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What is Leaf Mold, and How to Make Your own.
November 28, 2011

(Keet and Bobbi Sue in a playful moment.)

I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving weekend.

Things were nice around here, we had Karen's mom for dinner and the whole gang for pie in the evening.

Still, it seems to be getting to be a bit much at times.

The madness is in full swing.

I can't imagine camping out in front of any store for days (I think it is more to get in TV than it is for a special item).

A shopper "Pepper Spraying" other shoppers to gain an advantage.

No way, not me...........................

Never have I, and never will do the 'Black Friday' Gig.

Where is the Christmas spirit?

Again we had a few days above 50 degrees last week and things are looking good as we head into winter.

The warmer temperatures seem to mess with some of the wildlife as well.

Many insects are out and about, and a rainy Saturday night felt and smelled like a spring night, as earthworms and Night crawlers were everywhere.

Don't forget the garden and your backyard birds.

Birds have established winter feeding grounds and you're right on their list.

Continue to feed and water, even if you have to offer food on your time schedule.

Birds adjust their schedules, especially if you offer the good stuff they need.

Remember, fresh water will attract more birds.

For many of us, this is last call for cleaning out nest boxes before it gets to darn cold to do so.

There are a few garden tasks before the ground freezes or the snow flies.

Are you keeping things watered?

Yes, if nature doesn't provide, you need to keep plants watered.

Especially your evergreens.

Hydrate well.

Because of the warmer than normal October and November in many regions, Foliage has been slow to drop from many trees.

Keep raking the leaves, a mat of leaves left over winter will kill off your grass.

Mulch mow them into the grass.

Mulch and place on your gardens and beds.

If you have time, feel free to turn the soil now (leaves and all).

When spring rolls around, you will thank yourself for the heads up now.

It has only been a few short years since I was pointed into the direction of making leaf mold.

For some of you it may be too late to start (this year).

Then again, maybe not.

This week's topic is making leaf mold.


Have you ever walked through a woods in spring or early summer?

Under your feet is the crunch from last Autumn's leaf drop.

By summer, the crunch sound is almost gone.

Something is happening.

The leaves are slowly decomposing and forming a healthy organic base for the forest floor.

Before the next autumn leaves fall, the currant drop will have broken down.

Leaves are now part of the earth.

Scratch below the dead and decaying leaves and you will find a rich brown, earthy smelling matter that helps to protect and feed the inhabitants of the woods.

Several years ago, myopic (short sighted) thinking made sure I cleaned up and discarded all leaf matter.

If It wasn't burned (back then you could burn leaves), and there are times I still miss the smell of burning leaves.

The leaves were bagged and hauled away.

After all, what was more important than clean and tidy gardens before the snow comes, and I have a jump on the spring.

A few years wiser, my leaves and those of other people are now put to good use.

Dead leaves are now a winter cover for many beds and gardens.

Bags of leaves protect certain tender perennials (pictured below).

The leaves that are now part of my gardens offer food for some creatures and homes for many insects, which in turn, feed the birds for months to come.

The decaying leaves add organic matter to all of my flower beds.

Indeed, Nature's own leaf mold.

Leaf mold is an excellent, soil free amendment that is easy to make, simple to use, and has a huge impact on soil health.

Leaf mold is the result of letting leaves sit and decompose over time.

It is dark brown to black, has a pleasant earthy aroma and a crumbly texture, much like compost.

Actually, leaf mold is composted leaves.

Instead of adding a bunch of organic matter to a pile, you just use leaves.

This is also one reason why I leave leaves on my beds and gardens.

I don't have enough leaves of my own, I must import from neighbors and family members.

Even if it means extra raking for me.

Benefits of Leaf Mold:

You may be wondering why you shouldn't just make compost.

Why bother making a separate pile just for leaves?

Some good questions.

While compost is wonderful for improving soil texture and fertility, leaf mold is far superior as a soil amendment.

Leaf mold has several great attributes.

The first is that it can hold up to 50 percent of its own weight in water.

Besides helping retain moisture in the soil by reducing evaporation, leaf mold also absorbs rainwater to reduce runoff, and in hot weather, it helps cool roots and foliage.

Most leaves are slightly acidic when they fall, with a pH below 6.

However, as the leaves break down into leaf mold, the pH goes up into more a neutral range.

Leaf mold will not correct pH problems, but will have a moderating effect.

Over time, yearly applications of leaf mold mulch can significantly improve the quality of your soil.

The result will be better water-holding capacity, and an increase in beneficial soil life like earthworms and good bacteria

Though leaves are not high in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, tree roots mine calcium, magnesium and many other trace minerals from the soil and your garden will also benefit from these nutrients.

From Leaf to Leaf Mold:

Unlike making regular compost, making leaf mold is a “cold” composting process.

The decomposition is done primarily by fungi, rather than bacteria, and it is considerably slower.

The rate of decomposition is largely determined by a few key factors.

First is the type of leaves in your pile.

Some leaves, such as oak and holly, are higher in lignin (cellulose) than others, and therefore take much longer to break down (don't use conifer needles).

Combining different types of leaves, like a mixed salad, is a good way to balance lignin content and also improve the quality of the finished product.

Moisture is another factor to keep in mind.

Remember that fungi are doing the work, and they need a moist environment.

An unattended pile of dry leaves could take three years or more to break down.

Keep the pile covered and moist (not wet), and you may have ready-to-use leaf mold in a year or two.

Another consideration is nitrogen.

Freshly fallen leaves have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio in the range of 30 to 1, which is ideal for quick decomposition.

Old leaves, including those that have been on the ground for just a few weeks, will have already lost most of their nitrogen content.

If you can gather fresh leaves and get the process underway, there will still be a good amount of nitrogen to speed up the initial decomposition.

By adding a high nitrogen fertilizer (organic) or grass clippings to your leaves, you will speed up the process as nitrogen helps in breaking down the leaves.

How to Make Leaf Mold:

Pictured are this years shredded maple leaves (imported).

Making leaf mold is surprisingly easy.

It will take a good one to 2 years, but during that time there is little to zero maintenance.

There are two popular ways to make leaf mold, and both are very simple.

Leaves are basically all carbon, which takes a lot longer to break down than grass clippings which are mostly nitrogen

The decomposition process for leaves takes a year or two to break down.

The good news is that it's a year or two with very little work on your part.

The first method of making leaf mold consists of either piling your leaves in a corner of the yard or into a wood or wire bin.

The pile or bin should be at least three feet wide and tall.

Pile up your leaves, and thoroughly dampen the entire pile.

Place a tarp on top and let it sit, checking the moisture level occasionally during dry periods and adding water if necessary.

Ideally, you should have three bins, for three different years.

To expedite the process, use a shovel or garden fork to turn your leaf pile every few weeks.

Cover your pile with a plastic tarp, as this will keep the leaves more consistently moist and warm.

If you are like me and lack space, this method should work for you.

This method of making leaf mold requires a large (or several) plastic garbage bags.

Fill the bag with leaves (Shredded break down faster) and moisten them.

(Pictured are one year old shredded leaves.)

Seal the bag and then cut some holes or slits in the bag for air flow.

Let them sit.

Check the bag every month or two for moisture, and add water if the leaves are dry (usually not a problem).

It is fun to watch the process of decay.

After a year or two you will have finished leaf mold.

If you are impatient, there are a couple of things you can do to speed up the process:

If you are using the trash bag method, just turn it over or give it a firm shake.

This will introduce air into the process, which speeds decomposition.

If you bag, water and forget them, it will take about two years to produce a good leaf mold (which I usually do).

Store the bags behind the garage or shed.

Possible under a corner tree.

The picture I show here, is a finished product of two year old leaf mold.

I used whole whole (not shredded) maple leaves.

I used a bunch of it this past spring (one and one half year old mold).

This year I am using shredded leaves and hope to have a faster turn around.

All the bags I use for winter insulation, I will use to make leaf mold starting next spring.

Then I will poke holes in the bags and add water if needed.

For now the insulation bags get air and water through the open end of the bag.

Just for fun, you may want to make a bag just to watch the process.

It is truly amazing to watch 'Nature' at work, even at its most simple form.

Other than some fine tuning, there is nothing to it.

How to Use Leaf Mold:

Leaf mold is ready to use when it’s soft and crumbly.

I'm showing a handful of 2 year old leaf mold that was once whole maple leaves.

Some good looking stuff, don't you think?

Distribute it around your perennials, vegetable plants (shrubs, too if you have a lot of it), no more than about 3 inches thick.

Because leaf mold retains so much moisture, be sure to keep it several inches back from the crown or base of the plant.

This will help prevent pest and disease problems.

You can also incorporate leaf mold right into the soil.

Unlike raw leaves, it will not steal nitrogen from the plants around it and it wont form mats that keep water and oxygen from getting to the roots.

Yes, it’s safe to use in vegetable gardens and around annual flowers.

You can also add it to new garden beds, use it instead of peat moss to lighten the soil in containers.

Use it to enhance the soil in a shade garden, or to improve any soil that’s too sandy or too heavy.

Leaf mold is a big thing in parts of Europe, maybe one day, North America may catch on to the value of leaf mold.

Leaves are certainly an abundant natural resource in most parts of the country.

For now, they’re still free for the taking, so don’t delay.

Grab a rake and start making your own super-premium, extra-fancy leaf mold mulch.

If you have any questions, be sure to give me a holler.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

Prosperity in the form of wealth works exactly the same as everything else.

You will see it coming into your life when you are unattached to needing it.

Wayne Dyer

I've seen Dr. Dyer on TV and I have read several of his books.

Everyone also to whom God has given wealth
And possessions and power to enjoy them,
And to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil -----
This is the gift of God.

Ecclesiastes 5:19 (ESV)

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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