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Leaf mold is an excellent mulch, protecting your garden over the winter, and with some additions, it can be a superb compost as well. Many gardeners enjoy using leaf mold because the cost is minimal, and it's a splendid way to use leaves that have accumulated in the garden, which many find unsightly. Leaf mold is easy to make, and when fully composted, it has a rich, dark look that complements the winter garden.
Although many ignorant gardeners rake leaves up in the fall and stack them in unproductive piles for burning, the truth of the matter is that leaves are rich in many vitamins and minerals that could nourish the garden. Trees are very good at taking up minerals, and these tend to concentrate in the leaves. In nature, the minerals return to the earth as the leaves decay. This is not possible when the leaves are removed, which may eventually lead to nutrient depletion.
There are several ways in which gardeners can use leaf mold as a fertilizer. The first is to simply allow leaves to remain on the ground, decaying naturally into leaf mold. If the fall of leaves is particularly thick, the gardener may want to rake the leaves to spread them evenly or remove part of the layer of leaves for composting. As the leaves decompose, they will form thick, loamy leaf mold, which will gradually sink into the soil. By spring, the leaves will have rotted away into leaf mold, enriching the soil and the garden while protecting delicate bulbs and plants from the cold.
Another method is to remove the leaves, turn them into leaf mold by composting, and then return the leaf mold to the garden. In this instance, somewhat more work is required, because leaves will break down very slowly in a large pile or bin. When composting leaves for leaf mold, it is recommended that they be shredded first to make the decomposition process quicker and more even. Some gardeners may also add a small amount of nitrogen through manure or commercial fertilizer and garden soil to the mixture to speed decay. The mixture should also be dampened.
This shredded leaf and nitrogen mixture can either be composted in large bags with small holes in them for air circulation, which will result in leaf mold in six to eight months, or in a more traditional net compost bin with frequent raking and turning to aerate the leaves. A pile like this can be maintained for years, and it will start to produce black, cakey leaf mold within a year or so. Leaf mold is a highly efficient composting and mulch material, and your garden will thank you for the attention.
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