How to Turn Fallen Leaves into Gardener’s Gold

Reader Contribution by Benedict Vanheems

Leaf mold is incredibly useful in the garden, with uses ranging from improving soil, to suppressing weeds, to helping make up the perfect potting soil mix.

Leaves from most deciduous trees and shrubs can be used for making leaf mold, but avoid leaves from trees such as walnut, eucalyptus, camphor laurel and cherry laurel, which contain chemicals that inhibit plant growth. Thicker leaves – for instance horse chestnut – take longer to break down. These, along with tough evergreen leaves, can be included in a general compost pile, where the higher temperatures will help them to break down faster.

Leaf Collecting Methods

Collect leaves into piles using a spring-tine rake or a leaf blower, then scoop them up by hand or using improvised grabbers.

Or, scoop up leaves using a lawnmower on its highest height setting. The blade will chop up the leaves into smaller pieces that will rot down faster. If you’re using a collection bag, you’ll need to empty it frequently as it will become heavy quickly.

Don’t use leaves from roads that carry a lot of traffic, as the leaves could contain pollutants that may affect plant growth.

Making Leaf Mold

A simple wire mesh cage is the best way to contain your leaf mold, as it allows plenty of air to reach the decaying leaves.

Hammer in four corner posts, then staple chicken wire or mesh to the posts. It usually takes around two years for leaves to rot down into leaf mold, but you may find it takes more or less time depending on your climate. Finished leaf mold is dark and crumbly, and is perfect for improving your soil. It will feed beneficial soil microbes, improve drainage in heavier soils, and help retain moisture in lighter soils. Lightly fork a generous layer of leaf mold into your garden beds and soil organisms will pull it all the way into the soil.

Leaf mold that hasn’t yet fully rotted down can be used as a surface mulch to keep weeds down and gradually improve your soil. Lay it 1-2 inches thick around fruit trees and bushes or other perennials.

Very fine, finished leaf mold can be sieved and included in home-made potting soil for growing in containers, seed sowing or transplanting.

Learn more about turning fallen leaves into leaf mold in this video.

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