DIY Leaf Mold to Improve Your Garden's Soil

Instead of raking leaves and setting them on the curb to be picked up and added to a landfill turn them into leaf mold. The dark, crumbly finished product is a great soil amendment and conditioner. If we’re going to be dealing with droughts in our gardens in the future, increasing the moisture retention of our soils is important.

Why You Should Make Leaf Mold

Finished leaf mold can be used as a mulch to suppress weeds and trap moisture, blended into the soil of garden beds, and added to container gardens.Making leaf mold is ridiculously easy. If composting seems too complicated and involved for you: give making your own leaf mold a try. All you need to create leaf mold is a space, leaves, water and time.

Make a Leaf Mold Pen

The easiest way of making leaf mold is to rake all of your leaves into a pile in the corner of your garden or yard. Once you’ve gathered the leaves into place, wet the pile down and keep it moist for the next six months to a year. If your leaf mold pile is at risk of being thrown about by kids, pets or the wind create pen to keep it in place.

Make a round or square frame out of chicken wire, reclaimed wood or similar to the DIY compost bins we’ve written about in the past at TreeHugger. Your leaf mold pile should be at least three feet wide. I’ve tried to create leaf mold in smaller batches and it isn’t as effective. Make your pile as large as possible to speed up decomposition.

Speeding up Decomposition

Shredded leaves ready for the leaf pile.

If you have a mulching mower you can speed up decomposition by riding over your leaf mold pile and shredding the leaves into smaller pieces.

A few years ago while watching one of those cable documentaries on the drug trade, I saw a cocaine farmer use a weed trimmer to shred cocoa leaves to process them faster. And you know what? It works! After you’ve corralled all of your leaves in place you can run a weed trimmer through the pile to break it down. Shredded leaves not only break down faster, but you have room for more leafs and taller piles.

The Best Trees for Making Leaf Mold

All leaves you collect in autumn are good candidates for making leaf mold. Although, some leaves will break down faster than others. Smaller leaves, such as birch, alder and Japanese maples, can break down in as little as six months. Oak and hornbeam leaves similarly break down rather fast.

The bottom of your leaf mold pile can be ready to be mixed into your soil, used as a mulch, or mixed into your favorite container gardening soil mix in as little as six months. So take some time this season to rake up your leaves--and those of your neighbors--to improve the soil in your garden. You’ll be keeping valuable organic matter out of landfills and preventing your neighbors from making burn piles this fall.

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DIY Leaf Mold to Improve Your Garden's Soil
Don't toss out your leaves! Rake them into a pile to make leaf mold for healthier garden soil.

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