Leaf mold results from letting leaves sit and decompose over time. It is dark brown to black and has a pleasant earthy aroma and a crumbly texture, much like compost. In fact, leaf mold is just that: composted leaves. Instead of adding a bunch of organic matter to a pile, you only use leaves. It is an excellent soil amendment that also happens to be entirely free. It's easy to make, simple to use, and has a huge impact on soil health.
Click Play to Learn How to Make and Use a Leaf Mold
Benefits of Leaf Mold
Leaf mold is a great soil amendment. It is essentially a soil conditioner that increases the water retention of soils. Leaf mold also improves soil structure and provides a fantastic habitat for soil life, including earthworms and beneficial bacteria.
However, it doesn't provide much in the way of nutrition, so you will still need to add compost or other organic fertilizers to increase fertility.
Equipment / Tools
- Wood or wire bin
- Large plastic garbage bag
- Fallen leaves
There are two popular ways to make leaf mold, and both are incredibly simple. However, keep in mind that leaf mold doesn't happen overnight. Leaves are basically all carbon, which takes a lot longer to break down than nitrogen-rich materials such as grass clippings. The decomposition process for leaves takes at least six to 12 months. However, very little work is required on your part.
Use a Wood or Wire Bin
Pile fallen leaves in a corner of the yard or into a wood or wire bin. The pile or bin should be at least 3 feet wide and 3 feet tall. Pile up your leaves and thoroughly dampen the entire pile. Let it sit, checking the moisture level occasionally during dry periods and adding water if necessary.
Use a Plastic Garbage Bag
Fill the bag with leaves and moisten them. Seal the bag and then cut some holes or slits in the bag for airflow. Let it sit. Check the bag every month or two for moisture, and add water if the leaves are dry.
Use the Leaf Mold
Let the pile sit for a year to two years. The size of the leaves, your geographic location, and other location-specific factors will affect this timeline, making it shorter or longer.
Leaf mold has several uses in the garden. You can dig or till it into garden beds to improve soil structure and water retention. Or, use it as mulch in perennial beds or vegetable gardens. It's also fabulous in containers due to its water-retaining abilities.
Tips for Making Leaf Mold
- Before adding leaves to your pile or bag, run over them a couple of times with your lawnmower. Smaller pieces will decompose more quickly.
- Use a shovel or garden fork to turn your leaf pile every few weeks. If you are using the plastic bag method, turn it over or give it a good shake. This will introduce air into the process, which speeds decomposition.
- If you are using the pile or bin method, cover your pile with a plastic tarp. This will keep the leaves more consistently moist and warm.
Leaf Mold Compost. University of Wisconsin Extension Office.