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How To Create Leaf Mold – The Amazing Free Soil Amendment!

Creating leaf mold is an incredible way to improve your garden and flowerbed soil, all by simply using the resources you have on hand! 

As the weather starts to cool down and the leaves turn colors, you know that fall has arrived and winter will soon follow. With fall comes pumpkins, field harvests, apple cider, warm sweaters, pumpkin spice, and freshly fallen leaves.

If you have trees on your property, then you know how quickly those freshly fallen leaves can pile up and litter your yard. Some people rake the leaves into piles to burn. Some people bag the leaves for pick-up by local trash collectors. Yet others just ignore them and leave them where they fall.

A pile of leaves that has almost finished decomposing
A pile of leaves can quickly start to decay and mold – leaving you with an amazing soil amendment product!

However, before you resort to one of those options, consider that those leaves can be turned into a wonderful resource that can help to revamp your garden and flowerbed soils. No, this isn’t referring to creating huge piles of compost either – Although that is an excellent way to put those leaves to good use as well!  

Today’s article is talking about creating leaf mold – an easy-to-make soil amendment that helps to improve your soil without the use of anything else.

What Is Leaf Mold?

Essentially, leaf mold is a pile of leaves that break down and decompose. As the leaves break down, they are turned into a humus-like material that can greatly improve your soil’s structure.

Unlike a compost pile, straight-up leaves don’t heat up in order to break down. They essentially mold as they break down (hence the name). What you are left with is a dark brown/black material that has a loose texture that is similar to regular compost.

Decomposed leaves don’t add nutrients to the soil like traditional compost. However, when mixed in with your existing soil, leaf mold acts like a sponge and can absorb and retain moisture. 

Shredded leaves
Shredded leaves have a better chance of breaking down quickly.

In addition, leaf mold also helps to add air as well to soils, which not only helps the roots of plants grow and expand but also makes an excellent habitat for earthworms and all sorts of garden-beneficial organisms.     

You can use leaf mold on top of the soil as an excellent organic mulch around plants and flowers. This mulch will help to regulate soil temperatures as well as moisture levels. 

Who knew that moldy leaves could have so many wonderful benefits for your garden?! 

How To Make And Use Leaf Mold

Even if you do not have an abundance of leaves on your property, you can likely ask around to see if neighbors and friends have any you can use. They will likely jump at the opportunity to provide you with bags of leaves for free. You just might have to put in a little work helping rake them up!  

All About Those Leaves

With a little bit of time and some gathered leaves, you can create your own beneficial pile of leaf mold. There are a few things to keep in mind though when it comes to using leaves. 

Tree Varieties

Not all tree leaves are created equally. When you are adding leaves to a traditional compost pile, you want to avoid using certain types. For example, maple, ash, birch, elm, cottonwood, poplar, and fruit trees are the best types to use. These leaves break down quicker than varieties. 

Black walnut tree and other byproducts shouldn't be used in composting.
Any byproducts of black walnut trees should be kept far away from any garden location – including their leaves.

Unfortunately, you want to avoid using any leaves from black walnuts, eucalyptus, buckeye, and horse chestnut trees. All of these trees produce toxins that can be detrimental to some garden plants and flowers when the leaf mold is used. 

Shred Those Leaves

While you can use the leaves as is, it is best to shred them first if possible. Just like with classic composting, the smaller the pieces are, the quicker they will start to break down and mold. 

This is especially important for leaves. Leaves can get stacked together when they are their full size. This can create an almost waterproof barrier that will take a long time to break down and won’t allow moisture to soak in.  

To shred the leaves, simply run them over a few times with a riding or push mower. A bagger will make quick work of the process and allow you to avoid raking. You can also use a leaf shredder if you have one available. 

Creating Leaf Mold 

Once you have shredded the leaves, it’s time to create your pile. Find a nice corner of your garden or other space in your yard that is around 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall. You will need an area that you can dedicate to the leaves, from several months up to two years.

Pile the shredded leaves up in a big mound. It is best to use freshly fallen leaves, but dried leaves will work as well. Using a wire fence around your pile will help to contain the leaves, but it isn’t necessary. 

You can create leaf mold by using large garbage bags instead of leaf piles.
You can decompose your leaves in plastic garbage bags as an alternative to using designated piles.

If the leaves are dry, give them a good drink with your watering hose so they are nice and damp. The moisture will help the pile to mold more quickly. 

Check the pile monthly and add additional water if needed so the pile stays moist. Using an optional plastic tarp or cover over the pile can help to retain moisture. You can also help speed up the molding process by turning the leaves every couple of weeks. 

Leaf Pile Alternative

As an alternative to using a pile in your yard or garden, you can also use plastic garbage bags instead. Simply fill a bag with moistened shredded leaves and tie it off. 

Poke a few holes or slits in the bag to allow for airflow and help speed up the molding process. Be sure to check the bag monthly and add additional moisture if needed. Shaking the bag every few weeks will also help to speed up the process. 

Using Leaf Mold 

Since creating a leaf mold is a type of cold composting, it will take longer than traditional composting to break down. Some piles will be ready in as little as 6 months while others can take up to two years. It will be ready to use when the contents are dark brown or black and have almost the texture of soil.    

There are two main ways to use leaf mold in gardens and raised beds. To help the composition of heavy soils like clay and to improve the aeration and moisture content, mix several inches into the top foot or so of the soil. A bonus to using leaf mold is that it won’t change the pH value of the soil.  

A completed pile of leaf mold.
Leaf mold that has broken down and is ready to go into the garden.

Leaf mold also makes great organic mulch. Place 2 to 3 inches around your perennial plants, trees, or shrubs. You can also use it after planting your annual garden vegetables or flowers.

Just be sure to avoid putting the leaf mold right up against the stems of the plants. Similarly to using cover crops like field peas, leaf mold can also help to stop soil erosion in garden areas as well.

It’s as easy as that! With a little patience and time, you can create your own amazing organic soil amendment. So be sure to take advantage of this great free resource that you can literally find right in your own backyard!

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