Fall leaves can be a nuisance. As the tree leaves turn from green to brown, they fall to the ground, covering the grass and finding their way into your fountain. Instead of throwing away the fallen leaves, collect them, and reuse them in the garden as leaf mulch, mold, or compost. Leaves have high mineral content. A tree’s roots dig deep into the ground, absorbing minerals in the earth that make their way into the leaves. Collect your leaves in the fall and have them ready in the spring and summer to add nutrients to your soil. Learn more about how to compost and make leaf mulch and mold.
Shred Your Leaves
Once the leaves fall, rake them into a pile and then shred them using a mower, reversing a leaf blower (if it has this capability), or using a leaf shredder. Shredded or ground leaves will decompose faster than intact leaves. Large leaves may mat and prevent oxygen and water from passing through.
If you don’t want to compost your leaves, you can shred the leaves and use them in place of mulch on the surface of your soil. You don’t want your mulch to decompose completely, so it’s kept dry. Leaf mulch helps control weeds and feeds earthworms. It’s more nutritious than regular mulch and has better benefits. Leaf mulch insulates the soil, protecting it from erosion and during the winter protecting the plants and soil from wind and cold. Leaf mulch also helps the soil to retain moisture. Leaf mulch is a protective layer on the soil.
How to Make Leaf Mulch
Rake your shredded leaves together and store them in large garbage bags or garbage cans, keeping them dry. Wet leaves will decompose and turn into leaf mold.
If leaf mulch gets wet, it starts to decompose and become leaf mold. Leaf mold is compost made up entirely of leaves as opposed to other organic material like grass or green plant clippings. Think of leaf mold as a soil conditioner, it has fewer nutrients than leaf compost but is quicker and easier to make. Leaf mold helps with water retention and improves soil structure. You can place it on the surface of the soil or mix it into the soil. If your plants are sensitive to acidity, you can add ground limestone to help make it less acidic.
How to Make Leaf Mold
Leaf mold is just leaves and water. You can make your leaf mold in a compost bin or create your own bin out of wooden or wire fencing. You can compost the leaves in a large garbage bag, poking 10 to 15 holes to let the air in. The leaves need to stay in a pile together and keep moist and oxygenated. Add layers of leaves to your piles, dampening them with water as your layer. The water helps the leaves to heat up so the decomposition process can start. The mold should be ready by the spring and fall.
Leaf compost is often called “black gold” by gardeners. It has a very high mineral content, better than manure. It improves soil structure. Leaf compost aerates clay soils and adds moisture to sandy soils. It absorbs rain and moisture. The compost feeds earthworms and is full of living microbes that keep the soil healthy. It’s free of nutrients for your garden.
The best leaves for composting are ash, maple, fruit trees, poplar, and willow. Beech, oak, holly, and sweet chestnut have more cellulose and decompose more slowly.
How to Compost Leaves
Leaf compost needs to have a balance of carbon and nitrogen, the carbon comes from the brown leaves, and the nitrogen is from fresh grass clippings or food scraps (just plant-based, no meats or dairy). Ideally, compost is kept in a bin, to allow for the decomposing of leaves. The leaves need to be kept moist and warm and then mixed up to aerate (turned) frequently.
Starting Your Leaf Compost
It’s possible to start your leaf compost in a pile instead of a bin, but a bin or container allows for more control over the environment. You can use wooden fencing with chicken wire to keep animals out and make your own DIY compost bin. You can also use a plastic tub or food-grade barrel.
Start with six inches of leaves (shredded) then add two inches of nitrogen-rich organic material like green weeds, grass, or kitchen scraps (only use plants and eggshells, no meat or dairy scraps). If you don’t have any green organic material, you can use compost low in nitrogen like straw or sawdust and then use a nitrogen supplement from the store. Every three weeks, the compost should be stirred (turned) to give it oxygen. Without oxygen, the important microbes that help decompose the leaves and organic material die off.
While leaves may seem annoying at first, they’re actually great for your garden if you can keep them out of your pond and fountains and repurpose them into leaf mulch, mold, and compost. Leaves have high nutrient content and are great at absorbing water. Leaf mulch, mold, and compost help improve the soil, keep the plants protected, and are free sources of nutrients for the garden. If you start collecting your leaves in the fall, they can be used to protect your plants in the winter and then be ready in the spring or summer as mold.