Leaf mold is the result of letting fallen tree leaves sit and decompose over time. It’s black or dark brown in color and has a pleasant earthy aroma like organic compost. When you make organic compost at home, you need to add a bunch of organic matter to the compost pile. But to make leaf mold, you only need to add fallen tree leaves. In other words, leaf mold is composted tree leaves. However, unlike traditional compost that undergoes a heat generating, bacterially driven process, leaf mold is produced through a cooler and much slower fungal driven process. This free soil amendment is super easy to make at home and it’s a good soil conditioner and a growing medium for plants.
Leaf mold is beneficial for the soil in many different ways. It doesn’t provide much nutrition to the soil so you have to use some good quality organic compost to fulfill the nutritional requirement for your plants. But leaf mold as an excellent soil conditioner increases the water retention of soil, provides a livable habitat for earthworms and other beneficial microorganisms and improves soil structure and quality. Research has shown that leaf mold and other composts can increase crop yield, improve plant health and even enhance a plant’s resistance to disease.
Leaf Mold Making Process
You can easily start making leaf mold by piling your fallen tree leaves into a large wood bin or something similar. If you don’t have a large wood bin, just pile the leaves in a corner of your garden. It is essential to keep the pile moist always to speed up the composting process, so check the pile’s moisture level weekly during the dry season and add water accordingly. Adding a little bit more water will not slow down the composting process, so when the leaves are dry, add enough water to maintain the pile’s moisture level.
Making leaf mold is simple but time consuming. It takes at least one or two years for the composting process because basically leaves are all carbon and take a long time to break down. Therefore making the pile large enough at the beginning will give you something substantial at the end.
Four Ways to Speed up the Process
If you think one or two years is a long time to make your own leaf mold at home, you may try following steps to speed up the leaves composting process. Then you’ll be able to get leaf mold within six to twelve months without waiting for a long time.
- Shredding the leaves into small pieces using a lawn mower will give the earth worms and other microorganisms more surface area to work on.
- Water the pile occasionally to keep the moisture and provide shade to reduce the evaporation.
- Leaves are high in carbon, but the microorganisms need both carbon and nitrogen as food. So adding more nitrogen rich material to the pile will also speed up the composting process. You can add grass clippings or some urea to fulfill this requirement.
- Turn the leaf pile at least two times a month using a garden fork or shovel. Composting is largely aided by oxygen and turning the pile every few weeks can add oxygen to speed up the composting process.
How to Use Leaf Mold
Gardeners can use leaf mold in many different ways. Because of its water retaining ability, you can use it as a top dressing or mulch. It’s a good soil conditioner to improve the soil quality and structure, so you can directly use it for your garden beds and container plants. Moreover as an eco friendly substitute for peat moss, you can also use leaf mold to make your own organic potting mix.
Leaf mold has several uses in the garden. You can dig or till it into garden beds to improve soil structure and water retention. You can use it as mulch in perennial beds or vegetable gardens. It’s also fabulous in containers due to its water retaining abilities. Making leaf mold is simple and effective. If you have a few trees in your garden, you can make it by yourself for free. It’s soft and crumbly when it’s ready to use. Most municipalities now discourage or ban leaf burning because it leads to air pollution, health problems and fire hazards. So it’s always good to make leaf mold from the fallen tree leaves at your garden.
Leaf Mold Facts
- Making leaf mold is an exceptionally easy way to end up with a valuable product from a free resource.
- Leaf mold can be used as a mulch, soil conditioner, potting mix or seed compost.
- Leaf mold can also be made in plastic bags by filling lawn bags with shredded leaves, dampening and poking a few holes to let in air.
- Making leaf mold is a cold composting process and the decomposition is primarily done by fungi.
- It can hold up to 500% of its own weight in water.
- Leaf mold will not correct pH problems, but will have a moderating effect.
- Yearly applications of leaf mold mulch can significantly improve the quality of your soil.
- Leaf mold is not high in nutrient content.
- When applied to the soil surface as mulch, leaf mold acts as an insulating layer that helps keep the temperature of the soil cooler in summer and warmer in winter.
- Unlike fresh leaves, leaf mold does not draw nitrogen in the soil away from the plant roots.