Days seem suddenly shorter and thoughts turn to fall gardening work. The last tomatoes are being harvested, garden clean-up is underway, and those mounds of leaves must be raked. Whatever the size of your yard, collecting all those leaves is a big job so don’t waste all that hard work by throwing them out. Why not consider making some gardener’s gold otherwise known as leaf mold?

What is leaf mold? It is basically composted leaves. However, it is far superior to compost as a soil conditioner. The process of making leaf mold takes a minimum six to twelve months. Leaf mold is dark brown in color and has an earthy aroma with a crumbly texture.

Leaf mold is a valuable commodity that has many uses. It is great for improving soil structure and creating wonderful habitat for worms and beneficial bacteria. There is evidence that leaf mold increases water retention in soils by over 50%.

Most leaves can be used for making leaf mold, one exception being leaves from walnut trees as they release chemicals that may stunt plant growth. Leaf collection may be done by raking or using a leaf blower to create piles that can be picked up. The process of creating leaf mold can be accelerated by using the lawn mower to chop the leaves into smaller pieces. If possible, collect the small pieces in a leaf bag as you mow.

Create a leaf cage from chicken wire or mesh to allow air circulation around the chopped leaves. Place the leaves into the cage and thoroughly dampen the pile. Periodically check the moisture level and add water if necessary. Covering the pile with a tarp helps to retain moisture. It is helpful to use a garden fork to turn the pile every few weeks to incorporate air which speeds decomposition.

When your leaf mold is ready, spread it on the soil surface and work it in with a fork. Over time it will become incorporated into the soil. Any soil type can benefit from an application of leaf mold. Drainage in heavy clay can be improved and water retention can be improved in sandy soil. It can be used to mulch flower beds and vegetable gardens. Its water retaining abilities make it a wonderful addition to containers.

Contact us with your questions and suggestions at sdeberg@marengo-uniontimes.com.

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