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Garden Lifestyle

Leaf Mold as a Soil Conditioner

Leaf mold by itself is pretty close to pure humus and like compost, smells like the forest floor. Probably because it is the forest floor.

Don't let these guys just lie there!   Photo by joiseyshowaa under the Creative Commons License 2.0.

When gardeners are building their compost piles, they’ll usually add dried leaves into the mix if they have them. But some composting gardeners don’t add these leaves to their compost bins at all. Instead, they save them for a special type of compost that’s made solely from leaves called “leaf mold”.

Leaf mold by itself is pretty close to pure humus and like compost, smells like the forest floor. Probably because it is the forest floor. Leaf mold doesn’t offer much nutrition the way compost does. Maybe close to none, in fact. What it does offer is improved soil structure by adding texture, and water retention making it valuable as a soil conditioner.

If you have  a lot of trees on your property or near your home you can start a leaf compost of your own. Just gather as many dried leaves as you can ands put them in a circular cage or unoccupied bin – even a black garbage bag will work. Give the leaves some water every now and again and in a year or so you’ll have perfect leaf mold for your garden or yard. A year sounds like a long time but if you can put them to the back of a shed or somewhere, nature can just do her thing.

Let’s speed things up for you a little bit.

Stuff dried leaves into a black garbage bag. Add composted manure, grass clippings, or a couple handfuls of compost from another bin to give it a little nitrogen. Sprinkle a little water in there, tie the end up, and shake up the bag. Cut a couple of slices in the bag to let oxygen circulate and leave it alone. After about six months you’ll have a composted leaf-mold.

Fall is the perfect time to keep your eyes open for leaves to use for leaf mold compost, in a traditional compost pile or to dig directly into the garden bed. Don’t forget a few days before Halloween to survey your neighborhood for those families that stuff decorated pumpkin and spider bags full of leaves. After the holiday most people toss those puppies out. Be there to give them a home.

More ways to improve garden soil…

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