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Leaf Mold Soil Conditioner – Put Your Leaf Blower And Shredder To Work

by admin on 18 July, 2012

A gardener’s main compost bin will contain organic matter of many kinds – grass cuttings, prunings, stalks and leaves from flower beds and borders, and much more. Leaf mold, however, is a sort of compost produced only from the leaves of trees. As the word mold can have more than one meaning this leaf mold “disambiguation” from Wikipedia may be helpful: “Mold or mould is a kind of fungus. Leaf mold or mould composted soil or earth particularly loose soil suitable for planting”. Actually I prefer an alternative Wikipedia definition of leaf mold: “Leaf mold is a form of compost produced by the fungal breakdown of shrub and tree leaves, which are generally too dry, acidic, or low in nitrogen for bacterial decomposition.”

Some tree leaves can be added to the general compost bin in modest quantities, especially those with soft tissue that will easily rot. However, most tree leaves compost much more slowly than other green garden vegetation and it is better to put them through a leaf shredder and deal with them separately so that they can decompose into leaf mold at their slower speed.

Where is Best for Composting Leaves?

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”B0017XY3HK” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”160″]You can add moderate quantities of leaves, especially the softer green varieties, to your general compost pile. Some of these shredded or chopped leaves can be mixed into the normal compost bin – more than would be the case with unshredded leaves. Don’t overdo it, though, as they will probably slow down the decomposition of the whole mix.

For composting leaves by themselves to make leaf mold for mulching there are two main alternatives:

  • Some people recommend packing the leaves into black plastic sacks and “losing” them for a year or two. I have done this but apart from being reasonably tidy have not found it any better than a wire cage. It could be useful for people with very little garden space as the bags can be stored almost anywhere.
  • An open wire mesh cage in a quiet corner of the garden is a popular option. Just put four stakes in the ground at the corners of something like a three foot square, fix chicken wire round them, fill the cage with leaves, dampen them with some water and leave them until next year. If the weather is very wet you might want to cover the cage, but don’t let it get too dry.

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B00CQ475Q0″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”160″ alt=”Adapt a compost bin for leaf mold”]If your garden is kept 100% decorative then you might want try a wooden compost bin and line it inside with chicken wire to keep the leaves in. I’ve just thought of this and am quite attracted to the idea for use in a patio garden.

Deciduous leaves break down into leaf mold more quickly than those from coniferous trees The latter are best used either in small amounts or separately to allow them longer to rot. In the past I shredded pruned coniferous branches with leaves and bagged them up behind the shed. After forgetting them for a couple of years I found that they had decomposed sufficiently for some to be stirred into a hot general compost pile to finish the composting process.

Be A Leaf Collector With Your Leaf Blower And Vacuum

Do you have many trees in your own garden? If so you’re off to a good start. If not, how about handing out large plastic sacks to friends and relatives with a request to bring them back full of leaves – or do a leaf collection round and collect them yourself.

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”B00FREQBXE” locale=”us” height=”200″ src=”” width=”200″ alt=”Leaf Blower and Vacuum”]You could offer to sweep people’s leaves up. You could do it the hard way with a leaf rake or get a leaf sweeper to make it easier. There are various types of leaf collector including leaf blowers and vacuums. I’ve used the lawn mower with the blades set high so as not to cut the grass but to suck up the leaves. To get leaves off from among plants in a bed or border a leaf blower/vacuum can be a great time and energy saver. A backpack leaf blower can be enormously helpful of you’ve a lot of ground to cover. (If you’re interested in how things were originally invented you might like this this reference to the leaf blower’s invention in 1951).

Preparing Your Leaves

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B00EUU044S” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”160″]If you own or have access to a leaf blower/vacuum with a built-in shredder (sometimes called a leaf blower/vacuum/mulcher)this can be a great help in speeding up the decomposition. Another way of achieving a similar result if you don’t have a vac/mulcher or leaf shredder, and especially if your quantities are small, is to sweep leaves into a pile and go over them with a power lawn mower. Don’t shred them too finely if you’re doing your leaf composting in a chicken wire cage; otherwise when there’s a wind they’ll blow away as dust.

How Should You Use Your Leaf Mold

As leaf mold takes longer to produce than general garden compost I have found in my gardens that for best results it has been necessary to wait until the second summer after collecting leaves in the Fall. This varies greatly with climate, though, so if you’re in a warmer region you may have it ready much earlier.

Remember that whereas garden compost contains useful quantities of nutrients this is not the case with leaf mold. Although I have not investigated it in detail I am told that some leaves carry a greater amount of nitrogen than others. That is probably true but leaf mold will never be as nutritious as a general garden compost. It serves as a mulch and conditioner, and not as a source of plant food.

Here are three uses:

  • Use your leaf mold as a mulch. It will improve moisture and nutrient retention in the soil.
  • When sieved its low nutrient levels make it an excellent medium in which to grow young seedlings.
  • A 50-50 mix with rich garden compost is great for many plants in containers.

So when the Fall comes this year make sure you collect the leaves and put them to good use in future years. Maybe its already time to be planning and constructing your new leaf mold cage.

Click here for more on compost and composters


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