, suppress weeds, or as a component in your own potting soil mix.
Leaf mold is made from the leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs (that’s one that drops its leaves in winter). Thicker deciduous leaves and evergreen leaves take longer to rot down, so they should be added to your main compost heap where they’ll rot down faster due to higher temperatures.
Some leaves should not be used for leaf Mold, as they release chemicals that can stunt plant growth. These include black walnut, eucalyptus, camphor laurel and cherry laurel.
How to Collect Leaves for Leaf Mold
Collect leaves from almost anywhere they fall, but don’t collect leaves from busy roads as they may contain pollutants that could harm your plants.
Using a spring-tine rake or a leaf blower, collect leaves into piles then scoop them up by hand or using improvised grabbers.
A quicker method is to mow them with a lawnmower on its highest height setting. The blades will chop the leaves into small pieces that will turn into leaf mold faster than whole leaves. If you’re collecting the leaves as you mow them be aware that the collection bag can become heavy quickly, particularly if the leaves are damp, so you’ll need to empty the bag often.
How to Make Leaf Mold
Leaf mold is simple to make. First construct a leaf mold cage to contain your leaves while allowing plenty of air to reach them. Hammer four corner posts into the ground, then staple chicken wire or mesh to the posts. It will normally take about two years for leaves to rot down into leaf mold.
An even simpler solution, for small amounts of leaves, is to stuff them into sturdy garbage sacks. Squash the leaves right down into the sack, tie it shut, and puncture it several times with a garden fork. Pop the sacks somewhere out of the way where they will remain undisturbed for a couple of years.
How to Use Leaf Mold
1. Improve soil. Within two to three years, your leaves should have rotted down into dark, crumbly leaf mold. Spread it thickly on the soil surface and lightly fork it in. Beneficial soil organisms will then incorporate it fully into the soil. Leaf mold will enhance any soil type, improving drainage in heavy clay soils and helping to retain moisture in light, sandy soils.
2. Mulch. Leaf mold that is between one and two years old will only be partially broken down, but at this stage it can be spread as a mulch to suppress weeds and gradually improve your soil. Lay it 1-2 inches thick around fruit trees and bushes or other perennial plants.
3. Potting soil mixes. Sieve finished leaf mold to remove any lumps and debris. Mix the fine sieved leaf mold with compost and weed-free topsoil, and use it for growing crops in containers or when transplanting young plants.
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