Autumn leaves are Mother Nature’s way of returning nutrients to the soil that trees and shrubs extract throughout the growing season. Unfortunately, too many homeowners collect these leaves, bag them up and cart them off to the curb, marked as yard waste.
When shredded up, leaves make great mulch for the garden, but you can also turn them into leaf mold, that makes a great soil amendment for the garden and containers, that’s biologically active and has natural moisture holding capacity.
Don’t get noitured out over the word “mold”. Leaf mold is nothing more than composted leaves and has no nasty odors – just a rich earthy smell, like the forest floor. And it doesn’t attract animals or contain weed seeds.
When building a pile to make leaf mold, the bigger, the better. A 3 cubic foot pile is the minimum needed to hold sufficient moisture for beneficial organisms to thrive and break down the leaves. Water down your pile as you build it.
If you make a big pile of leaves and let Mother Nature do her thing it may take two years or more for leaf mold to develop. To speed up the process, begin by shredding the leaves. The 3-in-1 WORX TRIVAC does a quick job of picking up leaves and shreds them into small bits. Shredded leaves not only decompose more quickly, they don’t fly around like whole leaves that become airborne like tiny kites when the wind blows. And they look good when used as mulch on flowerbeds.
To speed up the process of making leaf mold, mix in a nitrogen source as you build the pile of shredded leaves. Grass clippings, leftover organic fertilizer, composted chicken manure or a combination of any of the above works. If you can find grass clippings mix them up to half and half with the leaves. When using organic fertilizers to accelerate decomposition, pile up six inches of the shredded leaves and water down the material. Then scatter a quarter of a cup of the organic granules on the surface of the pile and continue building.
If leaf piles are verboten where you live, all is not lost. Lots of folks fill large (40 gallon) garbage bags with leaves, using the same recipe and store them in the garage or tool shed. The best part of using plastic bags is you can roll them around every few weeks, which helps speed up the composting process, which takes from six months to a year.
Shredded leaves also make a first class mulch for use as winter protection and/ or weed suppression in the garden year-round. Spread 3 to 4-inches of shredded leaves over the surface of bare soil or do the following layered version that forms an effective weed barrier and adds beneficial organisms to the soil right from the get go.
Begin by covering the surface of the soil with a ¼ to ½ inch of good quality compost. Next, cover the area with newspapers, 4 to 6 sheets thick. Overlap the newspaper sheets so perennial weeds don’t poke through. The newspaper prevents sunlight from reaching seeds in the soil preventing sprouting or weeds emerging in spring. Next scatter the newly shredded leaves. In spring, top off the mulch layer with more leaves from that stash you saved over the winter.
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