Leaf Mold – Natures Soil Conditioner
Leaf mold really is natures compost, it needs no special treatment, makes a great natural mulch, it does not have much in the way of nutrients, however it does have a few hidden benefits.
By definition leaf mold if simply decomposed leaves, with it being a natural substance beneath deciduous trees. You could call it ‘cold composting’. The leaves simply pile on top of each other in winter, remain moist and eventually break down to form a fine black soil like substance.
The really big advantage of leaf mould is its water retention capabilities. However it also acts as a host to earthworm, insects and beneficial bacteria. So in itself it provides little nutrition, however after the earthworms and insects have ‘processed it’ the nutritional value increases. This is a great product for improving sandy soils.
How to make Leaf Mold
We have used a very simple method to speed up the process for many years. We have a number of deciduous trees in our garden and therefore lots of leaves to work with.
- Pile the leaves up in a solid sided container in the corner of the garden, preferably when they are nice and wet
The leaves do not need the air to turn into leaf mould, so you can use wire sided bins however do not need to.
- You can try wooden sides rather than mesh, build two partitions separated by mesh in the middle
- Make sure it is on the ground and in a shaded position
- Just Rake up the leaves and keep putting them in the pile until the end of autumn
- Place a piece of wire mesh on top and weigh the pile down with a brick
- Leave them alone until next autumn
Start the next pile right next the old pile so those beneficial microbes can just move across
It will take anything from 6 months to 2 years for the leaves to break down. You can speed the process up by lining the wire bin with plastic or paper, however we don not. You can also add water every now and then, again we do not. And you can weigh the leaves down, we just place a few old pieces of timber on top to stop them blowing away.
Using Leaf Mold as a soil conditioner
The leaves will break down into a wonderful soil conditioner, just remove the wire, rake any leaves from around the edge that have not decomposed into a pile, ready to start the next pile, and then load up your wheelbarrow with the rich black leaf mould and you are ready to dig it into the garden.
Question and Answer
We have read a few articles about putting the leaves into plastic bags, poking holes in the bags and keeping them wet. Not for us, you will end up producing a smelly muck if things are to wet, or a bag of dry leaves if they are to dry, also the bags end up breaking and why bother with dozens of plastic bags around the garden.
- As for mowing the leaves first to speed up the process, yes it will make things quicker if you can be bothered. (We usually do this)
- Jumping in the bin to squash them down, again a waste of time, they will sink down quickly enough.
- Do you need to turn the leaf mould pile, no you do not. It may speed things up a little but not worth the effort.
- Do the leaves need to be covered like in a compost heap, and kept warm ? Remember this is cold composting, so no.
- What about eucalyptus leaves ? Not for us, they take to long for us.
- Leaf mold is slightly acidic usually around a pH of 6. This depends on the leaves used and the process used.
- Leaf mould can be used as a mulch, a soil amendment to to improve water retention and as an additive to potting mixes and raised garden beds.
- It can take leaves anywhere from 6 months to 3 years to rot and turn into leaf mould depending on the actual leaves and the conditions as well as the technique.
- You can use a compost bin to make leaf mould if you use the right bin and techniques. You can also use a wire mesh cage.
- You can use cow or sheep manure as an accelerator vermicast tea also works.